About the discipline
As the workplace grows more diverse and the economy more global, there is a growing need for understanding of religious beliefs and how they affect the workplace and business community. Conducting business outside the United States involves negotiating diverse cultures, laws, languages and attitudes. Closer to home, workplaces now contain a greater plurality of religions among their workers, with their own beliefs about the role of religion at work, religious holidays, faith-based food requirements and ethical systems.
It is important that professionals are educated about religious beliefs to better serve the needs of clients and patients, and work effectively with colleagues. People are additionally spending more time at work and growing more assertive about how they express their faith. The workplace is one of the main places workers meet people of other religions and talk about religious issues in their lives and the news. The recent spate of corporate scandals has also prompted businesses and individuals to pursue ways to make the marketplace more ethical, sometimes looking to religion as a model.
Workplace ethics: Ethical failures are making the news in the corporate world, medicine, technology, law, the military and journalism. The result is a new focus on teaching values in a business setting and teaching business ethics in an educational setting. Federal law now requires that publicly held companies report on their integrity, and leaders are expected to set the tone. Because religions offer ethical and moral guidance for behavior, some people believe appealing to faith values will increase ethical decision-making. Scholars, authors and business programs are incorporating religious perspectives in their discussions of workplace ethics. Some business leaders or companies now say they take their ethical cues from religious models. Others limit ethics programs to secular spheres because of the diversity of employees’ religious beliefs, religion’s potential for creating conflict or concern of violating government rules about religion and the workplace.
The nation’s surge in interest in religion and the workplace resembles the second “Great Awakening” period of evangelicalism in the early half of the 19th century. A tenet of the movement was tying religious devotion to industrial morality, now known as the “Protestant work ethic,” and an influence on American business for decades. Waves of immigrants with different belief systems began challenging those structures by the time of the end of the Civil War. Later, businesses largely moved to more secular expectations. Today’s marketplace continues to bring diverse beliefs about religion and work to the workplace, posing challenges to existing structures, but also offering potential to draw on ethical beliefs from many traditions and create a workplace that respects different religious beliefs.
MU’s Center on Religion & the Professions is spearheading discussion among faculty in MU’s professional schools about religion’s role in informing ethical standards through its Ethics Consortium. Faculty from several disciplines are discussing the implications of increased religious and cultural diversity in America for training in ethics, and whether – with professionals and clients coming from a wide range of religious traditions – teaching methods and curricula of professional schools need to be adjusted. New ideas emerging from this consortium are shared through seminars and articles in scholarly and professional journals.
Religion at work: A growing number of businesses are fostering expressions of faith by providing time and space for employees to gather, or by overtly making faith an integral part of their philosophy. Retreats emphasize connecting with spirituality and executives get together for prayer breakfasts and spiritual conferences. Employees meet for prayer groups and scripture studies. Companies such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Wal-Mart Stores have hired chaplains who visit employees in hospitals and offer counseling to deal with stress and depression. At the same time, a growing number of Christian ministries are urging members to live out their faith at work. Recent books encourage workplace spirituality as an avenue for self-realization, work as service to the divine, and spirituality as a guide in leadership, decisions and ethics.
Some studies have shown that companies with programs that use spiritual techniques have increased productivity and reduced turnover, and that employees who work for organizations they consider to be spiritual are less fearful, less likely to compromise their values, and more able to throw themselves into their jobs. Some companies limit religious expression on company time and property, however, for reasons ranging from personal philosophy to respect for federal laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on religion, both positive and negative. Tension about religion and the workplace remains an issue, with complaints about workplace discrimination increasing in the past 10 years. In 2002, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported a 29 percent spike since 1992 in the number of religious-based discrimination charges, making those the third-fastest-growing claim, after sexual harassment and disability.
Issues today: While businesses are incorporating spiritual beliefs, religious institutions are also appropriating business models. Many churches are using branding techniques to create an image and impression, while the role of pastor now often also requires skills as a business manager. Employment opportunities exist for those with business savvy to advise religious institutions, from local houses of worship to denominational and faith organizations.
In the workplace, businesses are still grappling with written policies for religious expression. Many professions have a code of values that may or may not be consistent with religious values. Some make assumptions that religion is always a force for good, but not everyone in the marketplace believes or finds that to be true. Some religious groups fear a rise in pluralism in the workplace comes with the risk of weakening the faith of their believers and spreading types of religion they believe are wrong, and are willing to take action to counteract it. Today’s businesses also must discern answers to ethical questions about outsourcing production or selling inexpensive products at the expense of workers.
The bottom line in today’s marketplace is that businesses do better when they know what people want and don’t offend them in the process. Understanding religious and cultural norms – language, social expectations, nonverbal communication, dress and appearance, dining customs, and oral and written communication – can mean the difference between unsuccessfully and successfully forming profitable long-term relationships. Examples may include knowing that it is proper to eat only with the right hand in the Middle East; that Hindus consider odd-numbers to be lucky; or that an Orthodox Jewish man will not shake hands with a woman.
The goal in understanding religious beliefs in the business community is to deliver professional services in a society of great diversity. Curriculum designed by the Center on Religion & the Professions aims to equip professional schools around the nation with strategies and materials that prepare students for this environment. It also helps professionals and students become more aware and respectful of religious and cultural beliefs among co-workers, clients or patients, and of how religion affects their own perspectives.
- Samanta, Subarna, Igor Pleskov, and Ali H. Zadeh. “Religion as a Determinant of Corruption: Comparative Evidence from OPEC and OECD Countries.” International Journal of Management, 27, no. 3 (2010): 728
- Hyunsun Choi. “Religious Institutions and Ethnic Entrepreneurship: The Korean Ethnic Church as a Small Business Incubator.” Economic Development Quarterly, 24, no. 4 (2010): 372
- Graafland, Johan, Corrie Mazereeuw and Aziza Yahia. “Islam and Socially Responsible Business Conduct: An Empirical Study of Duth Entrepreneurs.” Business Ethics: A European Review. 15, no. 4 (2006): 390-406.
- Hasu, Paivi. “World Bank and Heavenly Bank in Poverty and Prosperity: The Case of Tanzanian Faith Gospel.” Review of African Political Economy. 33, no. 110 (2006): 679-92.
- Kean, Sam. “‘SmartMoney’: Religious Giving.” Chronicle of Philanthropy. 19, no. 6 (2007): 41.
- Nixon, Mark. “Satisfaction for Whom? Freedom for What? Theology and the Economic Theory of the Consumer.” Journal of Business Ethics. 70, no. 1 (2007): 39-60.
- Whitty, Stephen Jonathan and Mark Frederick Schulz. “The Impact of Puritan Ideology On Aspects of Project Management.” International Journal of Project Management. 25, no. 1 (2007): 10-20.
- “Islam and Socially Responsible Business Conduct: An Empirical Study of Duth Entrepreneurs” by Johan Graafland, Corrie Mazereeuw and Aziza Yahia. Business Ethics: A European Review. 15, no. 4 (2006): 390-406.
- “World Bank and Heavenly Bank in Poverty and Prosperity: The Case of Tanzanian Faith Gospel” by Paivi Hasu. Review of African Political Economy. 33, no. 110 (2006): 679-92.
- “‘SmartMoney’: Religious Giving” by Sam Kean. Chronicle of Philanthropy. 19, no. 6 (2007): 41.
- “Satisfaction for Whom? Freedom for What? Theology and the Economic Theory of the Consumer” by Mark Nixon. Journal of Business Ethics. 70, no. 1 (2007): 39-60.
- “The Impact of Puritan Ideology On Aspects of Project Management” by Stephen Jonathan Whitty and Mark Frederick Schulz. International Journal of Project Management. 25, no. 1 (2007): 10-20.
- “Risky Business: Assessing Risk Preference Explanations for Gender Differences in Religiosity” by Louis Marie Roth and Jeffrey Kroll. American Sociological Review. 72, no. 2 (2007): 205-20.
- “Consumer Witchcraft: Are Teenage Witches a Creation of Commercial Interests?” by Denise Cush. Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies in Religion & Education. 28, no. 1 (2007): 45-53.
- “Each faith offers business ethics guidelines” by Helen T. Gray. Wichita Eagle, May 30, 2009.
- “When the boss is omnipotent” by Paul Swider. St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 26, 2007.
- “Hindu-Muslim Family’s Choice Of Cremation Arouses Anger” by Anne Barnard.The New York Times, Oct. 4, 2008.
- “Modernism, Christianity, and Business Ethics: A Worldview Perspective” by David Kim, Dan Fisher, and David McCalman. Journal of Business Ethics, 90:1 (2009): 115-121.
- “Religiosity and Attitudes Toward Diversity: A Potential Workplace Conflict?” by Judy P. Strauss and Olukemi O. Sawyerr. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39:11 (2009): 2626-2650.
- The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Max Weber and Stephen Kalberg. Revised ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2010.
- To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise. Bethany Moreton. Harvard University Press, 2010.
- Faith, Morals and Money: What the World’s Religions Tell Us About Ethics in the Marketplace. Edward D. Zinbarg. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.
- Business And Religion: A Clash of Civilizations? (Conflicts and Trends in Business Ethics). M&M Scrivener Press, 2005.
- Business, Religion, and Spirituality: A New Synthesis. Oliver F. Williams (ed.). John W. Houck Notre Dame Series in Business Ethics. University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.
- The Gods of Business. Todd Albertson. Trinity Alumi Association, 2007.
- Marketplace Christianity: Discovering the Kingdom Purpose of the Marketplace. Robert E. Fraser. Oasis House, 2004.
- God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement. David W. Miller. Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace. Alexander Hill. IVP Academic; Revised edition, 2008.
- Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion. J. Carrette and Richard King. Routledge, 2004.
- Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lessons from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts. Levi Brackman and Sam Jaffe. AMACOM, 2008.
- Driven by Faith or Customer Service? Muslim Taxi Drivers at the MSP Airport, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University
- Paul Sergius Koku. “Natural market segments: religion and identity — the case of ‘zongos’ in Ghana.” Journal of Islamic Marketing, 2, no. 2 (2011): 177-85
Codes of ethics
- Society for Business Ethics – General Goals
- International Business Ethics Institute
- Association of School Business Officials International – Professional Standards & Code of Ethics
- Contractor Code of Business and Ethics Conduct for U.S. Small Business Association (.pdf)
- Association for Business Communication – Professional Ethics, Code of Conduct
- Business Marketing Association – Code of Ethics
- National Association of Sales Professionals – Standards of Professional Conduct
- Direct Selling Association – Code of Ethics
- Department of Commerce Summary of Ethics Rules (.pdf)
- How to Instruct Staff in Cultural Competency
- “Can Religion and Business Learn From Each Other? Q&A with Laura Nash.” Nov. 12, 2001
- “Religion & Business: A Jewish Perspective, An interview with Rabbi Daniel Lapin.” Ethix Magzine, a publication of the Institute for Business, Technology and Ethics
- Religion and Business in Dialogue (Dialogue Institute)
- Center for Business, Religion and Public Life
- Faith and Work Resources
- Protocol Professionals Book Store
- Religion in the Workplace Law
Professional associations and faith groups
- Association of Muslim Professionals
- Business Men’s Fellowship (USA)
- Business Men’s Fellowship (Canada)
- Business Professional Network – Missions Through Business
- The Catenian Association – Fellowship of Catholic Men
- CBMC International – Christian Business Association
- Center for Faith and Business
- Center for Spirituality At Work
- Christian Business Faculty Association
- Christian Business Network
- Christian Business Women’s Fellowship
- Christian Entrepreneur Association
- Christian Leadership Alliance
- Christian Real Estate Brokers Association
- Christianity 9 to 5
- Christians in Commerce
- Convene Christian CEO & Business Owners Group
- Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals
- C12 Group – Christian CEOs & Owners
- Executive Ministries
- Fellowship of Christian Business & Professional Women
- The Fellowship of Companies for Christ International
- Indian Professionals Network
- International Center for Spirit at Work
- International Christian Chamber of Commerce
- Jewish Communal Professional Association of Greater Baltimore at the Darrell D. Friedman Institute
- Jewish Professional Women’s Network
- Marketplace Leaders – Christianity in the Workplace
- Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
- Network of Indian Professionals
- Opus Dei
- Religious Accommodation in the Workplace (Anti-Defamation League)
- Sikh Professional Association of Canada