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Managing religion at work: a necessary distinction between words and deeds. A multiple case study of the postures facing religious expression in French organizations

Hugo Gaillard (ARGUMans, Le Mans Universite, Le Mans, France)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 23 December 2021

Issue publication date: 22 April 2022




Religious expression at work (REW) has a unique place in France. The authors studied the perception of the postures of four organizations in the face of this phenomenon, focusing on the gap between official posture and the posture applied by managers.


Using a qualitative approach, the authors conducted semi-structured interviews (40), observation periods and documentary analysis within four organizations. This multiple embedded case study was undertaken in four different firms in France: an international private firm, a public organization, and two small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with original models of REW management.


A distinction between aligned and non-aligned postures emerged. There was a lack of alignment in only two of the four organizations, and this alignment concerned only two units of analysis: prayer on break and wearing religious symbols. Several extrinsic factors were identified in this lack of alignment between the official posture and the posture actually applied by managers: the form of REW, the religion concerned and whether it had minority status in the country, the degree of clarity of the official posture, the degree of formalization of the official posture, the size and scope of the company, the degree of awareness of managers and their teams, the degree of involvement of leaders in the definition and implementation of the posture, and the purpose of the official posture.

Research limitations/implications

This research provides a sensitive understanding of religious expression at work and shows that alignment is sought specifically for each form of REW. The distinction between official posture and applied posture is highlighted through the study of perceptions. In addition, this study enables the identification of factors that influence the alignment of official and operational postures.

Practical implications

These results call for clarity of the official posture and for it to be defended by leaders, provision of meaning to postures by raising awareness among intermediate hierarchical lines, understanding of the applicable legal framework to transpose it to the local level, and analysis of unaligned forms of REW to build a strong, shared posture.


This study, which was carried out within a specific French context, concerns areas that have received little attention or have not been studied at all to date, such as REW in SMEs or in the public sector, and demonstrates for the first time the distinction between official postures and effective postures.



Gaillard, H. (2022), "Managing religion at work: a necessary distinction between words and deeds. A multiple case study of the postures facing religious expression in French organizations", Employee Relations, Vol. 44 No. 4, pp. 744-763.



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