Are those that are religious better employees? Or, at the very least, are they more ethical and less likely to steal from the biz? That’s the controversial launching point of a study that The Open Kimono recently dissected. For those that want to examine statistical t-tests, you can be our guest by seeing the article, in its entirety, here.
There’s little earthshattering about the scholarly logic here. Essentially, the researchers make the claim that religious teachings are inherently moral in nature. Even more, many of these Biblical moral teachings can generalize over into the business world. The logic further goes that individuals who are highly religious subscribe to these moral teachings better than most of us and are more likely to bring that lens into the workplace. When they do, they’re more apt to make better ethical decisions than mere pagans.
The Samples and Measures
To test their hypotheses that more religion = better ethical decisions, they launched a survey out to 10,000 men and women in varying business and organizational fields. Of the 10,000 surveys sent out, they got 1,234 back, which isn’t too bad.
The survey respondents were asked to evaluate a series of 16 vignettes on their ethicality. For instance, one of the vignettes read—In order to increase profits, a general manager used a production process, which exceeded legal limits for environmental pollution.
Another read—A firm paid a $350,000 “consulting” fee to an official of a foreign country. In return, the official promised assistance in obtaining a contract which should produce $10 million profit for the contracting firm.
Those completing the survey could respond from 1, “never acceptable” to 7, “always acceptable.”
In this same survey, they were asked to identify their general religious faith category (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or No-Religion) and to indicate the importance they placed on their moral beliefs (high importance to no importance).
We Now Open the Kimono
The results are somewhat surprising. Labeling oneself as a member of a broad religious group didn’t seem to matter in the ethical scoring of the vignettes. For example, if an individual identified themselves as a Catholic, there was little statistical difference on how they ethically judged the 16 scenarios compared to those that identified as having no religion.
What did seem to matter, though, was when the authors examined the role of religion in people’s lives. Those that said that religion was highly or moderately important in their lives consistently rated the vignettes or scenarios in a better or more harsh ethical manner (e.g., never acceptable) compared to those who placed low or no importance of religion in their life. The authors advance a rather straightforward conclusion—devout people make superior ethical decisions in business settings.
Before we end, the authors of this study pulled one last trick. They attempted to identify those that were extremely conservative or orthodox in their religious beliefs. They did this by asking two follow-on survey questions. Specifically, they captured those who rated the two following statements as “very acceptable”: accepting the Bible as inspired, authoritative, and reliable as a guide and recognizing Jesus Christ as Lord of all business activities. Again, those that answered HELL YES to those two statements were lumped into a single category that the authors labeled, simply, Evangelicals. When this subset was compared to the remainder of the sample, the researchers found rather conclusively that Evangelicals demonstrated a higher degree of ethical judgment compared to all others. Put plainly, Evangelical religious commitment seems to equate to stronger ethical judgments.
This study suffered some flaws. Namely, they didn’t use regression analysis that could statistically account for other explanations such as men scoring lower than women. T-tests are among the simplest of statistical techniques and the authors rely solely on this statistical tool. Also, the scholars focus on Judeo-Christian categories. They ignore other religions such as Islam or Hinduism.
If we can set the limitations aside, though, there are the green shoots of evidence that religion cannot be ignored in the workplace. Here, we see some evidence that the stronger we hold religion, the better our ethical decision-making seems to be.
Just, perhaps, there is a benefit of finding religion to make business better.