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Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.
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The Greendale gang celebrates all faiths in Community. (Photo: NBC)

The Greendale gang celebrates all faiths in Community. (Photo: NBC)

Just last night, a few of us Pacific Standard folk were indulging in some post-work beers, soaking in the conversation, and the alcohol. Suddenly the talk shifted to religion, usually a contentious topic. Maybe it was the bar’s florescent red lighting, or the somber live jazz—one co-worker said it sounded like an episode of Louie. Or it was just the beer. Either way, atheism, religious schooling, Christmas; it was all fair game. But crazier than any of our uninhibited banter, nobody left in a huff.

That may be because religion and the office actually mix quite well, says one upcoming study. Hell (or no hell), they even make for a better workplace.

Brent Lyons, assistant professor of management and organization studies at Simon Fraser University, in Canada, led a team of researchers who found that employees who discuss their religious beliefs at work are oftentimes happier.

Religion and the office actually mix quite well, says one upcoming study. Hell (or no hell), they even make for a better workplace.

“Being able to openly express important aspects of one’s life at work can positively influence job satisfaction,” Lyons says. “However, sometimes individuals feel that their workplace is not open to expressing religion”

Lyons and his peers sampled some 592 employees from the United States and South Korea, as both countries have a sizable Christian base, but differ in workplace reputation: Americans are stereotypically known as more self-expressive, and South Koreans more reserved.

The employees in both countries were all Christian—Lyons says they were all surveyed in churches—but fell into varying denominations. The researchers asked each participant to describe how important their religion was, to what degree it formed their identity, and how open their workplace is about employees' faiths. Lyons then measured variables like job satisfaction, well-being, and pressure to assimilate.

Lyons found that, despite Americans' and South Koreans' respective stereotypes of self-expression and suppression, there was very little cross-cultural difference in terms of religious expression in the workplace. "We thought this difference may affect religious self-expression. However, we found no differences in the benefits of openly expressing one's religion across culture," he adds.

And the benefits were very real, in both countries. In either country, religiously open employees reported higher job satisfaction and overall mental wellness. Conversely, those who preferred to hide their beliefs at the workplace were less satisfied at work. Feelings of secrecy and the exhibition of a fake self often stressed out the religiously "secretive," which at times manifested negatively in office relationships.

“If religion is important to you, and you are not open about it, it may mean that you are hiding aspects of yourself from your co-workers," Lyons says. “Keeping secrets or presenting a false self can be stressful and can negatively impact relationships you develop with your co-workers.”

In a separate press release, another of the study’s researchers suggests decorating the workspace with a religious object, or, not surprisingly, simply talking with office-mates about religious customs.

Another option, as we at Pacific Standard all found out: Get drunk with them.