According to an academician in California who specializes in management issues, people who are inclined toward religious adherence and spirituality are no more likely to exhibit ethical behavior in the workplace than people who have no such inclination. And to top that off, he insists that training in business ethics is a waste of time because it's unlikely to have any impact.
The academician is Dan Martin, associate professor of management at California State University-East Bay, who will present his research next month at the 2010 Academy of Management conference in Montreal in a session titled, "The Dark Side of Ethics." In his paper, "Uniform Guidelines, Spirituality, Religiosity, and Predictors of Ethical Workplace Behaviors," Martin challenges the notion that there is a link between religiosity-defined by Martin as the psychological behavior that drives people's adherence to religion-and spirituality on the one hand, and ethical behavior and workplace integrity on the other.
I recently spoke at length with Martin about these issues, and he noted that STEM workers are among those most inclined toward religious adherence (as opposed to social scientists, whom he described as "probably the biggest camp of atheists out there"). Martin, who stressed that he's not pro-religion or anti-religion, clearly sees religiosity and spirituality doing far more harm than good in the workplace:
It doesn't mean that being religious is bad. All it means is the common expectation is there is going to be a link between ethical behavior, responsibility and stability on the one hand, and religiosity and spirituality on the other. In fact, what we find is there is none. You cannot use religiosity or spirituality as a proxy for measuring those things. What you tend to find is, the more fundamental and dichotomous-right or wrong, black or white-a religion is going to be, the more you're going to find workplace deviant-type behavior. The way that people identify themselves, the way that they choose to manifest their religiosity, is going to be very strongly related to things like racism, prejudice, sexism, and a host of other discriminatory behaviors, that as a human resources and organizational behavior professor I'm really concerned about, because the legal ramifications are colossal. From a legal perspective, this becomes really of great concern. My advice to people is to steer clear of anything involving spirituality or expressing religiosity in the workplace. Inevitably, this creates distinctions in the organization that cause problems.
Martin also noted that anti-Islamic sentiment in the aftermath of 9/11 is an element of the broader phenomenon of prejudice toward those who are different from us as a predominantly Christian country manifesting itself most vehemently during troubled times:
Right now, we're going through, hopefully, the end of a recession. When things are difficult, we look for comfort in our traditional values. And part and parcel of that is the predominantly Christian expectations of this country. We've got a lot of diversity [in terms of denominations of Christianity], but difficult times tend to make people a little more persecutorial of those [such as non-Christians] who are not like them.
Martin went on to suggest that not only does religiosity have no bearing on our ethical behavior, but training in business ethics is no real help, either. Universities have courses in ethics due to accrediting bodies and business community demand:
But the reality of it is that students by the time they're about 7 years old have already really concretized their ethical perspective. So in essence, you can give people classes out the wazoo on ethics, but it's unlikely that it's really going to impact them. That's why we have the law.
I'd be very interested in getting your take on all this. Do you agree that there is no connection between religiosity/spirituality and ethical behavior in the workplace? And is training in business ethics the waste of time that Martin claims it is?