Religion and Integrity in the Workplace: A Controversial Study

religion-and-integrityDo god-fearing, church-going people make better employees? Are the religious or spiritual more honest and responsible? In a word, "no," according to a recent paper based on studies done by a professor of social sciences in Northern California. In fact, he found that "Organizational and interpersonal deviance in the workplace correlate with religiosity."

In layman's terms, that means the more religious you are, the more likely you are to lie, cheat and steal at work -- although you just might have a little more integrity than your non-religious colleagues.

Daniel Martin, Associate Professor of Management at California State University, East Bay, was merely attempting to check out the general assumption held by most American employers that someone who goes to church, prays regularly and answers to a higher power will be the best choice for a job or a promotion. He involved people of all religions and levels of spirituality in his study -- Eastern religions, Islam, Christians of all stripes, Jews, New Age spiritualists, etc. He also involved people who claimed no religious affiliation or belief whatsoever.

Details of the study

Participants were asked to fill out a long questionnaire measuring their degree of involvement with religion, as well as their ethics, morals,values, professional and social habits. He made sure there was no motivation to lie or impress. For example, people were asked how well statements like the following described them:

  • Believe in a universal power or God
  • Am a spiritual person
  • Have spent at least 30 minutes in the last 24 hours in prayer or meditation
  • Do not practice any religion
  • Lie to get myself out of trouble
  • Feel like an imposter
  • Like to exaggerate my troubles

The list goes on an on. There were hundreds of these types of statements. The variables in the study were: integrity, responsibility, self control, stability, impression management, religiosity, and spirituality.

When the answers were tabulated, factoring in all those complicated variables that social scientists know so well, such as people's natural tendencies to want to present themselves in a more positive light, he found that there IS a correlation between spirituality and integrity. In other words, those who claimed to be more spiritual proved to have a little more integrity than those who didn't. When it comes to responsibility however, the religious are no more or less likely to be responsible than any one else.

daniel-martinBut the study also found that people who claim to be religious are more prejudicial and discriminatory, both inside and outside the workplace. "This is nothing new," Martin said. "Studies done clear back since the '50s have shown this."

The study also found that people who go to church for social reasons are the most likely to slander, gossip, be late, etc. "The findings are counter-intuitive." he said. "The more religious are going to be more prone to participate in interpersonal and organizational deviance."

"Organizational deviance is negative behavior toward the organization," he explained, such as stealing office supplies, lying on expense reports, purposely wasting time, etc. Interpersonal deviance at work involves negative behavior toward your co-workers, such as gossiping, backstabbing, stealing credit, etc.

Possible reasons for the results

So with the vast majority of religions preaching against this sort of negative behavior, why would those who actively practice religion be more likely to act contrary to their beliefs? One can only speculate, according to Martin. Some people feel they're entitled to act any way they want because they're enlightened. Some people believe that once they're saved, they're saved and nothing else they do matters -- after all, that's what repentance is for. Some people believe they answer to a higher power than their fallible employer.

Martin acknowledges that more studies need to be done to find out the whys and wherefores, and he realizes that these findings go against conventional wisdom. But he hopes employers will use them to stay out of legal trouble. If employers hire people based on religion, they could be open to lawsuits.

Next:The Toxic Workplace: How to Deal With Politically Incorrect Co-Workers >>

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