The American workplace, like the rest of U.S. society, is becoming more religiously diverse and that is raising concerns about employer accommodations for believers — and increasing the odds for uncomfortable moments around the water cooler.
Yet one potential flashpoint among workers does not involve new immigrant faiths but rather two indigenous communities: white evangelicals and unaffiliated Americans who constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.
A major factor contributing to workplace conflict, according to a survey released on Friday (Aug. 30), is that evangelicals — whose religious identity is tied to sharing their beliefs — are much more likely to talk about their faith at work than other religious and nonreligious groups.
In fact, half of white evangelical Protestants said they share their beliefs with co-workers, compared to 22 percent of workers overall, according to the 2013 Survey of American Workers and Religion, sponsored by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.
And one-third of evangelicals said they discuss religion frequently, compared to 14 percent of non-Christian believers, 10 percent of Catholics and 7 percent of white mainline Protestants. Moreover, nearly 9-in-10 white evangelical employees say they are somewhat or very comfortable when the issue of religion comes up in the workplace.
Conversely, the research found that nonbelievers are reticent to discuss religion and 43 percent of them say they feel somewhat or very uncomfortable when the topic comes up.
“This suggests the potential for workplace clashes between atheists and evangelical Protestants,” the report says.
The survey, released for Labor Day, was conducted in March and April by the Public Religion Research Institute, which questioned more than 2,000 American adults in both English and Spanish. The poll has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.
Given the findings, it is perhaps not surprising that both nonbelievers and evangelicals shared a heightened sense of bias: Nearly 6-in-10 atheists said they think people look down on their beliefs, and nearly 6-in-10 of white evangelicals agreed that discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem as discrimination against other religious minorities.
“There’s a clear sense in the data, especially among white evangelicals, that other workers’ needs are being taken care of and theirs are not,” said Robert P. Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute.