Work is a major part of life for many Americans. According to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
), 63 percent of Americans over the age of 16 are part of the U.S. labor force. On average, full- and part-time U.S. workers collectively report spending 7.99 h per day at work (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018
). Religion is also an important part of life for many Americans. More than three quarters of Americans are affiliated with a religious tradition, the vast majority of whom identify as Christian (Pew Research Center 2015
). And researchers find a number of positive outcomes for individuals and organizations when employees of all religious traditions are able to bring their whole selves to work: burnout is reduced (Grandey et al. 2012
), constructive conflict behaviors increase (Fotohabadi and Kelly 2018
), and happiness and productivity often improve (Sabat et al. 2019
). In one sense, since religion is an important part of the whole self for many people, the extent to which individuals feel comfortable engaging their religious identity at work is an important empirical question. Another stream of research is also relevant. There is increasing religious diversity in U.S. society (Putnam and Campbell 2010
); given the increase in the number of Muslims, Hindus, and members of other non-Christian religious traditions, it is important to understand how those outside Christian traditions understand the relevance of their faith to their work. We also know very little about how different groups perceive and experience religious discrimination in the workplace. This may be especially salient for those from non-Christian faith traditions, since religious expression in the United States is generally oriented around Christian expressions of religion (e.g., Christmas is more likely than Ramadan to be honored and celebrated in U.S. workplaces). To date, however, we lack large-scale national data that can help us understand the full range of ways that U.S. workers think about the connections between their faith and work, as well as the extent to which they experience workplace discrimination.
Research suggests that religion and spirituality matter for a range of work-related outcomes, most notably the individual productivity of workers and the bottom line for organizations (Fry 2013
; Jurkiewicz and Giacalone 2004
). Recent work also finds that religion shapes beliefs about upward mobility in the workplace (Reynolds et al. 2019
). Demographic shifts in the U.S. have led not only to a more racially and ethnically diverse society, but also a more religiously diverse society (Putnam and Campbell 2010
), changes that have an impact on the workplace. Indeed, many racial/ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are also highly religious (Dougherty and Emerson 2018
). Although increased religious diversity has presented unique challenges for U.S. workplaces, social scientists have only recently begun to turn their attention to how religious diversity shapes workplace outcomes and experiences.
Understanding how U.S. workers express, or choose not to express, their religious convictions in the workplace is not only a growing area of concern for scholars, but also for religious leaders and practitioners. Such interest is demonstrated in the rapid growth of the “faith at work” movement with Christian leaders bringing attention to faith–work integration (see Keller and Alsdorf 2012
; Sherman 2011
), a movement that does not seem to appear in other U.S. religious traditions. This movement has spurred numerous articles and books that focus on how religious people might better integrate these two important aspects of their lives (Miller 2007
; Van Duzer 2010
; Volf 1991
Increased engagement by religious leaders with issues of faith and work is no doubt related to the continued salience of religion in U.S. society. The U.S. remains a highly religious country (Putnam and Campbell 2010
); more than 50 percent of Americans report that religion is a “very important” part of their lives (Pew Research Center 2015
). However, religious practices are not solely bound to religious institutions. While recent work on “lived religion” has pushed social scientific work outside the bounds of traditional religious institutions (Ammerman 2014
; Williams 2010
), the relationship between religion and the workplace remains underexplored (Cadge and Konieczny 2014
; Grant et al. 2004
A small body of social science scholarship suggests that people who internalize their religion are more likely than others to view their work as having sacred significance (Davidson and Caddell 1994
). Other research examines the concept of “calling” (e.g., Bellah et al. 1985
; Dik and Duffy 2009
), a perception that one’s work has meaning or purpose such that it is directed toward a greater good.
However, existing empirical studies of how people relate their faith to their work have notable limitations. Nash
) and Lindsay
), for example, provide thorough empirical examinations of Christians in leadership contexts. But both focus exclusively on individuals at the highest levels of leadership, whether business CEOs or political leaders. No large-scale national survey data has been collected that allows for comparisons of those in different organizational positions of power.
Other studies have begun to explore differences across religious traditions. Neubert and Dougherty
), for example, find clear differences among Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, and Catholics in attitudes and practices associated with positive workplace performance (Park et al. 2016
). However, even these studies pay scant attention to differences across other lines of social difference, like social class, gender, or racial–ethnic status. And initial evidence suggests that work–faith integration looks very different for minimum wage workers than it does for CEOs (Sullivan 2006
Much of the current research on faith in the workplace has been done by management and organizational scholars (see Ghumman et al. 2013
, for a review). For example, research suggests that religious faith shapes career orientation, values, and perceived support (Duffy et al. 2010
), along with the choice of occupation, particularly self-employment (Audretsch et al. 2013
), willingness to engage in entrepreneurial behaviors (Neubert et al. 2015
), helping behavior, and creativity (Neubert et al. 2014
). Other work strongly suggests that religious expression in the workplace is not simply the result of personal religiosity, but is shaped by the official policies and informal culture of the organization as well (Lawrence and King 2008
). And scholars of organizations have noted that religious expression at work can take on many different forms, especially among often marginalized religious minority groups like Muslims (Maliepaard and Phalet 2012
The dearth of empirical data on religion in the workplace has also limited our understanding of the prevalence and consequences of religion-related workplace discrimination. Indeed, expressions of religious faith in the workplace—whether verbal or nonverbal—are often subject to discriminatory sanctions by supervisors or coworkers. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination based on their “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 1964, para. 1
), recent research suggests that nearly 20 percent of U.S. workers have experienced religious discrimination in the workplace (Scheitle and Ecklund 2017
; Scheitle and Corcoran 2017
). Several older studies suggest that organizations appear to be increasingly concerned about the implications of religious expression in the workplace (Hicks 2002
), insofar as it may be viewed as harassment (Gilmer and Anderson 1998
) or create other conflicts with U.S. labor laws (Berg 1998
; Foltin and Standish 2004
; Gregory 1989
Existing work highlights several predictors of workplace discrimination. The strength of an individual’s religious or non-religious identity affects the extent to which they perceive discrimination (Ghaffari and Çiftçi 2010
; Hammer et al. 2012
). Religious identities also intersect with other aspects of social location, like gender and race, to shape perceptions of discrimination (Ghumman and Jackson 2008
). Widner and Chicoine’s work (2011), for example, finds that Arab American men had to send out twice as many resumes as white men to receive a callback for a potential job, in part because employers associate their names with Islam. Similarly, recent court cases have questioned whether hiring discrimination against Jews should be considered religious or racial discrimination (Affron 2018
). Such cases demonstrate the ways that religious identities often intersect with other aspects of an individual’s social location to shape workplace experiences.
Moreover, the research documents strong contextual variations in reports of discrimination. This includes both geographic variation (Scheitle and Corcoran 2017
) as well as variation across spheres of social life like school, family, and work (Cragun et al. 2012
). Scholars, however, often focus on the experiences of specific groups like Muslims (Byng 1998
) or atheists (Hammer et al. 2012
), rather than comparing experiences of workplace religious discrimination across religious groups.
Despite increased interest among both scholarly and lay audiences about how faith enters the workplace, there are notable gaps in knowledge. Firstly, there is little attention to variation in faith–work approaches across religious traditions and other social groups. Secondly, studies of how faith enters the workplace have mostly focused on men in high SES occupations. There has been little attention paid to people of color, to those in lower SES occupations, and to women. These gaps are important because there are connections between employees’ religious expression and workplace outcomes, like employee retention (Griebel et al. 2014
), so differences in faith–work engagement across religious tradition, SES, or other social groupings may have important implications for understanding social stratification in the workplace.
Third, there is a pressing need for more research on how religion overlaps and intersects with other social categories to shape perceptions of discrimination. Recent research highlighting the racialization of religious groups in the U.S. (Selod and Embrick 2013
) has demonstrated not only the salience of religious discrimination in U.S. society but also the problems endemic to studying “religious” or “racial” discrimination as discrete phenomena. Furthermore, given evidence demonstrating how religion shapes experiences of hiring discrimination among both the religious and
non-religious alike (Hammer et al. 2012
; Wallace et al. 2014
), religious discrimination can serve to perpetuate existing inequalities in the workplace.
Given these gaps, several questions arise which existing datasets are ill-equipped to explore. How do approaches to work–faith integration differ not only across religious traditions, but also by race, social class, and gender? How does religion overlap with other social categories to shape perceptions of religious discrimination in the workplace?
Our goal in this paper is to provide an overview of the “Faith at Work: An Empirical Study” data, explore initial descriptive hypotheses, and provide directions for future empirical work using these data. Firstly, given that both the popular and scholarly literature (Miller 2007
; Van Duzer 2010
; Volf 1991
) on work as a “spiritual calling” focuses on Christian perspectives, we anticipate the following:
Hypothesis 1 (H1).
Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) will have different views than members of other religious traditions on whether they see their work as a spiritual calling.
Secondly, the past literature suggests that work–faith integration is not simply a product of an individual’s religious beliefs, as some studies suggest that low-wage workers often care more about making ends meet then integrating faith and work (Sullivan 2006
). Conversely, research on work–faith integration has often focused on elites and individuals from higher SES backgrounds (e.g., Lindsay 2008
). We hypothesize:
Hypothesis 2 (H2).
Workers at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy and workers with lower incomes will have different views than workers at the top of the organizational hierarchy and with higher incomes (respectively) on whether they see their work as a spiritual calling.
Thirdly, the U.S. remains a predominantly Christian country despite recent increases in religious diversity and a growth in the number of individuals identifying as non-religious (Pew Research Center 2015
). Given this fact, we expect that Christian beliefs and practices will be more acceptable in many workplaces. Therefore, we expect:
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) will report different levels of workplace religious conflict than members of minority religious traditions.
Fourthly, conflict might also relate to workplace power. Given that women and some racial–ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are both highly religious (Pew Research Center 2015
) and remain vastly underrepresented in workplace leadership roles (Stainback and Tomaskovic-Devey 2009
), we anticipate that these groups will experience different levels of workplace religious conflict.
Hypothesis 4 (H4).
Women (when compared to men) will report different levels of workplace religious conflict.
Hypothesis 5 (H5).
Racial–ethnic minorities (non-Hispanic Whites) will report different levels of workplace religious conflict.
Finally, given the literature highlighting increased reports of discrimination against Muslims in the post-9/11 political climate (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 2015
), as well as hiring discrimination against candidates perceived
to be Muslim (Widner and Chicoine 2011
), we also expect that Muslims, in particular, will report different levels of workplace discrimination than other religious groups.
Hypothesis 6 (H6).
Muslim workers will report different levels of experiencing workplace discrimination than workers identifying with other religious traditions.
2. Data and Methods
Three types of data were collected for the broader “Faith at Work: An Empirical Study”: focus groups, a national survey, and interviews. Nine focus groups with congregants and religious leaders were conducted in Seattle, Houston, and New York. A nationally representative survey of 13,270 people, with oversamples of Muslim and Jewish Americans, was conducted, and over 200 one-on-one in-depth interviews with survey respondents were completed. In this article, we focus specifically on an overview of the survey data and point out important contours of the data that will be important for subsequent analyses to build upon.
The survey was conducted by the survey firm Gallup, through the Gallup Panel, a nationally representative, probability-based panel of U.S. adults 18 years of age or older. Research suggests that samples drawn from probability-based online panels provide more accurate estimates than random-digit dialing or non-probability online samples (Chang and Krosnick 2009
), and therefore they have been increasingly utilized in studies published in top social scientific journals (e.g., Pedulla and Thebaud 2015
). The Gallup panel includes more than 100,000 individuals. A stratified sample of 29,345 was selected based on estimates from the 2017 Current Population Survey, along with oversamples of Muslim (n = 752) and Jewish (n = 882) panelists. These groups were selected for oversampling because they represent meaningful traditions in the U.S. even though their numbers are relatively small.1
A total of 13,270 individuals completed the survey, including 202 Muslim and 576 Jewish respondents. The overall completion rate for the survey was 45.2 percent based on the American Association for Public Opinion Research guideline RR5, which takes into account only completed surveys (AAPOR 2016
; Callegaro and DiSogra 2008
Survey respondents were given the option of completing the survey in either English or Spanish. The survey was administered by Gallup through both mail and web-based instruments between 2 October 2018 and 15 December 2018. Most of the current analysis is restricted to full-time and part-time employees (n = 8767), and results have been weighted to account for probability of selection and nonresponse.
Analysis presented below describes the general landscape of the intersection of faith and work, with a focus on full-time and part-time employees. Weighted percentages are presented and notable subgroup comparisons are discussed around questions of calling, conflict, and religious discrimination. Chi-square tests were used to explore the presence/absence of associations between the categorical demographic variables and faith/work-related outcomes. The null hypothesis is that there is no association between variables. A significant p-value indicates a statistically significant association, although it does not specify a direction. This analysis is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to give readers an overview of this novel data.
We have presented initial descriptive analysis from the largest and most nuanced study to date on how people understand the relationship between their faith and their work. Drawing on novel survey data from “Faith at Work: An Empirical Study,” we have begun to address this gap by highlighting how views of the work–faith interface vary not only across lines of religious difference, but also by social location.
About one fifth of U.S. workers see their work as a “spiritual calling.” Seeing work as a spiritual calling (Dik and Duffy 2009
) is not tied to a single religious tradition but seems to resonate with a diverse cross-section of the U.S. workforce. Furthermore, seven percent of “religious nones” described their work as a calling. In particular, we find that seeing one’s work as having sacred significance is more common among people of color and women compared to Whites and men, respectively. Such groups are overrepresented in many religious traditions (Pew Research Center 2015
) and underrepresented in workplace power positions (Stainback and Tomaskovic-Devey 2009
), suggesting that work is a source of meaning in addition to power for many disadvantaged groups. Conversely, it is possible that those who have relatively less power or income may look to other factors in their work to provide them with validation and an experience of meaning.
We also find notable differences across religious traditions in views of work–faith integration and conflict. Those who identify as Evangelical Christians and Muslims are the most likely to see their work as a spiritual calling. Conversely, less than one in five Jews and Catholics report seeing their work as a calling. Such findings not only suggest that views of the sacred significance of work differ across religious traditions (Park et al. 2016
), but also that particular religious groups hold to different paradigms of faith–work integration. While the language of work as a “calling” resonates among Evangelical Christians, in particular, it finds less resonance in other religious traditions, including other Christian traditions. As such, there is only partial support for H1 that Christians will have different views from other religious traditions about seeing work as a spiritual calling, although the data paint a more complicated picture since there are differences within Christian denominations as well as across religious traditions and people without a faith tradition.
Our findings demonstrate differences in the extent to which social groups experience conflict because of their religious commitments. Twenty percent of workers report that at some point they have been pushed at work to act in ways that contradict their religious beliefs. Such instances of conflict might disproportionately disadvantage certain demographic groups in terms of workplace mobility. For example, individuals in lower income brackets are more likely than individuals in higher income brackets to report experiencing faith–work conflict on the job.
Our larger data have the potential to disentangle the impact of sociologically central group identities on faith–work relations. Here we find that social class matters. While seeing one’s work as a spiritual calling is positively associated with organizational rank, it is negatively associated with household income. Our findings about the influence of organization rank suggest that seeing one’s work as having sacred significance might be a privilege of the privileged themselves (cf. Sullivan 2006
). This provides support for H2 that individuals at the bottom of the organizations and those with lower incomes are different from those at the top or those in higher income brackets. It is notable, however, that these two characteristics appear to be working in different ways. Our future analyses will disentangle the connections between organizational position, income, and the ability to see work as spiritually meaningful. Similarly, and related to H3, there is evidence that the experiences of Christians are different from other religious and non-religious groups when it comes to acting in ways that contradict religious beliefs or experiencing discrimination. Specifically, many Christians disagreed that they had ever had to act in ways that contradicted their beliefs, and also disagreed that they had ever experienced religious discrimination. Again, however, there are notable differences among Christian traditions, which suggests a complicated and nuanced relationship of religious conflict in the workplace. This pattern of findings was different for those from non-Christian faith traditions; these respondents were more likely to agree that they had acted in ways that contradicted their religious beliefs and more likely to agree that they had experienced religious discrimination.
Our data also shed light on how other aspects of social location shape the ways that workers see faith and occupation. We find that a higher proportion of women than men see their work as a spiritual calling. However, women are no more likely than men to report having to act in the workplace in ways that contradict their faith and a lower proportion report ever experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace. The latter finding is especially curious given that women tend to be more religious than men (Pew Research Center 2015
; Putnam and Campbell 2010
). One possibility for such a slight disparity is that women and other gender minorities often face multiple types of discrimination in the workplace that might make religious discrimination less salient. This provides partial support for H4 that women report different levels of workplace conflict, although the full complexity of these differences is beyond the scope of this paper and needs to be explored further.
Our data show the workplace challenges that racial and ethnic minority groups may face because of their faith, providing some support for H5. For example, nearly one-third of Black respondents reported being expected to act in ways that contradict their faith at work, compared to only one fifth of White respondents. For Black Americans, such conflicts might serve as a further barrier to upward mobility in the workplace. However, similar to women, we found few differences across racial groups in the proportion reporting ever experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, although a greater proportion of Hispanic and Black Americans are religious when compared to Whites, both groups have a slightly lower proportion than White workers who report experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace. Future research should explore how both gender and race/ethnicity shape perceptions of religious discrimination in the workplace relative to other types of discrimination.
Our findings also add to the small amount of research on U.S. religious discrimination (Ghaffari and Çiftçi 2010
; Hammer et al. 2012
) by demonstrating striking differences across religious traditions in experiences of workplace religious discrimination. For example, we find that two-thirds of Muslim workers and more than a half of Jewish workers in the U.S. report experiencing religious discrimination in the workplace at some point. The high proportion of Muslim workers who have experienced workplace discrimination provides support for prior work highlighting the challenges facing Muslims in the post-9/11 U.S. political climate (Selod and Embrick 2013
). Consistent with prior work (Ghumman and Jackson 2008
; Widner and Chicoine 2011
), but through use of a much expanded dataset (with the largest oversamples of Muslims and Jews to ever address the topic of religious discrimination at work), we also find that experiences of religious discrimination vary across social groups; the greatest variation is across religious traditions. Such a finding provides initial support for H6 that Muslims will be different from other groups in terms of their experience of religious discrimination.