The Influence of Religion-Based Workplace Spirituality on Business Leaders' Decision-Making: An Inter-Faith Study

By Fernando, Mario; Jackson, Brad | Journal of Management and Organization, June 2006 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Religion-Based Workplace Spirituality on Business Leaders' Decision-Making: An Inter-Faith Study


Fernando, Mario, Jackson, Brad, Journal of Management and Organization


ABSTRACT

The paper reports the findings of thirteen interviews with prominent Sri Lankan business leaders drawn from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim religious traditions. The in-depth interviews with the leaders were supplemented by documentary sources. When the leaders were asked why they engaged in religion-based workplace spirituality, their responses were often associated with decision-making. Although they had an array of management tools with which to deal with day-to-day management situations, they all indicated that, in 'difficult' moments, these tools needed to be complemented by processes by which they connected with the ultimate - variously identified as the transcendent reality, god, or truth that is more powerful, better, and good. The outcomes of decisions, both good and bad, were usually attributed to that connecting experience. The findings suggest that religion plays a significant role in influencing the judgment, emotional and motivational qualities of Sri Lankan leaders' decision-making - in that a frame of reference based on a connection with a transcendent and ultimate reality is likely to be a source of solace, guidance, and inspiration to leaders' critical decision-making.

INTRODUCTION

The prevailing spiritual revival in the workplace reflects, in large part, a broader religious reawakening in America. It has taken shape over the past twenty years, originating and being developed almost wholly in the West, within a predominantly Judaeo-Christian perspective. The burgeoning workplace spirituality literature has been mainly influenced by developments in the fields of religious studies and psychology (Giacalone, Jurkiewicz & Fry 2005; Snyder & Lopez 2001; Joseph 2002; Gibbons 2000). Recent contributions to workplace spirituality literature by an impressively expanding group of researchers focus on the influence of religion on managing and leading organisations (Dent, Higgins & Wharff 2005; Kriger & Seng 2005; Whittington, Pitts, Kageler & Goodwin 2005).

The role of religion in workplace spirituality is a hotly debated issue. Some researchers argue that spirituality can be identified and defined independently of any religious context (Giacalone & Jurkiewicz 2003; Paloutzian & Park 2005; Zinnebauer & Paragament, 2005). They argue that spirituality is something that is not confined to religion. It can also be about a sense of purpose, meaning and connectedness to one another. In this argument, religion has no role in defining spirituality and workplace spirituality. For example, Giacalone and Jurkiewicz define workplace spirituality as '... a framework of organizational values evidenced in the culture that promotes employees' experience of transcendence through the work process, facilitating their sense of being connected to others in a way that provides feelings of completeness and joy' (2003: 13). As several other writers point out, this view does not take into account the complex depth and richness that the term spirituality actually connotes (Kriger & Seng 2005; Dent, Higgins & Wharff2005).

Thus, another group of commentators tie spirituality with religion. They specifically link the definition of spirituality with religious practice. For example, Kriger and Hanson (1999) suggest that the world's major religious traditions have endured the test of time and note that the values inherent in those religions may be relevant to the management of modern organisations. Korac-Kakabadse, Kouzmin and Kakabadse (2002) state that spirituality includes terms such as energy, meaning, and knowing, and relates to the various spiritualities of Tao, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, and Native American spirituality. According to this strand of the argument, religion cannot be excluded in examining spirituality because one interprets the other and religious values help members make sense of unexpected events. More recently, in a meta analysis of workplace literature, Dent, Higgins and WharfF (2005) conclude that spirituality should be defined in a context that takes religion into consideration. …

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