Sunday, August 05, 2007

Prayer in the Workplace: Risks and Strategies

I came across Prayer in the Workplace: Risks and Strategies to Manage Them in Business Renaissance Quarterly (Spring 2007) by William McCarty, which often has articles on spirituality in the workplace. I don't think there is a version of the article available on-line, so I'll summarize some of the findings here.

First, and probably most importantly, prayer isn't defined. As prayer is described in the article, prayer seems to be done out loud and in groups. This is one of the trickier issues with spirituality and religion in the workplace because people often assume that there are major similarities between religious and spiritual practices, which may not be present. I, for example, pray frequently at work, but never out loud, and never in groups.

Here are some of the risks and strategies associated with prayer that were identified by the author, William McCarty:

Risk: Prayer in the workplace may present legal risks in that some may allege a "hostile work environment" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The courts have found that "passive" symbols of faith such as dress are not considered hostile. However, proselytizing has been found to be part of a hostile work environment. Prayer seems to fall somewhere in between.
Strategy: The author advises making workplace prayer voluntary and not repeatedly inviting anyone as well as using a private place at work for prayer.

Risk: Prayer participants may use information disclosed during prayer in ways that conflict with the interests of the person disclosing the information.
Strategy: Either discourage participants from sharing personal information or invoke confidentiality on what is discussed during prayer meetings.

Risk: Prayer may be sponsored by organizational leaders, which makes it open to risks associated above with the hostile work environment.
Strategy: Organizational Leaders may want to act "catalytically" rather than sponsor prayer meetings, if they can find other workers to sponsor prayer. They may also want to talk to leaders of prayer to make sure they are welcome as managers at the prayer meetings. Another strategy is to hire inter-faith chaplains or multiple chaplains of different faiths to organize religious or spiritual gatherings in the workplace.

Obviously negotiating these risks is not necessarily an easy task, but this is the first article that I've seen that actually identified so many risks and strategies.