Can Spirituality and Business Go hand-in-hand?

Can Spirituality and Business
Go Hand-in-hand?

Does Spirituality increase the overall efficiency in an organization or are they two mutually exclusive fields? Professors Marianna Fotaki, Warwick Business School, Yochanan Altman, University of Haifa, and Juliette Koning, Oxford Brookes University, offer their insights.

Does Spirituality increase the overall efficiency in an organization or are they two mutually exclusive fields? Professors Marianna Fotaki, Warwick Business School, Yochanan Altman, University of Haifa, and Juliette Koning, Oxford Brookes University, offer their insights.

Can Spirituality and Business Go Hand-in-hand? By CoBS Editor Pavan Jambai Narayanan Sedhu. Related research: Spirituality, Symbolism and Storytelling in Twenty First-Century Organizations: Understanding and addressing the crisis of imagination, Organization Studies, SAGE.

The multiple crises we face today – economic, financial, food, water, energy, climate, migration, and security – the authors suggest, are partly due to the failure of our collective imagination. Can two topics as diverse as Spirituality and Organizational Efficiency co-exist? Or better yet, complement each other and help us approach the crises more efficiently?

To answer these questions, Professors Fotaki, Altman, and Koning set out to explore the role of spirituality in the current business environments. And they follow it up with how spirituality and business can work in tandem to achieve the overall objective of increasing the efficiency of organizations and the morale of the employees.

Are spirituality and religiosity relevant to stakeholders in organizations?

In most cases, spirituality and religiosity are referred to interchangeably. However, Profs Fotaki, Altman and Koning make a clear distinction between the two.

  • Religiosity is defined as communally held beliefs, rituals, knowledge and practices that are related to the commonly accepted notion of the sacred
  • Spiritually they define as an individual’s convictions about self, others, the community at large and the world – along with their values regarding moral conduct derived from such convictions. 

There are, in fact, fundamental similarities between the triad of spirituality, religion, and business. These include a form of ‘golden rule’ – to treat others as you would have them treat yourself; a system of norms and values, a shared belief that spiritual figures care about morality and punish transgressions.

However, Fotaki, Altman and Koning argue that despite these fundamental similarities, the relationship between spirituality, religiosity, and ethical judgement in organizations is neither straightforward or a one-way street.

Arguments in favour suggest that spiritual individuals are more likely to perceive differences between right and wrong, hold more virtues, are more humanistic, encourage corporate social responsibility, and are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviours. On the flip side, studies have shown increased religiosity being associated with unethical judgement.

Does Spirituality increase the overall efficiency in an organization or are they two mutually exclusive fields? Professors Marianna Fotaki, Warwick Business School, Yochanan Altman, University of Haifa, and Juliette Koning, Oxford Brookes University, offer their insights.

For example, it is argued that faith-based organizations may be more prone to fraud, that spiritual leadership may be corrupting, and indeed that the entire workplace spirituality movement may have a dark side, detrimental to both individuals and organizations. And finally, other studies have found no significant connections between religion and work values and contrary to implicit expectations, religiosity has not been found to predict un/ethical judgement.

Why is it looked down upon?

Profs Fotaki, Altman and Koning set two further questions. First, why management researchers have not explored the crossroads between religion and organization in a more meaningful and determined way. And second, why so little attention has been granted to these important issues in prominent, influential management and organizational journals when more than three quarters of the world’s population declare themselves as adherents of a religion.

The answer lies primarily in the business field’s strong emphasis on tangible output variables. Moreover, the idea of studying a notion that is closely associated with not just the unknown, but also the unknowable, seems foreign and disconcerting. There is also an apparent reluctance of mainstream academic researchers to engage in religion and spirituality research, not to mention the challenge of finding adequate methodologies to capture the essence of religiosity/spirituality in a work and organization context.

The assumed reluctance may also be due to different reasons in different places. In the case of France, where secularism is a foundational principle of the Republic and in China, officially an atheist nation, religion is frowned upon. As such, engaging in religious and spiritual research may be conceived as politically incorrect. In the UK, the inclusion of spiritual matters within predominantly capitalist forms of organizations is not the most favorable decision for businesses.

Focusing on the stories rather than numbers

Can Spirituality and Business Go Hand-in-hand? Prof Marianna Fotaki, Warwick Business School, and co-researchers explore spirituality and business – does spirituality increase the overall efficiency in an organization or are they two mutually exclusive fields?

“Storytelling, if you will, is the first research method”, claim Fotaki, Altman and Koning. Using storytelling as a tool to embed values and form a culture could be very effective since we as a species have been accustomed to stories from time immemorial. Stories open windows into the emotional, political, and symbolic lives of organizations. At the core, businesses don’t just sell products and services but also stories, especially through their advertisements and social media handles. And the more the employees feel that they are a part of that story, the better their contribution to the company would be.

With the numerous crises we face today, we must become part of the solution. This, the researchers suggest, requires developing our capacity of imagination to research topics and issues including political and societal problems that matter to people within and outside the traditional areas of business. Can we move towards a future where the effectiveness and the future of an employee in a company are focused more on the stories of his work than the numbers? Time will tell.

Marianna Fotaki, Yochanan Altman, Juliette Koning

Marianna Fotaki is professor of business ethics at Warwick Business School. She holds degrees in medicine, public health, and a Ph.D. degree in public policy form London School of Economics and Political Science. https://www.wbs.ac.uk/about/person/marianna-fotaki/  

Yochanan Altman is professor at the University of Haifa. He is an applied social scientist with a background in social/industrial psychology and organizational anthropology and the Founding Editor of Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion and the book series on Management, Spirituality & Religion. https://cohrm.haifa.ac.il/?p=2508&lang=en

Juliette Koning is Professor in Organisational Studies at the Business School of Oxford Brookes University. UK. She holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. https://crestresearch.ac.uk/people/juliette-koning/

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The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.  

One response to “Can Spirituality and Business Go hand-in-hand?

  1. Pingback: Mixing Business with Spirituality – CoBS Insights·

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