Written Sunday 23rd April 2023

Supporting Jewish colleagues in the workplace

Star of David

Antisemitism – or the discrimination and prejudice against Jewish people – has been an increasing issue in recent years. In fact, in their 2021 report, the Community Security Trust (CST), who monitor antisemitism in the UK, recorded their highest ever total of antisemitic incidents, peaking at 2,255. This was a 34% increase on the previous year. 

There are also disturbing statistics from the TUC, as reported by Ariel Chapman in their article, which states that “1 in 3 British Jews are considering leaving the UK due to antisemitism”.

However, since antisemitism is widely under-reported, and is what the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) calls “an attitude” existing at “different scales and levels of intensity”, it is hard to capture the scale of antisemitic activity and beliefs in this country.

As such, sadly, the prevalence of antisemitism in society means it’s likely to be present in the workplace too, as evidenced by Ariel Chapman, who adds that “employees often felt unable to even talk to their union about the extent of antisemitism in the workplace.”

It’s vital that employers and team members positively support Jewish colleagues, fostering an inclusive and welcoming environment in which to work and socialise, and creating a space free of hate and discrimination. After all, everyone deserves to feel safe and welcome at work.

Here are some simple ways organisations of all shapes and sizes can ensure that Jewish colleagues are fully supported and respected.

Accommodate festivals and holy days

Some Jewish holidays and festivals may require time off work. The Jewish calendar is lunar, which means the exact dates change every year, and sometimes this means holidays, such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah (new year) could fall on a weekday. 

Shabbat (the Sabbath) is the Jewish day of rest and begins on Friday afternoons. During this time, Jewish people are prohibited from work (ranging from writing to travelling as well as commercial transactions). 

It’s important as an employer or manager that you are mindful of these dates, and are flexible, allowing your team to accommodate these significant times in the calendar around their work schedules and deadlines. You may, for example, allow colleagues to work flexibly to accommodate finishing early on a Friday.

This is no different to any other religious holiday that team members may observe. We’ve written about the anglocentrism of work and annual leave before, and the importance of adapting work diaries around all religious festivals and beliefs.

Offer space for prayer

Another way to ensure your working environment is welcoming for those who practise the Jewish faith is to provide a prayer room for anyone who wishes to use it. Most office spaces offer a multi-faith room that can be used by all who need a place for prayer and reflection. Some Jewish colleagues may observe prayers three times a day, so make sure they have somewhere comfortable and well-equipped to do so.

Some instances may also mean colleagues will need to attend synagogue during the working day, so offer space within working hours to accommodate this too – in a similar way to our previous point about flexing around holidays.

Be mindful of dietary requirements

Nowadays, workplaces and catering facilities can provide for all dietary requirements, and it is just as important to offer Kosher food as it is to ensure you have vegan and Halal options, for example.

If your workplace has on-site catering, or you regularly host events and meetings that involve food and drink, ensure your Jewish colleagues are catered for – and catered for well. It’s standard practice to ask colleagues to provide dietary requirements ahead of an event, so you should be doing this already! 

Kosher food also refers to how it is prepared and combinations of food, as well as the type of food available, so don’t cut corners.

Respect dress codes and modesty

There are many ways in which members of the Jewish community will choose to observe their faith through how they dress. For example, some Jewish men cover their heads at all times with a Kippah (skull cap) or similar,  and some married Jewish women may also cover their hair (either with a scarf, a wig, or a hat). As with any religious dress, this must be respected in the workplace, whether or not you have a uniform.

There are also rules around modesty. Handshakes and physical contact, particularly with the opposite sex, are unacceptable for orthodox individuals, for example. Acknowledging this by allowing your colleague to lead the way in terms of what is acceptable for them, or even just by asking before promptly offering to shake hands, can ensure your workplace remains inclusive and welcoming.

Familiarise yourself with Jewish law

While Jewish law prohibits working during Shabbat or festivals and holidays, it can be disregarded when lives need to be saved. This should be considered in environments such as healthcare and emergency services, although it is down to the individual’s discretion.  

This is a good example of why it is important to be familiar with the principles of Jewish law and belief. It’s also key for you to listen to your team to fully understand and learn about their needs and requirements – which leads nicely  to our final point!

Accept the diversity of religion

As with most religions, Judaism is hugely diverse, and each individual’s faith is unique and varied. Respect the different customs and practices that colleagues observe, and understand that there are many levels to how colleagues may observe their faith: some may be strictly orthodox, whereas others may choose a different approach, simply observing one or two of the religious practices. 

Treating each member of your workplace community individually is one of the most important ways you can foster an inclusive and welcoming environment. While community identity is a huge part of many religions and cultures, it’s all about treating people as the individual human being that they are. No one person is the same, and that should be accepted and celebrated.

And finally, please be mindful of the world and its impact on your team. When incidents happen in society or are reported extensively on the news – for example, unrest or the rise in antisemitic crimes and incidents – this will affect the people you work with. Ensure you have the facilities to provide wider support, and be sure to tackle any issues that find their way into your workspace. Don’t just ignore what’s going on in the ‘outside world’: address it, and do what you can to tackle the issue within your community.

At Druthers, it’s our mission and our passion to empower organisations to find the best person to make an impact on their work, from a diverse shortlist of remarkable talent. Get in touch with us to find out how your business can make a positive change to your hiring and retention processes.