Thursday, June 07, 2007

Religious and Spiritual Events On and Off-site

We've going to take a few more examples of workplace practices and apply Douglas Hicks' model of respectful pluralism:

1. A manager conducts a meditation group on-site before work. All employees know about her meditation group through word of mouth and work email. It's open to everyone. However, she seems to know the employees who attend better than those who don't. And those who don't attend are not happy. They think they've lost some sort of access to her.*

Now, this isn't an especially good management practice because it's encouraging (at least) the appearance of favoritism. And if there's one way to create a nasty workplace, have a manager play favorites. Let the grumbling begin!

Now according to respectful pluralism, this also isn't a great idea because there may be less than voluntary attendance (point 2). Also, note that we haven't said what kind of meditation this is because that doesn't matter. It could be Tai Chi or Vipassana or Transcendental.

2. A CEO invites certain employees to her house for Passover. She makes a big deal about these invitations and often discusses the events in front of those who were not invited. A mixture of levels of employees are invited.**

Again, this is generally agreed to be a bad management practice because there is the strong appearance of favoritism. And, again, let the grumbling begin! But how does this fit into respectful pluralism? Hicks isn't pleased with this type of scenario because it suggests a "preferred circle of employees." I'm not pleased with it either because often these invitations do not feel voluntary to the invitees (point 2). But, of course, it's certainly legal to do this and it happens all the time.

3. A coworker invites another coworker to a feast day at the pueblo and a meal at his house.*** Because the coworkers are on equal footing with one another, there is a greater chance that the invitation can be accepted voluntarily (point 2) so it's all right under respectful pluralism.

One theme that emerges here is the importance of a "voluntary transaction," between equals in the workplace. As soon as a manager announces a meeting or invites you to dinner, it is less than totally voluntary because of the power discrepancy. And if it's less than voluntary, it doesn't fit into respectful pluralism.

If you think of more scenarios, write them in comments and we'll discuss....

* This scenario is adapted from p 180 of Hicks' book
**This scenario is from my own life. A former job.
***This scenario is from my husband's life. A former job.