Faith and job satisfaction: is religion a missing link?

Author:Ghazzawi, Issam A.
Position::Report
 
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INTRODUCTION

A major influence on an employee's satisfaction at work is the subtle permission on the part of the employer to allow him or her to be a complete person, rather than making it necessary to leave important personal characteristics, such as ethnicity, gender or religion, at the door (Ackers and Preston 1997; Epstein 2002). This desire is not limited to one age group or education level; rather it affects the job satisfaction or dissatisfaction of many employees (Brief 1998; Kutcher et al. 2010).

In the diverse workplace of the 21st century, a-good-manager works at creating an inclusive workplace where whole-person expression is welcomed. Research suggests that such encouragement includes the accommodation of spirituality and the basic tenets of religious faiths (Ali and Gibbs 1998; Walker 2013). That is, understanding an employee's spirituality helps minimize misunderstanding and creates a healthy, accepting workplace. It increases job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction can be defined as an individual's positive or negative attitude toward his or her job or workplace (Brayfield and Crocket 1955; Kinicki et al. 2002). Research suggests that there are extensive positive correlations between job satisfaction and important workplace variables such as organizational commitment, absenteeism, and low turnover (Judge et al. 2001; Mowday and Steers 1979; O'Reilly and Caldwell 1980; Petty et al. 1984). Hence, employee job satisfaction is presumed to be an important construct for managers to understand.

Job satisfaction is a complex construct. Four basic factors are postulated to affect an individual's level of job satisfaction: (1) the nature of the work itself (Herzberg, 1987; Kim, 2005); (2) the individual's personality, demographics, and values (Judge and Larsen 2001; Locke and Latham 1990); (3) social influence (Van den Berg and Feij 2003); and (4) the individual's general life satisfaction (Jones 2006; Witmer and Sweeney 1992).

Ghazzawi and Smith (2009) suggest that a strong religious faith could influence at least three of these factors. For example, individual values are often formed and strengthened by the religion the person is affiliated with. Social influence, in the form of religious teachings and communities, may affect how the person understands the value of his or her job. General life satisfaction can be enhanced by a sense of purpose in life, as is incorporated into many religious systems (Ellison and Smith 1991).

Indeed, a number of researchers have found positive correlations between an employee's spirituality and his or her satisfaction with, and commitment to, the job (Barnett et al. 1996; Kolodinsky et al. 2008; Milliman et al. 2001). However, although spiritual commitment has been researched extensively in relation to job satisfaction and other work attitudes, religious commitment has been less studied (Cash and Gray 2000; Fry 2003; Moore 2008; Von Bergen 2009).

This paper contributes to the literature in several ways. First, it contributes to the ethics literature by adding to the discussion on religion. As said before, in relation to employees the ethics literature has tended to emphasize spirituality (Kennedy and Lawton 1998; Kutcher et al. 2010; Moore 2008; Von Bergen 2009), but there have been increasing calls for more research on employees and religion (e.g. Conroy and Emerson, 2004; Furnham 1990; Ghazzawi et al. 2012; Ibrahim et. al. 2008; Kriger and Seng 2005; Moore 2008). This might be because spirituality is often self-defined in individual terms (Duffy, 2006; Fry, 2003; Kolodinsky et al. 2008) which, arguably, makes it more difficult to study reliably (Hill and Pargament 2003; Milliman et al. 2001; Parboteeah et al. 2008). Please note that saying that spirituality is often defined in individual terms does not suggest that there is not a communal aspect (i.e. Milliman et al. 2001), merely that there is not a consistent group creed or defining set of beliefs. However, a majority of the employees (and employers) who say they are spiritual are also members of one of the major religions (Kriger and Seng 2005; Walker 2013), and these do have defining beliefs. Studying spirituality within a consistent community and set of beliefs can arguably contribute to rigor in the research (Hill and Pargament 2003; Hill et al. 1998; Kutcher 2010). Thus, one benefit of studying religion might include the ability to generalize finding more straightforwardly.

It should be noted that this paper does not focus on one particular religion. Rather it focuses on religions as collective faith and creed systems (Fisher, 2008; Hill et al. 1998; Fry 2003; Kennedy and Lawton, 1998; Kolodinsky et al. 2008). Though there is spirituality outside of religion, religions incorporate the spirituality of the individual into a system of formal doctrine, worship, values, attitudes, prayer, and devotional practices (Horton 1950; Vitell 2009; Zellers and Perrewe 2003). Spirituality is valuable to study, but it is not the focus of this paper.

This paper also contributes by exploring religion in relation to a major workplace variable, job satisfaction. The connections between religious expression and workplace attitudes are important for managers to understand. Outside of the West many employees assume that religion will be central in the workplace (Ali 1987; Choo et al. 2009; Hutchings et al. 2010). Even in the West, religion is important to people. For example, though there is evidence that Americans are becoming less religious (Grossman 2009), 80% of surveyed adults in the U.S identify themselves with a formal religion, and over half say religion is very important in their lives and that they attend religious services regularly and pray daily (PewResearch 2008: Para. 2). Thus, while religion may not be as central in the western workplace as in other societies, we suggest that many employees would not wish to sublimate their religious identities at work (Kennedy and Lawton 1998; Kutcher et al. 2010). In addition organizations are becoming increasingly diverse (Cunningham, 2010; Kriger and Seng 2005). Therefore it becomes even more important for managers who desire to create inclusive workplaces to understand the links between religious commitment and work attitudes.

This research also contributes because it focuses on five different religions. Though there have been repeated calls for multi-religion tests of workplace attitudes (i.e. Parboteeah et al. 2009; Kutcher et al. 2010), it is still relatively unusual to find studies where people of different religions are compared on the same scale. In addition this study tests working adults, which adds robustness to the results. It explores the positive aspects of religiously committed employees, thus adding complexity to the perspectives in the organizational literature.

Finally, this study contributes by testing the validity for an instrument that is increasingly used in measuring religious commitment--the Religious Commitment Inventory-10 (Worthington et al. 2003). To date, this instrument has been shown to be a robust, multidimensional measurement of religiosity, but it has largely been tested on Christians (Hall et al. 2009; Kum-Lung and Teck-Chai 2010). This research tests the instrument on a variety of people, including those who are religiously committed and those who are not.

There are many thousands of religions but we chose to focus this study on the five largest--Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism (Adherents.com 2012). This kept the study and the paper within reasonable bounds. Testing other religions, or people without religion, in relation to job satisfaction is valuable, but it is outside the scope of this paper.

The following pages will first focus on the nature of religion and its connections with ethics and with the workplace. Next, we will discuss the five major religions in relation to job satisfaction. Lastly, we present the study linking job satisfaction to the religious commitment of adherents of the five largest world religions.

THEORITICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE STUDY: RELIGION AND JOB SATISFACTION

Religion can be thought of as a sincerely held set of beliefs about the nature of the forces(s) that ultimately shape man's destiny and moral values (Lenski, 1969; Von Bergen 2009). For the sake of simplicity, in this paper we will call these forces(s) "deity" with a small "d" By "deity" we mean to denote the ultimate source that adherents to the religion assume are the sacred/moral/shaping force or forces that create their religion.

A religion includes "the feelings, thoughts, experiences and behaviors that arise from a search for the sacred ... and the means and methods (e.g. rituals or prescribed behaviors) of the search that receive validation and support from within an identifiable group of people" (Hill et al. 1998:21). Most religions bring their devotees into a community, such as a temple, church, synagogue, or mosque, and encourage members to interact in worship, prayer/meditation, or study of sacred documents.

Considerable research focuses on the relationship between religion and ethics (e.g. Cavanagh and Bandsuch 2002; Childs 1995; Ibrahim et al. 2007; Kutcher et al. 2010). Religions, through the norms, values, and beliefs they advocate, often provide the foundations for the ethical values of their adherents (Horton, 1950; Fararo and Skvoretz 1986; Fisher 2001; Turner, 1997). For example, the code of ethical values found in the Ten Commandments provides a moral foundation for three major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam).

There is theoretical support for a positive relationship between a higher degree of religious commitment and ethical workplace attitudes (Allmon et al. 2000; Barnett et al. 1996; Conroy and Emerson 2004; Siu et al. 2000; Smith and Oakley 1996; Wolkomir et al. 1997). For example, the Hunt and Vitel (1986) Ethics Model postulates that personal religious commitment influences an individual's perceptions of situations,...

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