Professor: Religious Adherence Unrelated to Ethical Workplace Behavior

Don Tennant

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?

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Jul 26, 2010 8:41 AM Steve Janssen Steve Janssen  says:

Don, interesting article.  Dan Martin's statement that students have an ethical perspective by age 7 should be moved up a year or so.  If this perspective has no moral foundation, or if there is one, it is most likely very weak and susceptible to a quick erosion.  If a person has no true moral foundation, religiosity/spirituality is a facade.

Jul 26, 2010 2:26 PM Mrcio Costa Mrcio Costa  says:

Hi Don, good evening,

Interesting article. IMHO (this very expression is a sign of religiosity or not?):

1) No one, nothing, whatever will ever surpass... freedom. Never. In essence, what does Ethics really mean... when you talk about free person? Anything you say, rule, mandate, etc, etc, etc is nothing against a person willing to do... that. Even if someone does not want really nothing, he/she still does want... nothing. Whatever you say. So, what is the point with any religion/Ethics system, if we are free?

2) The result of any system based on fear is... reaction. Period. Is religion based in... fear?

3) You only will know someone when he/she is under pressure. Or fear. Why does come to mind that any - ANY - racism or prejudice is a result of... fear? Or... pressure?

4) What do you want? Who are you?

Excuse me about being so 'philosophical' - after all, this is one of the most (if it is not THE most) philosophical question. But my points really are:

1) Any rule code/religion/ethics are useless - if you want someone to be '''''''good''''''''. People are free.

2) Every single result from pressure/fear/etc is reaction. Prejudice, racism, etc.


The paradox of paradoxes is - if you want someone to be ethical, he/she needs to be... free. After, he/she IS free. Whatever you want or say. But how a free person would follow an '''''ethical''''' behavior, since he/she is free?

Simple - 'nothing rests'. Ethical behaviors are fully rational in its main essence. It is a natural path to 'want' Ethics. But you need to find out this by yourself. A real long path...

Is rationality something when 'nothing rests'?

Please notice that, as a collateral corolary, we are in essence saying that Education is.... useless.

I am really curious about your commentaries...



Jul 29, 2010 5:37 PM ededwards ededwards  says: in response to Steve Janssen

This is another attempt to rationalize the fact that philosophers have failed to prove there is any moral imperative outside of the supernatural effect that our concience has on moral decisions. This study I believe is simply more evidence of a culling of morality that is occuring in America through the corporate system. Just like any of the mystery cults there is a series of tests a person must pass to get to the next level. Amoral sociopaths move to the top.

"Martin, clearly sees religiosity and spirituality doing far more harm than good in the workplace: It doesn't mean that being religious is bad."

Classic mind control double speak. Anyone who takes this guy as a scientist rather that a Guru is a fool.


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