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Sanctification of work: assessing the role of spirituality in employment attitudes

USA research, December 2013

Deloitte, Diversity, Global researchHow important is it for employees to perceive that their work is of value, that it possesses spiritual character and is of significance in the grand scheme of things? Research conducted by Dr Stephen Carroll (Saint Luke Institute, USA), R Joseph Stewart-Sicking (Loyola University, USA) and Dr Barbara Thompson (Private practice, Baltimore, USA) explored these questions by researching the construct of ‘sanctification’. Sanctification refers to the level of meaning or purpose individuals perceive within their lives. The research contends that it is important for employees to feel that their workplace is an expression of that spirituality. The importance of this expression, according to the paper, is that it is likely to influence commitment, job satisfaction and resilience. The aim of the study was to explore the relationship between spirituality and behaviour in the workplace. The findings suggest that supporting spirituality within the workplace, irrespective of religious belief, could contribute to a more productive workforce.

Aim

This research aimed to explore the impact of spirituality on work-related outcomes such as job satisfaction, turnover intention and organisational commitment. In particular “the degree to which sanctification could be a useful construct in understanding work behaviour”. The degree to which the Sanctification of Work is a significant predictor when controlling for personality, religiosity and psychological safety was also of focus.

Method

Employees aged 22 to 81 years of age (N=827) from 65 Catholic secondary and middle schools completed an online survey over a two-month period. The survey used a number of scales measuring Sanctification of Work, including questions, for example, “God is present in my work” and “My job is consistent with my spiritual or religious identity” as well as questions measuring the degree to which individuals integrate their beliefs into their daily functioning, personality and the Psychological Safety Scale. Performance measures included the Job Satisfaction Scale, Turnover Invention Scale and Organisational Commitment Scale.

83% of respondents were Catholic, with 7% Mainline Protestant, 2% Evangelical Protestant, 2% Eastern Orthodox and 1% of Jewish traditions. Almost 5% of respondents identified as “Other, Atheist, or None”.

Findings

The study found that the sanctification of work was positively related to job satisfaction, turnover intent and organisational commitment.

Other key findings were:

  1. The results clarified that Sanctification of Work is an attribute which can be considered separately to other spirituality factors, religiosity, personality or psychological safety
  2. Five percent of participants identified as “Other, Atheist, or None,” suggesting that it is possible for individuals to sanctify their work without identifying with a particular religion
  3. Psychological safety produced a higher correlation to job satisfaction and turnover intent than did the Sanctification of Work.

A limitation of this study was the homogenised sample, which included Catholicism as the predominant religion (83%) and only religiously affiliated educational institutions.

Implications

This research suggests that understanding the ways in which people derive meaning from work and at a higher level sanctify work, is a worthy avenue of exploration. This focus is likely to shift workplace conversations from tactical topics of income and career progression, to include a broader understanding of the drivers of workforce productivity, irrespective of religion. This is particularly important for employers, as it may be easier to build tolerance and support for spirituality in the workplace before tackling the more hotly debated topic of religion.

Given that almost 5% of participants identified their religion as “Other, Atheist, or None”, the findings indicate the Sanctification of Work can potentially bring meaning and significance to employees who do not identify as religious or spiritual. 

HR professionals might consider these findings in terms of how they can add meaning and a sense of purpose when designing roles and careers. Beyond encouraging participation in Corporate Responsibility programs as a discrete activity, the findings suggest that focussing on the day-to-day experience of finding meaning in work is of value, particularly given the role of sanctification in reduced job-related stress.

It appears, however, that the benefits of work sanctification may only be realised with an openness towards, and appreciation of, spirituality in the workplace. The higher correlation of psychological safety to job satisfaction and turnover intent implies that employees ultimately need to feel comfortable with being themselves at work and participate in a non-threatening environment. 

Finally, the authors suggest that attention to the issue of work sanctification will become increasingly important given the ageing of many workforces, suggesting that greater levels of economic freedom and choice means that “workers are becoming more deliberate about seeking employment settings which support and validate” their spiritual lives.

To read the full article, see Stephen Thomas Carroll, Joseph A. Stewart-Sicking and Barbara Thompson. (2013) Sanctification of work: assessing the role of spirituality in employment attitudes, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, DOI: 10.1080/13674676.2013.860519

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