Surveys and Spirituality: how fit are your employees?

The United States Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program was created to train soldiers in mental and physical techniques to increase their strengths while they serve. But did you know that this program also assesses a soldier’s spirituality? 

During the assessment period, the soldiers are asked to respond to a series of faith-related questions, such as “I am a spiritual person.” If the test-taker responds to any of the statements negatively, the soldier receives a low spiritual fitness score.
 
If your employer conducted a similar survey, what would your spiritual fitness look like? According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 16% of Americans would be deemed spiritually unfit by the United States Army and may even be referred to a spiritual fitness training program. That’s right, 16.1% of United States citizens self-identify as “unaffiliated,” which includes atheists, agnostics, and those who identify with no religion in particular.  Furthermore, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) cited that recent surveys have shown that nearly 24% of all military personnel identify as atheist, agnostic or have no religious preference at all – markedly higher than the national average.
 
The FFRF recently called upon the Secretary of the Army to put a stop to the controversial spiritual fitness assessment and rehabilitation program. The FFRF fights strongly for the separation of church and state, and like many corporate employers, does not feel that asking questions about faith is appropriate in the workplace.
 
But what if faith based questions were asked more regularly? Starting this summer in the United Kingdom, all workers at schools, hospitals, police forces and councils will be required to compile questionnaires asking employees if they are homosexual, what religion they follow and whether or not they are disabled. Under this new public sector Equality Duty, state bodies with more than 150 staff will have to publish annual updates on the diversity of their workforces. Unlike the United States Army’s fitness program however, these anonymous questionnaires are purposed solely to collect data and will never result in referral to further spiritual training.
 
Approaching the sensitive topic of religion can get very tricky. And asking the right questions can be extremely difficult – especially when working with large employee populations. From one employee to the next, definitions of religion, spirituality, faith and the like will surely run the gamut. But with the growing diversity of the American workforce on the rise, including the increasingly vocal unaffiliated populations, being familiar with your employee populations’ religious make-up may be helpful. The United Kingdom’s Audit Commission cites a variety of benefits of their Annual Review of diversity and equality such as making better use of team knowledge and skills, more effective monitoring and feedback of progress, and taking action to address bullying, harassment and discrimination.  
 
What do you think? Are there any benefits from knowing exactly how employees self-identify religiously at your company? Or do you think these surveys are too personal? What are the risks of publicizingthe religious make-up of an employee population, even if they remain anonymous? Employers seem to be asking about employees’ religious beliefs and practices in a variety of ways (and perhaps with a variety of agendas) around the world – some with success and others with unprecedented pushback. But one thing is for sure; religion is more frequently coming into conversations about diversity – and that’s a good thing.
 
– Rachel Maryles, Assistant Program Director, Religious Diversity in the Workplace and Religious Diversity in Health Care