Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spirituality on the Job: It Has a (Researched) Place!

Business settings are a tough place for well-being. The long reigning philosophy of "leaving your emotions at the door" remains entrenched in the American business landscape. Yet tumultuous financial times and generational shifts (Borkowski, 2005) have resulted in questions about "meaning" and "purpose" in the workplace. Employees are less interested in stock options and more focused on the integration of overall well-being, health and spirituality in the work setting (Coombs, 2002).
As more corporations see the benefit of integrating work and life into a more complete package, spirituality has risen to top of researchers' and human resources professional's minds. In an attempt to reduce stress and maintain high levels of motivation and satisfaction, top management is looking at the value in meeting workers' spiritual needs.

Spiritual well-being correlates positively with a number of indicators of psychological adjustment and overall well-being. Researchers Wolf and Stevens (2001) found that higher levels of spirituality are linked to "marital satisfaction, physical health, social adjustment, possession of strong coping skills, and resiliency in times of stress and personal crisis" (p. 67). However, until around 2006, research on the effects of spirituality and its overarching ties to job satisfaction have remained scarce.  While the topic is still in its infancy compared to other aspects of satisfaction literature, spirituality looks likely to continue as a subject of increasing interest in the corporate mindset as well as the healthcare profession (Koenig, 2008, p. 22).

The notion of spirituality in the corporate and work settings is a relatively undiscovered research area.  Its connections with productivity, worker well-being, and job satisfaction have come to light in the literature on management only recently (Ashmos & Duchon, 2000). Previous studies conducted in the workplace pertaining to spirituality were exploratory in nature and few in number (Milliman, Czaplewski, & Ferguson, 2001).
Spirituality, as defined by Harold Koenig (2008) in Medicine, Religion, and Health, is "a personal relation to the transcendent" (p. 16). Koenig's work has focused primarily on the healthcare industry's relationship with spirituality, religion, and well-being, but his definition is clear and straightforward compared to other classifications.  The notion of spirituality is complex and multidimensional - something that is subjective and difficult to measure - thus the corporate world may have a difficult time measuring and otherwise characterizing why it is so important to employees.  However, as the research on the subject of job satisfaction and its link to spiritual matters multiplies, the definition has been refined significantly, down to a measureable variable and one appropriate for conducting research (Koenig, p. 22).
Early research linking the overall psychological well-being to both spirituality and job satisfaction (Adams et al., 2000) provided little empirical evidence to describe the relationship between these two variables. The lack of support is surprising given that spirituality and spiritual well-being has been described as central to an employee's overall wellness.  To remedy this researchers Robert, Young, and Kelly (2006) utilized the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) and the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire Short Form (MSQ) to examine the direct relationship between two-hundred workers throughout seven different industries and their levels of job satisfaction as predicted by their spiritual well-being.
What they found, based on the SWBS construct sub-scale was that Spiritual Well-Being (SWB) accounted for 10.4% of job satisfaction variability (as recorded by the MSQ) whereas Existential Well Being (EWB) predicted approximately 21% (R2 = .209) and Religious Well Being (RWB) only explained 3.3% of variation in job satisfaction.  While they did find a significant correlation for each of the sub-constructs, the spiritual well-being subscale indicated that SWB is important to adult workers, but that EWB is twice as meaningful in job satisfaction levels.  Therefore, this finding may indicate that adult workers who report meaning and purpose in life will also report high levels of job satisfaction.  Still, employees with high levels of spiritual well-being will be more satisfied than those with low levels of SWB.
To compliment this work, Clark et al. (2007) studied the link between levels of spirituality in hospice workers and their reported job satisfaction. A survey of 215 hospice interdisciplinary team (IDT) members revealed a 22% variation in job satisfaction as explained by spirituality.  They also used the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS), but correlated it with the Job Satisfaction Scale. While statistically significant bivariate relationships were found, the researchers concluded that "job satisfaction is more likely to be related to the transformation of one's spirituality into the process of integrating spirituality at work and self-actualization rather than spirituality having a direct impact on the job satisfaction" (p. 1326).
On a side note, an interesting fact from the Clark et al. study was that Protestants are more likely to integrate spirituality into the workplace than groups of people who defined their spirituality as "other" on the SWBS.
In 2008, an article in Journal of Gerontological Nursing looked at the effectiveness of a spirit at work program in long-term care. The research provided strong support that the program "increased spirit at work, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational culture (particularly teamwork and morale)."  The study suggested that recognizing spirituality at work is a relatively inexpensive way to enhance the work satisfaction of employees. (V, K., & BJ, S., 2008).  All manner of conclusions about this could be used by human resource professionals and upper manage to meet the needs of a changing workforce.

Another promising study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly (Benda, DiBlasio, & Pope, 2008) examined a random sample of 600 homeless male veterans, aged 46 to 65, who served in the military during the Vietnam War. Among the strongest predictors of whether the sample population would relapse into troubles with alcohol and drugs was their level of spiritual well-being.  It should be noted that readmission (or lack thereof) into the treatment program was also related heavily to the strength of family relationships, friendships, and work satisfaction.

The findings surrounding job satisfaction and the variability explained by spirituality are significant.  While different studies have found a range of correlations, it should be noted that it is conclusive that spiritual well-being plays a role in the way people interact with their jobs.  At the low end, spiritual well-being accounts for approximately 10% of job satisfaction and as high as 22%.  These numbers should give managers and human resources pause.

The lesson behind these findings is that to improve employee commitment or engagement, managers should not rely entirely on extrinsic forms of motivation (i.e., monetary). Employees are searching for a sense of meaning and purpose in the work itself, which if discovered, leads towards higher levels of productivity and positive levels of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB).

Corporations can improve both their bottom line and the health of their employees by focusing on the inner lives of the people that work for them.  Top leadership must provide a culture that encourages a high level of spiritual support and exploration for all employees (Morrison, Burke & Greene, 2003).  However, if spiritual well-being is treated as just another method to improve productivity it will not work.

Adams, T. B., Bezner, J. R., Drabbs, M. E., Zambaratio, R. J., & Steinhardt, M. A. (2000).
Conceptualization and measurement of the spiritual and psychological dimensions of
wellness in a college population. Journal of American College Health, 48, 165-18
Benda, B., DiBlasio, F., & Pope, S. (2008). Spiritual Well-Being, Relationships, and Work Satisfaction in the Treatment of Homeless Veterans with Alcohol/Other Drug Problems. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 24(1), 109-124.
Borkowski, N. (2005). Organizational behavior in healthcare. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.
Clark, L., Leedy, S., McDonald, L., Muller, B., Lamb, C., Mendez, T., et al. (2007, December). Spirituality and job satisfaction among hospice interdisciplinary team members. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 10(6), 1321-1328.
Coombs, A. (2002). The living workplace. New York: Warwick House.
Morrison, E.E. 3rd, Burke, & L, Greene (2007, 2007 Summer). Meaning in motivation: does your organization need an inner life?. Journal Of Health And Human Services Administration, 30(1), 98-115.
Robert, T., Young, J., & Kelly, V. (2006, April). Relationships Between Adult Workers' Spiritual Well-Being and Job Satisfaction: A Preliminary Study. Counseling and Values, 50(3), 165-175.
V, K., & BJ, S. (2008, October). The promise of spirit at work: increasing job satisfaction and organizational commitment and reducing turnover and absenteeism in long-term care. Journal Of Gerontological Nursing, 34(10), 17.
Wolf, C. T., & Stevens, P. (2001). Integrating religion and spirituality in marriage and family counseling. Counseling and Values, 46, 66-75.