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<strong>Religious Festivals</strong>

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently realised data from the 2021 Census regarding religion in England and Wales. According to the report: 

  • For the first time in a census of England and Wales, less than half of the population (46.2%, 27.5 million people) described themselves as “Christian,” a 13.1 percentage point decrease from 2011.
  • “No religion” was the second most common response, increasing by 12.0 percentage points to 37.2% from 25.2% in 2011.
  • There were increases in the number of people who described themselves as “Muslim” (3.9 million) and “Hindu” (1.0 million).

The ONS report also highlighted the religious composition of the country:

  • Christian (27.5 million people)
  • Muslim (3.9 million people)
  • Hindu (1 million people)
  • Buddhist (273,000 people)
  • Sikh (524,000 people)
  • Jewish (271,000 people)
  • Other (348,000 people)
  • No Religion (22.2 million people)

While in some areas, religion is in decline, it is safe to say there is still a substantial proportion of the population who hold a religious belief within the UK, and employers need to respect diversity within their teams even though they themselves might not be religious.  The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of religion or belief or because of a lack of religion or belief.

One thing many religions have in common is the observation of specific important calendar events or festivals. Being a traditionally Christian country, we often only think of Christmas and Easter. There are, however, many important dates across the year for all religions (2022):

  • Sikh Vaisakhi/Baisakhi
  • Jewish Pesach (Passover)
  • Islamic Eid-ul-Fitr
  • Islam Eid-ul-Adha
  • Jewish Rosh hashanah
  • Jewish Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
  • October Jewish Sukkot (Tabernacles)
  • Hindu and Sikh Diwali (Divali, Deepavali, Bandi Chhor Divas for Sikh)

(Not an exhaustive list)

How Can Employers Support Employees During Religious Events?

As employers, you do not need to be experts in every religion; you just need to have an appreciation that your employees may have differing views and beliefs from you – and that is okay; diversity is to be celebrated. Religious festivals are an area of people management that requires common sense and communication.

Make use of the Equality and Diversity Monitoring Form

As part of their induction pack, many organisations provide an equality and diversity monitoring form. Put this document to use; by understanding the mix of religious and non-religious beliefs within your organisation, you can better consider how these can be included.

Communicate with Staff

We often celebrate various events (some do not have religious connotations) throughout the year – Easter, Halloween, Remembrance Day, Christmas, and New Year. Do all your employees want to celebrate/observe these events? Potentially, by making the celebration of such events mandatory, you are putting colleagues in awkward positions or even possibly compromising their faith. Employers should aim to make any observation of these events optional or at least communicate to colleagues your plans and consult with them – they may be happy to attend.

Do not Isolate Colleagues

Sometimes having a religious belief can be seen as being out of the ordinary and potentially frowned upon by others, making individuals feel isolated. Therefore, whenever you have conversations or make reasonable adjustments, it is important to do so in private (as far as reasonably possible) and always to maintain confidentiality, agreeing with employees what messages they do and do not want communicated.

Moreover, it can be isolating for religious believers to see colleagues and managers enjoying a celebration or event they cannot attend due to beliefs. Employers should be as inclusive as possible, potentially rearranging company events for another time of the year or not attaching occasions to specific holidays. For example, does the company get-together need to be scheduled for Christmas and have a Christmas theme; can it instead be planned for early December?

The overarching takeaway from this blog should be to communicate with staff, even if you are unsure, and take a fair, common-sense approach to supporting individuals. Colleagues with a religious belief will thank you for your consideration of them and the good intention of support.

If you need help creating an organisation with equality and diversity as a key aim or assistance with your policies, speak to a member of the ViewHR team.