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For reference, I'm in the US, in a particularly religious part of the country.

I've noticed that at my company, nearly any time we have a meal during work (such as a conference or office party), whoever's speaking will lead the entire room in a (very much Christian) prayer or blessing before we eat. As far as I know, many employees here are Christian, but I feel like it's presumptuous to just assume that everyone is.

Personally, I am not religious at all. I don't have a problem with people practicing their religion on a personal level. I wouldn't describe this as offensive to me, however it feels incredibly awkward, and I feel like I don't fit in. I typically just stand/sit there silently until everyone finishes.

My company is not a religious organization, so this strikes me as particularly odd, especially when this happens during important conferences where the CEO is speaking.

I know it's fairly harmless and it's really not that big of a deal, I'm just curious as to how appropriate this kind of thing is. It seems rather unusual to me, but I imagine it seems quite normal to many people and may just be a product of the company culture.

What things should be considered with respect to this sort of activity?

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    Very appropriate to those who do it and also your boss, who most likely owns the company so he get to decide the company culture. I guess the question should be formed more objective (how regular is it?) – Jeroen Mar 28 '17 at 14:46
  • Completely appropriate if everyone agrees to it, which puts one person who disagrees in a really tough spot. – Myles Mar 28 '17 at 14:51
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    "I typically just stand/sit there silently until everyone finishes." - It seems like there's no problem here. Continue doing this. – pay Mar 28 '17 at 14:57
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    I edited this a bit because I think what you are asking can be on topic here. I'm not sure how to better edit it though. – enderland Mar 28 '17 at 15:30
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    Why are you asking if it's appropriate? Say the consensus here is that it's not? What will you do then? You're not the prayer leader wondering if you're doing the right thing, you're an employee feeling at least a little uncomfortable about a decision made by company leaders. Isn't a better question "what should I do?" or possibly "how common is this, will I find the same thing if I move jobs?" – Kate Gregory Mar 28 '17 at 15:38
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This gets tricky. It's "appropriate" if:

  • Employees can opt out, without penalty. Check out this document from the EEOC if you want the nitty gritty details. This is a really, really complicated area to get right - if in doubt, it's probably best to not try to include your religion in company sponsored events. But it's absolutely a clear line and problem in some areas such as a mandatory thing.
  • It fits company culture. In some companies, this is totally going to be "normal" and fit the culture. In others, it won't.

If it doesn't fit either of those this gets really tricky. Mandating something almost assuredly crosses a line. In some ways it becomes a complicated legal question if someone is offended and disagrees.

prayer or blessing before we eat.

One thing to consider is that a "blessing" is a fairly common practice across many religions or cultures. Without knowing the explicit details, I would say there are considerable differences between the appropriateness of:

  • A very specific Christian prayer at a meal
  • A generic blessing, with Christian undertones
  • Mandatory 9am company prayer

The reality is there is a continuum. Each individual person will have varying levels of "offendedness" at each of the above types of items.

As Monica points out, certain things that are "normal" in one religious background could be entirely offensive or even heretical in other religious. So you need great care in what you do in incorporating religious activities in a wider group setting.

  • @JoeStrazzere indeed. Among other reasons this whole thing is complicated as those norms vary nearly on a location by location basis even within companies. Or a team by team basis. Which is why the whole thing is tricky. Statistically you are likely to have people like the OP (indifferent) and people who are actually bothered in the audience, though. – enderland Mar 28 '17 at 18:02
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    There are things that are common or even mandatory in some religions that are offensive or idolatrous in others, and if people don't stop to think about it before casually involving others in their religious practices, things can get very uncomfortable. So yes, complicated. – Monica Cellio Mar 28 '17 at 19:16
  • @MonicaCellio I added that, it's a good point which again makes it more complicated. – enderland Mar 28 '17 at 19:58
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Appropriate? That's a tough question because what's appropriate to one is not to another.

My personal feeling though is that it's unwise. When you introduce any organized prayer (even just a blessing on the food), you risk someone getting offended because they may have a different (or no) religion. The next step is that person not feeling comfortable with not participating or saying something about it. After that, there become questions of "hostile work environment" because the person alleges he was made to feel uncomfortable because he refused to participate, and so on.

Bringing any religious practice into a business that has no religious component in itself is a very risky idea.

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    Exceptions made of course for organizations who are religious in nature, like the Liberty University or a Christian bookstore. Then prayer is completely appropriate. – HLGEM Mar 28 '17 at 17:08
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    Which is why I said "that has no religious component". I once went to a meeting at the LDS Church office building as they were a client. That meeting opened in prayer. Setting matters. – Chris E Mar 28 '17 at 17:14
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It is presumptuous to assume that everyone is okay with a prayer at a company meal. I also would say that is probably not appropriate either.

The bottom line though is if you wish for this to be fruitful job for you, I would suggest that you silently bow your head at these events and just listen. No real harm comes from it.

I think it would be a horrible idea to raise this as an issue to HR as its already (obviously) an accepted practice. If you're that guy that complained about the prayer at the company meal, you're likely to make some enemies at all levels.

I found this article to be insightful. Religion in the workplace

At the end of the day however, if it bothers you too much, you may want to move on.

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    Yeah, I would be that guy. I have been that guy. It didn't go well. Sometimes, you have to weigh the strength of your convictions against your future prospects. It was worth it to me to torpedo that job by complaining about religion encroaching on work life, but everyone has to make that decision for themself. – sleddog Mar 28 '17 at 15:31
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    You don't even need to bow your head; just wait for the event to pass. You'll probably learn quickly who also doesn't care for prayer. – Erik Mar 28 '17 at 15:32
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    I personally think it's a horrible idea to take anything to HR, ever. Their job is to protect the company at all costs. – Chris E Mar 28 '17 at 16:08
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    Hello @IDrinkandIKnowThings This is a solid answer based on my own experience. – Mister Positive Mar 28 '17 at 16:10
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    I did not flag it for removal. I simply explained my downvote. I stand by my assessment and treat similar answers by other people the same way. And this is not about your experiences this is your opinions. Those may have been formed by experience but that is not communicated in your answer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Mar 28 '17 at 16:10

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