Faith and Business: A New Deal for the Modern Workplace

September 26, 2008

Author: Zaki Cooper

Source: Times Online

On Tuesday, offices around the UK will look particularly empty. No, not because of another Lehman Brothers-type crash in the market, though in these uncertain times that possibility cannot be ruled out entirely, but because Tuesday marks the feast of Eid al-Fitr, when Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan. It is also the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Both holy days involve festive meals, praying, and spending time with family and community.

Absence from work on holy days is, however, only one manifestation of the relationship between faith and work. While once believers kept faith and work relatively separate, now they are increasingly intertwining. With the growth of mass migration the UK’s population has become more diverse, and its labour market, in consequence, multifaith rather than, as once was the case, predominantly Christian. In London alone, there are 42 nationalities with communities of more than 10,000. It is now common for people to work in environments with at least one person from another religion or ethnic background.

This makes the workplace an inadvertent forum for interfaith encounters. In July, for example, the Muslim banker Naguib Kheraj was appointed chief executive of the City institution JP Morgan Cazenove, and commented: “In the City of old you wouldn’t expect to see someone of my background coming to run a business like this.”

Alongside the higher profile of a diversity of faiths in the workplace, believers increasingly show signs of wanting to integrate faith and work. Ken Costa, the committed Christian who is one of the City’s best-known investment bankers, has argued that “if the Christian faith is not relevant in the workplace, it is not relevant at all”.

Whether through dress, dietary requirements or prayer, believers appear increasingly to want to be able to express their faith in the workplace. On the other side of the equation, companies are becoming more sensitive to the faith-specific needs of their employees. This trend is partly driven by new legislation on religious discrimination at work, introduced in 2003.