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Does Faith Make You a Better Worker?

• June 26, 2014 • 2:00 AM

(Photo: Public Domain)

If you attend a church that promotes messages about faith and employment, you might be more committed, satisfied, and entrepreneurial on the job.

For the extremely faithful, everything seems to be, in some way, observed and refracted through the prism of God. The beautiful—double rainbows, bluejays, cascading waterfalls—and auspicious—locating a parking space in San Francisco, extended happy hour specials, a chance encounter with an old friend—make this kind of religious-tinged perception easy: They can be symbols of celestial beneficence.

Some of the faithful, though, take it a step further, and see spiritual connections in the desolate corners of their day jobs, even where there might not be any clear ones. “I am called to clean sewage out of this pipe, for this menial task will help me provide for my children and fulfill God’s purpose,” a plumber might think. Of course, this might become more difficult when compensated tasks veer into not-so-moral territory. “I manufacture nuclear weapons because God…” an executive at a missile company might try to reason.

Some of the faithful see spiritual connections in the desolate corners of their day jobs, even where there might not be any clear ones.

Despite the sometimes difficult task of seeing God in work, someone who manages to embrace the notion that work and faith are fully aligned might actually make for a more committed, satisfied, and entrepreneurial employee, when compared to other full-time workers, even other religious ones, according to a study published in the summer issue of Sociology of Religion. 

The research team, led by Baylor University associate professor of sociology Jerry Park, surveyed “a nationally representative” sample of 1,022 full-time adult workers about their church attendance, congregational values, and work behavior. After controlling for “hours worked per week, organizational firm size … white collar professional occupational status” and “religious tradition,” among other variables, the team found that actively attending a church congregation with a strong work-faith philosophy was significantly associated with higher affective organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and entrepreneurial attitudes. “Rather than treating work experience and religious experience as nonoverlapping features of workers’ lives, our study suggests that participation in religious congregations and the messages that are promoted matters for many fulltime workers,” the researchers conclude.

The fact that congregation membership and values had to be paired with active attendance in order to produce positive work correlations surprised Park. “Oftentimes our explanations for the impact of religion are much more blunt: it’s either go to church, or identify a belief or practice,” Park says in an email. “This interaction suggests that both of these alone do not explain the effect that being in certain congregations could have on workplace attitudes.”

Of course, Park isn’t totally certain that the correlation doesn’t work the opposite way. It might be that those who are better workers seek out congregations that emphasize strong work-faith values and simply attend more often once they’ve joined.

Though this study mainly focused on religious workers, Park also plans to more rigorously examine whether atheism and agnosticism are actually correlated with less job satisfaction.

Ryan Jacobs
Associate Digital Editor Ryan Jacobs joined Pacific Standard from The Atlantic, where he wrote for and produced the magazine’s Global and China channels online. Before that, he was a senior editorial fellow at Mother Jones. Follow him on Twitter @Ryanj899.

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