By David Jackson, Associate Director of HR Business Solutions, Manchester Metropolitan University.
If the future of work is human, we can’t simply pick and choose the bits of the human condition that we are comfortable with. We need to think instead of the different experiences of our human lives and deal with them – even when that’s difficult. We need to do this to develop cultures in which people can relax and be themselves. Although we have made some good progress in this respect, there is one taboo – perhaps the final taboo – that we need to deal with if the human is to become the future of work: religious belief.
This week, a question was put to a UK politician called Andrea Leadsom by a TV interviewer. The interviewer asked Andrea “Do you ever feel that you’ve been spoken to directly by God?” Andrea refused to engage with the question on the basis that she felt it was being asked in order to laugh or poke fun at her beliefs. A headline followed in the tabloid Daily Mirror “ANDREA LEADSOM DOESN’T DENY HAVING BEEN SPOKEN TO DIRECTLY BY GOD” The clear implication is that she should have denied it. Why? Perhaps because only crazy people hear voices from the almighty, perhaps because having religious faith is seen as something extreme and undesirable. This isn’t just a political question. This is also a workplace question. For many people, their religious belief is something that defines their identity and they don’t leave it at the office door in the morning and collect it again on the way home.
I’ve decided, as part of this project to explore what a human future of work could look like, to ‘out’ myself. I believe in God. I believe God has directly influenced me and spoken to me. My religious belief is part of who I am and (despite moments of doubt) there is never a moment or situation in which I do not believe in God, his influence on my life and the world, and the power of prayer. And do you want to know something else? I’m not the only one.
I’ve shared my religious views with others in the workplace from time to time, when it’s felt natural to do so, and others have confided in me. We’ve had hushed conversations in canteens and cafés. A senior manager on a six figure salary once confided in me that she prayed before big decisions. Another confided that she carried rosary beads – hidden in her handbag. There is a sub-network of believers in workplaces who share their faith and beliefs with one another but are in no doubt that sharing that more widely would result in ridicule.
What’s more – that ridicule so often goes unchallenged, even unnoticed. I’m not pretending that we have completed the task of making work a safe place for members of the LGBT community to be themselves – far from it – but we have at least had that discussion. I’d like to think that in most workplaces in 2016, smirks and innuendo about somebody’s identity or sexual orientation would be met with challenge from the majority. I wouldn’t be so confident when it came to religious belief.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I don’t often tweet about religious subjects, but I do from time to time. When I do, a lot of people I know and interact with on Twitter regularly ‘Like’ the tweet, but they hardly ever re-tweet or share it. I get a real sense that when it comes to comments about people being confident in admitting a belief in God, many people want to show some support, but they don’t want to associate with it.
So this is my challenge: For the non-believer, how would you feel working alongside somebody who prayed about work and felt that God was speaking to them. For the believer, how confident would you be in sharing your belief and that you wouldn’t face any negative consequences from choosing to do so?
If the future of work is human, considering that, for many, religious belief is a fundamental part of their humanity, this is the kind of hard question that we need to address.