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Establishing linkages between religiosity and spirituality on employee performance

Malaysia, academic article, 2013

Deloitte, Diversity, Global researchMuch of the focus on religion in the workplace is about ensuring non-discrimination or providing tactical accommodation for religious practices, eg the provision of prayer rooms and days off for religious holidays. Rarely is the focus, in secular workplaces, on fostering spirituality, but is that an opportunity missed? Does spirituality, or indeed religiosity, have a positive impact on employee (and thus organisational) performance?

Research conducted in 2012 by Professor Osman-Gani, Professor  Hashim and Associate Professor Ismail of the International Islamic University Malaysia aimed to examine the impact of religiosity (defined as having belief in and reverence for God or a deity, as well as participation in activities such as worship or prayer) and spirituality (defined as values such as transcendence, balance, sacredness which may or may not lead to the development of religious rituals) on employee performance in multi-cultural and multi-religious organisations. Is it religious practices, or the more broadly defined “spirituality”, or both, that influence work performance?

Conducting a survey across 28 organisations from multiple industries In Malaysia, the researchers found that religiosity and spirituality both have a significant positive relationship with job performance, although spirituality has a more significant impact than religiosity.

Aim

The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of religiosity and spirituality on employee performance in organisations.

Method

The study involved a survey comprising questions on religiosity (e.g. “I perform prayers five times a day”), spirituality (e.g. “I can find meaning in times of hardship”), personal values (e.g. “a prosperous life” and “service to others”) and employee performance (e.g. quality of work and dependability). The research set comprised three separate questionnaires for each group (employee, peer and supervisor); each was asked questions relating to religiosity, spirituality, personal values and employee performance.

The researchers approached 28 organisations representing six industries in Malaysia (education, construction, electronic manufacturing, food manufacturing, hotel and transportation). In each organisation, employees, peers and superiors were selected as the respondents. In total the study received 435 sets of completed questionnaires. 63.7% of respondents were Muslim employees and 36.3% were non-Muslim employees.

Findings

The study showed that religiosity and spirituality have a significant positive relationship on employees’ performance, in particular, an individual who responds more positively to the questions on spirituality is more likely to rate more positively on work performance as well.  

  • Religiosity and spirituality have a significant positive relationship with employee performance, but spirituality has a greater influence on employee performance: religiosity and spirituality both positively influence performance, but spirituality has a stronger relationship with work performance. Since this relationship was higher than religiosity, the researchers suggested that better spiritual condition (i.e. believing that one is always monitored by God) influences employees more to achieve a better performance compared with performance in a ritual activity of a religion

  • Religion functions as a moderating variable: analysis on Muslim and non-Muslim data separately showed that the relationship between religiosity, spirituality and employee performance was stronger for the Muslim group. In the non-Muslim group, religiosity became insignificant as an influence on employee performance, and spirituality was less of an influence (but still significant), relative to the Muslim and overall groups.

Implications

Research suggests that many employees desire to have meaningful work that engages their whole self, including religious beliefs and spirituality. The positive relationship between religiosity, spirituality and individual’s lives at work (that is, the practices, behaviours, perceptions and decisions of individuals) suggests that workplaces may benefit from greater support of employees’ religiosity and spirituality.

Additionally, the researchers cite previous research which found that employees in organisations that embrace and foster spirituality will be more productive, have higher job satisfaction and demonstrate better performance, as well as being more tolerant and less susceptible to stress. Religious beliefs can provide a frame of reference which can guide decision making, influencing interaction with others in the workplace and potentially leading to increased innovation and performance.

In terms of implications, this suggests that at a minimum, managers should accommodate and respond to spiritual requests, irrespective of their own personal spiritual beliefs. More optimally, creating an environment in which the value of work is discussed in terms of its intrinsic meaning which may help tap into spiritual needs.

Given that the study showed that spirituality is more significant than religiosity in influencing employees’ performance, organisations should strive to create an inclusive environment where spirituality is acknowledged and encouraged in addition to religious practices. To create the conditions for this, organisations should strive to cultivate a culture of respect for diversity of beliefs and faiths by enforcing codes of conduct as well as instilling values of tolerance, respect and compassion.

This study was limited in the extent to which it analysed all demographic variables and recognises that further research should be done to effectively measure the factors in the conceptual model between religiosity, spirituality and employee performance. 

To read the full article, see Osman-Gani, A.M., Hashim, J. and Ismail, Y. (2012). “Establishing linkages between religiosity and spirituality on employee performance”. Employee Relations, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2013), pp. 360 – 376.

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