A relatively recent emphasis on increased authenticity in the workplace has opened
conversations that have previously been considered out-of-bounds within organizational
dialogue. With this emphasis has come an invitation for employees to bring their “whole self” to
work. For an individual to be authentic requires “the unobstructed operation of one’s true- or
core-self in one’s daily enterprise” (Kernis & Goldman, 2006, p. 294). Others have described
authenticity as “acting in accord with the true self, expressing oneself in ways that are consistent
with inner thoughts and feelings” (Harter, 2005, p. 382), “or acting in accord with one’s core
values, beliefs, self-representations, and motivations” (Hewlin, Karelaia, Kouchaki, & Sedikides,
2020, p. 80). An individual’s religious beliefs and spiritual inclinations are often at the heart of
their so-called true self. Thus, as organizations have encouraged greater authenticity, discussions
regarding religiosity and spirituality have followed.
Even though “religious identity is tied to an array of important workplace outcomes, . . .
the intersection of religion and the workplace is not widely studied in either HR or organizational
research” (Heliot, Gleibs, Coyle, Rousseau, & Rojon, 2019, p. 154). Some argue that much of
what has been written implies that managers and scholars alike are positive toward spirituality
but negative toward religion (Mitroff & Denton, 1999). For them, religion is inherently divisive,
partisan, and rigid. Leadership scholar Dr. Douglas Hicks (2002) cautioned against this overly
simplistic dichotomy when he wrote:
Even as they criticize the framework of a secular workplace, these scholars tend to accept
uncritically a strict distinction between spirituality and religion. In this frequently
repeated view, religion is institutional, dogmatic, and rigid; spirituality is personal,
emotional, and adaptable to an individual’s needs. Authors have relied upon this
dichotomy to offer a simplistic solution to the secular framework: spiritual language,
symbols, and rituals should be acceptable in the workplace, but religious talk and action
remain unacceptable. (p. 380)
While there are some reasons a distinction between religiosity and spiritually is merited,
both often play an important role in an individual’s whole self. A study done by the Pew
Research Center (2015) showed that the majority of Americans (77 percent of all adults) identify
with some religious faith. Consequently, for much of the workforce, an invitation to bring one’s
true self to the organization includes bringing religious beliefs and values. As one executive
summarized, “Being religious, being observant, being ultra-Orthodox is something that is inside
you in everything you do—in your business, in your meetings, in your interactions, in your food”
(Kleinhandler, 2016). While there are some inherent dangers in incorporating religiosity and
spirituality into the workplace, the primary purpose of this article is to show three natural ways
in which these important parts of an individual’s identity can be—or already are being—situated
into existing and accepted areas of research. Thus, this theoretical piece will provide a brief
examination of the literature in the fields of Positive Organizational Behavior, meaningful work,
and employee engagement and will, in the process, analyze areas of crossover between these and
religiosity and spirituality.
Positive Organizational Behavior
On September 11, 1999, Dr. Martin Seligman met with a large group of scholars in
Lincoln, Nebraska, for what would become a historic academic summit. The purpose: “To create
a scientific monument . . . that would bring the light of science to bear on the question of what
are the best things in life? How can we achieve these things? How can we help our fellow human
beings to achieve them?” (Seligman, 1999). Seligman’s professional mission became to
accentuate positive qualities and focus on what actions and attributes produce positively minded
individuals, families, and communities (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
One of the scholars who attended that first positive psychology summit was Dr. Fred
Luthans. Luthans was a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior and had dedicated more
than thirty years to this discipline. Sitting in that meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska, Luthans felt a
spark come to his mind as he determined that this concept of positive psychology was exactly
what the field of management needed. This experience became the genesis for what he would
appropriately call Positive Organizational Behavior (POB).
Positive organizational behavior is gaining momentum and has recently attracted the
interest and engagement of scholars around the world (Luthans, 2002; Wright, 2003; Nelson &
Cooper, 2007; Chen & Silverthorne, 2008; Karimi & Alipour, 2011). The work happening in this
new discipline stands on the shoulders of the positive psychology movement (Lazarus, 2003),
which argues that “what is good about life is as genuine as what is bad and therefore deserves
equal attention” (Peterson, 2006, p. 4). POB takes this assumption and expands its implications
to the workplace, studying, among other things, how various organizations and organizational
leaders are able to create a positive environment that leads to greater employee satisfaction,
engagement, and productivity (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Clapp-Smith, Vogelgesang,
& Avey, 2009; Gardner, Cogliser, Davis, & Dickens, 2011;). Thus, Luthans argued that the point
of emphasis within POB should be the study of “positively oriented human strengths and
psychological capacities that can be measured, developed, and effectively managed for
performance improvement in today’s workplace” (Luthans, 2002a, p. 59).
It should be noted that such an approach is not without its critics. Some have argued that
POB is simply a rehashing of some old-school self-help books focusing on the power of a
positive mental attitude (Miller, 2008). However, POB scholars have established rigorous criteria
for inclusion in this discipline (Luthans, 2002b; Luthans & Avolio, 2009; Luthans & Youseff,
2007). In addition to the requirement that it be positively oriented, the three requirements for a
psychological resource capacity to fit within the defined POB framework: “1. Must be based on
theory, research, and valid measurement; 2. Must be ‘state-like’ (as opposed to more fixed ‘trait-
like’) and thus be open to development; 3. Must have performance impact” (Luthans & Avolio,
2009, p. 299). The primary purpose of these guidelines is to validate studies through rigor, data,
and the peer review process. These guidelines also ensure that attention is being given to
constucts which can be measured, validated, and quantitatively generalized rather than a trait in
which one has very little control.
First, the need for a foundation of theory, research, and valid measurement ensures a
marked distinction between POB research and popular culture’s self-help and personal
development literature. Specifically, POB provides scientific data to substantiate its claims.
Second, the need for the construct to be state-like, suggests a division between psychological
traits and states. In contrast to a “trait-like” capacity, which is relatively stable, “state-like”
qualities have the capacity to be acquired, developed, and refined (Avey, Luthans, & Mhatre,
2008). Some scholars have argued that this distinction between traits and states is fruitless (Allen
& Potkay, 1981). However, the opportunity to influence and change is what allows leaders to
have a positive influence on the psychosocial capacity of their organizations through worksite
interventions, on-the-job trainings, and self-development opportunities (Luthans, 2002b).
After spending over a decade studying personality traits, psychology scholars have
identified five primary traits, appropriately called “the big five” (Ozer & Benet-Martínez, 2006).
Personality traits include such things as conscientiousness, emotional stability, extroversion,
agreeableness, and openness to experience (Luthans & Youseff, 2007). It is these so-called “trait-
like” capacities that are at the center of the consulting paradigm used by the Gallup Organization
as it seeks to identify and manage the strengths or natural talents of individual employees.
Helping individuals identify and use these strengths on a consistent basis has proven to help
individuals find greater satisfaction and meaning in their work (Luthans, 2002a; Buckingham &
Coffman, 1999; Buckingham & Clifton, 2001).
If these psychological traits are “stable across time and context” (Avey et al., 2008), then
state-like qualities become the amendable, clinical material of POB and the means by which it is
measured, tested, and improved. While there is great value in organizational leaders helping
individuals understand the personality traits that are their greatest strengths, the focus of POB, is
the ability to help individuals acquire, develop, and refine positive states and thus help them
become more productive in their work and find greater satisfaction in doing so (Judge et al.,
While this trait-like versus state-like dialogue has sometimes been viewed in
dichotomous terms, recent studies have pointed to a continuum approach (Avey et al., 2008;
Luthans et al., 2008). Such an approach allows for the reality that some traits are more
developable than others and, conversely, that some states are less malleable than others. Thus,
“perhaps the optimal method of considering states and traits in the domain of POB is the degree
of stability, rather than the potentially limiting dichotomous thinking of a stable trait versus an
unstable state” (Avey et al., 2008, p. 707).
It is within this framework, and with the “state-like” definitional requirement of POB,
that scholars have focused in on the following four constructs: self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and
resilience (Youseff & Luthans, 2007). These four constructs best meet the inclusion criteria of
being substantiated by valid research measures, being state-like, and demonstrating performance
impact (Avey et al., 2008). The combination of these constructs constitutes what POB scholars
identify as psychological capital, or PsyCap. The following section will define each of these four
constructs but will also show how scholars have explored their association with either religiosity
Organizational leaders spend significant time seeking to identify a competitive
advantage. To this end, both scholars and managers have emphasized various ways of
understanding, developing, and maximizing capital. Studies have focused on economic capital
(primarily interested in what you have in terms of financials and assets and how to leverage
these), human capital (focusing on what you know and what skills you have developed to
contribute to the mission of the organization), social capital (concerned about who you know and
how those relationships can better stimulate growth and success in an organization), and
psychological capital (which has as its primary focus who someone is and how that will help
them thrive in the workplace). With regard to psychological capital, one study suggested that
“beyond human and social capital, psychological capital presents a comprehensible theoretical
framework to understand the value of human beings by focusing on psychological capacities of
individuals in organizational psychology” (Oruc & Kutanis, 2015, p. 1). We will look briefly at
each of the four components of PsyCap (Self-Efficacy, Hope, Optimism, and Resilience)
Self-efficacy, PsyCap’s first core construct, has been described as “one’s conviction (or
confidence) about his or her abilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses
of action needed to successfully execute a specific task within a given context” (Stajovic &
Luthans, 1998). Albert Bandura (1994) suggested that “self-efficacy beliefs determine how
people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects
through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective and selection
processes” (p. 71). Self-Efficacy has been called the “best fit” in meeting the definitional criteria
of PsyCap (Luthans, 2002) and has the most established and substantiated research support
(Bandura, 1997; Maurer & Pierce, 1998; Parker, 1998). Scholars have identified the following
ways self-efficacy can be developed:
1) Performance accomplishments: An individual’s personal successful experiences can
lead to greater self-efficacy.
2) Vicarious experiences: Observing another person who successfully accomplishes a
task can lead to greater self-efficacy.
3) Verbal persuasion: Encouraging words and constructive feedback, particularly from
leaders, can instill greater self-efficacy.
4) Physiological states: An individual’s personal emotional state can impact self-
efficacy, both positively and negatively. The way in which we interpret and respond
to these emotions can improve self-efficacy.
Several scholars have reported a significant positive association between religiosity and
self-efficacy (Bryd, 2012; Bryd, Hageman, & Isle, 2007; Watson, Morris, & Hood, 1988;
Wright, 2010). Shameem Fatima and colleagues looked specifically at religiosity as religious
coping and religious practices (Fatima, Sharif, & Khalid, 2018). In this same study they showed
that this correlation is particularly beneficial to emerging adults and that “the salience of self-
efficacy may be translated into increased sense of autonomy, environmental mastery, personal
growth, life purpose, positive relations, and self-acceptance” (Fatima et al., 2018, p. 120).
Interestingly, one study showed differences in the degree to which religiosity impacts self-
efficacy based on which religion an individual belongs to (Nie, 2019).
At the heart of PsyCap’s second core capacity, hope, is what some scholars have called
“willpower” and “waypower.” Youseff and Luthans (2007) suggest that “hope’s agency or
‘willpower’ component provides the determination to achieve goals, whereas its pathways or
‘waypower’ component promotes the creation of alternative paths to replace those that may have
been blocked in the process of pursuing those goals” (p. 778). Thus, hope is focused on an
individual’s efforts toward attaining their personal goals and then making a conscious effort to
produce a pathway in order to achieve those goals (Youseff & Luthans, 2007; Snyder, Irving, &
Anderson, 1991). Furthermore, “hope has been shown to be adaptable and to relate to
performance in various domains, including the workplace” (Luthans, Avolio, Walumbwa, & Li,
2005; Luthans & Jensen, 2002; Luthans, Van Wyk, & Walumbwa, 2004; Youseff & Luthans,
While the concept of hope is already deeply entrenched in a religious context, particularly
within Christianity, the academic construct of hope brings additional spiritual and religious
relevance. For example, religiosity has been shown “to be a strong predictor of behavior and
health. Religious involvement can provide comfort, meaning and hope during time of adversity”
(Abdel-Khalek, 2014). Several studies have shown that individuals who are committed to
religious beliefs demonstrated significantly higher scores on hope (Hwang et al., 1996;
Pourghaznein et al., 2003). An additional correlation between religiosity, spirituality, and hope is
more practical. Some scholars have defined hope as “a positive motivational state that is based
on an interactively derived sense of successful (1) agency (goal-directed energy) and (2)
pathways (planning to meet goals)” (Snyder, Irving, & Anderson, 1991, p. 287). Drawing on this
idea, Luthans and his colleagues provided several opportunities in which leaders and managers
can effectively use hope within their organizations. They suggest leaders:
• “Set specific, challenging goals and align those goals with the organization’s most
• Stimulate and set the context for their followers to determine their own goals,
establish higher standards, and stretch their limits.
• Accept and respect their followers as individuals, support their self-set goals, and
reward their creative pathways, even if nontraditional and unusual.
• Be compassionate, stable, trustworthy, and hopeful” (Ideas in this list taken from
Luthans et al., 2015, p. 93).
When leaders seek to increase opportunities for employees to bring their whole self to the
workplace, they provide a space where employees can draw upon the religious or spiritual
influences in their lives. When individuals are given this opportunity, their personal development
goals become more authentic and they can find fresh pathways to problem-solving that have not
been previously explored.
Optimism, the third core capacity of PsyCap, focuses on “making an internal, relatively
stable, and global attribution regarding positive events such as goal achievement, and an
external, relatively unstable, and specific cause for negative events like a failed attempt at
reaching a goal” (Luthans et al., 2008). Additionally, optimism includes the reasons and
attributions an individual uses to explain why specific events, positive and negative, occur in the
past, present, and future (Seligman, 1998). Luthans and his colleagues argue that optimists
“adopt problem-focused coping, especially when the situation is within their control. They frame
the situation more positively, but they tend to accept the realities of the situation that they cannot
control” (Luthans et al., 2015, p. 117). Research has shown that optimism as a psychological
capacity is positively correlated with performance, satisfaction, and happiness (Luthans et al.,
2008; Seligman, Steen, Park, & Person, 2005; Youssef & Luthans, 2007).
Regarding the intersection between religion and optimism, a growing number of studies
have shown that religiosity is positively correlated with optimism and negatively with pessimism
(Abdel-Khalek & Lester, 2006). Scholars have shown that “people with deep religious beliefs
and confidence in their hearts can show patience and behave rationally when dealing with
problems” (Homaei, Bozorgi, Ghahfarokhi1, & Hosseinpour, 2016, p. 58). Articulating a
relevant connection between religiosity, optimism, and self-efficacy, it has been suggested that
“people who believe in their own strengths and think of themselves as people who can control
situations effectively, face problems in a more positive and productive way” (Homaei et al.,
2016, p. 58). In an organizational setting, such control and patience can prove to be a great
The final construct in PsyCap is resilience. Resilience “refers to a class of phenomena
characterized by patterns of positive adaptation in the context of significant adversity or risk”
(Masten & Reed, 2002). While some scholars have defined resilience as the ability to “bounce
back” from challenges (Luthans, 2002a; Masten & Reed, 2002), Richardson (2002) developed a
model that suggests that individuals can improve their resiliency in successive progression
through a disruption and reintegration process. Not only does he suggest that this process results
in “growth, knowledge, self-understanding, and increased strength of resilient qualities” (p. 310),
he also postulates that these disruptive and adversarial experiences can lead to an individual’s
personal development and growth.
Perhaps more than any of the other constructs within PsyCap, the relationship between
resilience and religiosity and spirituality is the most established. While studies have confirmed
that religiosity is significantly correlated with increased resilience, scholars have also
demonstrated resiliency’s positive effect on overall mental health, including fewer depressive
symptoms (Fradelos et al., 2018).
Others have identified a positive relationship between spirituality and resilience and that
relationship’s effect on quality of life (Momeni, 2012). Importantly, research has demonstrated
the developmental influence of religiosity through a spiritual-religious intervention that
positively impacted the resilience scores of its participants (Saeidi, Pour Ebrahim, Bagherian, &
Mansour, 2010). The positive relationship between religious beliefs and resilience have likewise
been confirmed internationally (Javanmard, 2013). The most obvious factor in this relationship is
in the role of religion to help individuals deal with adversity, setbacks, and tragedy. Thus, to
fully integrate the complete authentic self in the workplace necessitates a space wherein a
person’s religious beliefs and spiritual proclivities can be called upon.
These four constructs that make up PsyCap—self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and
resilience—have a synergistic relationship with one another and have been shown to increase the
influence of each other. Additionally, while each of them has individually been shown to have a
positive relationship with religiosity or spirituality, scholars have recently explored the
connections between religiosity, spirituality, and the overall construct of PsyCap.
Religiosity, Spirituality, and Psychological Capital
Over the past decade, research surrounding PsyCap has grown exponentially. According
to Görgens-Ekermans and Herbert (2013), PsyCap has been studied in China, India, Canada, the
United Kingdom, Portugal, and South Africa, and scholars have since studied it in parts of
Australia (Dawkins, Martin, Scott, & Sanderson, 2015). Work site interventions focused on
developing and strengthening PsyCap can assist in generating greater employee satisfaction and
fulfillment and have already been positively connected to the following desirable outcomes:
employees’ attitudes, employee behavior, job performance and productivity, safety, commitment
to organizational missions, well-being, organizational identity and citizenship, perceived
supervisor support, work happiness, and a decreased level of job stress (Avey, Reichard,
Luthans, & Mhatre 2011; Cheung et al., 2011; Luthans, Youssef, Sweetman, & Harms, 2013;
Norman, Avey, Nimnicht, & Pigeon, 2010; Roberts, Scherer, & Bowyer, 2011; Wright &
Cropanzano, 2004; Youseff & Luthans, 2007).
Until recently, however, any connection to spirituality or religious beliefs had been
absent in the literature. Then Elif Baykal and Cemal Zehir (2018) looked at the relationship
between spiritual leadership and PsyCap. In this study, PsyCap effectively acts as a mediator
between spiritual leadership and employee performance. Additionally, it shows that spiritual
leadership actually increases PsyCap (Baykal, 2018). Summarizing important implications of
their study and opportunities for organizational application, they postulate that managers
could be more successful in directing their organizations towards organizational goals
when they touch their followers’ souls and minds. Being led by spiritual leadership
contributes to a considerable increase in the psychological capacities of followers and this
situation results in higher levels of performance. Hence, we propose that managers should
give importance to workplace spirituality and serve as a mechanism that supplies the
necessary atmosphere for the spiritual growth of their followers. (Baykal, 2018, p. 136)
In addition to these findings, another study showed a positive relationship between
PsyCap and spiritual intelligence. Spiritual intelligence was described as “the evergrowing
awareness of the matter, body, mind, and soul. . . . [It] tends to be used to refer to the ability to
apply spiritual resources, values, and qualities, thus enhancing daily functioning and comfort
(physical and mental health)” (Pakdaman & Balideh, 2020, p. 127). These same researchers
argue that individuals are more likely to meet their organizational responsibilities if they are
enabled to draw strength and support from their spiritual capacities. Furthermore, Pakdaman and
Balideh postulate that the synergy between PsyCap and spirituality will improve employee
performance and job satisfaction.
Luthans and his colleagues seemed to recognize the possible relationship between
PsyCap and spirituality. In their summative treatment entitled “Psychological Capital and
Beyond,” Luthans, Youssef-Morgan, and Avolio (2015) analyze each of the four stated elements
of PsyCap. While they determined that these four constructs of PsyCap best fit their inclusion
criteria, they indicated that those constructs were not meant to represent an exhaustive list.
Indeed, they suggested that
the rich emerging body of knowledge on positive psychology and positive organizational
scholarship presents a wide range of positively oriented, unique individual, group, and
organizational resources, strengths, and virtues. Many of these positive constructs appear
highly promising in terms of both their theoretical foundations and potential applicability
to the workplace. Some have also been shown to be measurable and developmental—
meaning as states we can change them for the better!
One of their suggested areas of possible inclusion within the PsyCap framework is
spirituality. In their treatment of spirituality, they acknowledge the reality that has already been
mentioned in this paper—that religion and spirituality have largely been neglected in
management and organizational behavior literature. However, they summarized areas where
some progress has been made (Luthans et al., 2015, p. 214):
• “Positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship recognize the role of
• “The Academy of Management now has a division on Management, Spirituality, and
• “There are also dedicated journals (e.g., APA’s Psychology of Religion and Spirituality is
currently on its sixth volume), journal special issues (e.g., Leadership Quarterly, October
2005 issue), and a Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Organizational
The already established correlation between PsyCap and spirituality and the expansion of
research in “management, spirituality, and religion” combine to provide opportunities for further
exploration, including studying PsyCap with religiosity.
Studs Terkel suggested that “working is about the search for daily meaning as well as
daily bread, for recognition as well as cash. For astonishment rather than torpor; in short for a
sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying” (Terkel, 1975, p. 1). The
academic interest on meaningful work originated from philosophical discussions on finding
greater meaning in life. Individuals seek this type of meaning and purpose in their personal life
and families lives but also in their work (Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan, 2009; Csikszentmihalyi,
1990; Seligman, 2002).
A recent review of empirical literature on meaningful work recognized a natural
correlation with spirituality. In this review, Catherine Bailey and her colleagues made the
A number of researchers have used the theoretical work of Ashmos and Duchon (2000) in
the domain of workplace spirituality to conceptualize meaningfulness. Scholars in this
tradition have recognized “that employees have an inner life that nourishes and is
nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community” (Duchon &
Plowman, 2005, p. 809). The workplace spirituality approach suggests that organizations
can enable human flourishing by providing a setting in which individuals’ spiritual needs
for an inner life, meaningful work, and community can be met. (Bailey et al., 2019)
Because many employees spend about a third of their time at work, their jobs often
become the setting in which they find purpose and meaning. Furthermore, this professional
context also often encourages a drive towards personal development (Meyers, 2007; Van Zyl,
Deacon, & Rothmann, 2010; Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003). It was recently suggested that,
“evidence has been brought forward to suggest that money is losing its power as a central
motivator partially due to the general population realising that above a minimum level necessary
for survival, money adds little to their subjective well-being” (Geldenhuys, Karolina, & Venter,
2014). One scholar defined meaningfulness as “the value of a work goal or purpose, judged to
the individual’s own ideals or standards” (May et al., 2004, p. 11). These definitions put the bulk
of the responsibility on the shoulders of the individual to understand and determine what is
important to them and then to find work that aligns with those ideals.
Religion, Meaningful Work, and Work as a Calling
Within the literature of meaningful work and this emphasis on individuality is the idea of
work as a calling (Duffy et al., 2014; Bunderson & Thompson, 2009; Berkelaaar & Buzzanell,
2015; Steger et al., 2010; Elangovan et al., 2010; Hunter et al., 2010). Bunderson and Thompson
(2009) argue that one of the underlying assumptions in professional callings is that “work done
solely for economic or career advancement reasons is unlikely to inspire a sense of significance,
purpose, or transcendent meaning. When viewed as one’s calling, however, work assumes both
personal and social significance.” This sense of purpose and significance is what defines
meaningful work. A basic framework that has been proposed in determining whether or not an
occupation is truly a “vocation” (from the Latin voco, meaning “to call”) consists of the
following three ideas: (1) the individual must be drawn to pursue it, (2) they must expect it to be
intrinsically enjoyable and meaningful, and (3) they must see their work as a central part of his or
her identity (Wrzesniewski et al. 1997; see also Forest, Mageau, Sarrazin, & Morin, 2012; Kram,
Wasserman, & Yip, 2012; Vallerand & Houlfort, 2003). While the literature in work as a calling
has relevance in a secular context, it necessarily recognizes its roots are from a religious
framework. Commenting on the evolution of the idea of work as a calling, two leading scholars
explained the following:
In he Protestant Reformation, the term “calling” was used to refer either to a specific call
to the ministry or to the universal call of the gospel (see Weber, 1930, for a detailed
history of the term). Martin Luther broadened the definition of calling to refer to any
station that one might occupy in the world of productive work and suggested that through
faithful execution of one’s duties in that station, one both pleased God and contributed to
the general welfare of humankind. So by working diligently to make shoes that will cover
and warm human feet, the cobbler serves God in his or her station with just as much
divine approbation as the person whose station it is to preach the word of God. With the
specific exceptions of the prostitute, the usurer, and the totally cloistered monk (Luther,
1883: 317), all work can be a divine calling by which a person “participates in God’s
ongoing providence for the human race” (Hardy, 1990: 47), and “every legitimate calling
has exactly the same worth in the sight of God” (Weber, 1930: 41). Luther’s concept of
calling elevated work by transforming it from a necessary evil into a divine offering.
(Bunderson & Thompson, 2009, 32–33)
One way in which both scholars and managers can integrate religion and spirituality into
the workplace is by leaning into this natural relationship. Many employees see higher purpose in
their work, so an overt effort to both study and magnify this purpose for them could lead to
greater authenticity in the workplace. This effort could lead to other positive outcomes such as
increased job satisfaction (Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007), improved work engagement (Geldenhuys et
al., 2014; Fairlie, 2011; Hoole, 2015), greater life satisfaction (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997), less
significant job stress (Oates et al., 2005), and greater work-life balance (Munn, 2013).
Building on Luther’s efforts to demonstrate the concept of work as a calling, John Calvin
taught, “For as God bestows any ability or gift upon any of us, he binds us to such as have need
of us and as we are able to help” (Calvin, 1574, p. 307). Thus, for Calvin, each individual has a
responsibility to identify the gifts and talents God has bestowed upon them and then to find ways
to use these gifts in the service of others. Thompson and Bunderson (2009) further explained, “It
acknowledges that individuals are differentially suited for these various specializations by virtue
of their particular talents and station in life. And it places on individuals a solemn obligation to
seek their calling and to make whatever sacrifices might be required to diligently and faithfully
fulfil the duties associated with it for the glory of God and the welfare of the human family” (p.
34). An effort to identify and focus on the development of unique talents and strengths is at the
heart of the work of Marcus Buckingham and his colleagues with the strengths movement
(1999). For individuals who are spiritually oriented, this process is one way in which they rely on
a higher power in their own personal and professional development.
Workplace spirituality has been described as “the acknowledgment that workers have an
internal life that nurtures and is nurtured by meaningful work that happens in the work
community. Employees allocate as much significance between the pursuit of paychecks and the
attainment of meaningful work, thus enabling a holistic fulfillment as an individual who is
connected to others and to the transcendent” (Yunan, Ahmad, & Omar, 2017, p. 62). Thus,
encouraging employees to bring their best, authentic selves to the workplace presupposes the
freedom to involve the religious and spiritual elements of their lives in their career choices, in
their efforts in the organization, and in their own personal improvement.
Having explored the spiritual implications of meaningful work, this section will analyze
the literature in employee engagement and will discuss similarities and distinctions between the
two fields. Additionally, it will introduce ways in which religiosity and spirituality can be useful
in increasing employee engagement.
While some have suggested that there is no agreed-upon definition of employee
engagement (Bakker, 2011; Gruman & Saks, 2011; Shuck & Wollard, 2010), an analysis of the
literature suggests that the basic anatomy of the constructs seem to be generally accepted and
widely used. Most scholars conceptualize it as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind
characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption (Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá, &
Bakker, 2002; Schaufeli, Bakker, & Salanova, 2006; Macey & Schneider, 2008). In this
definition, vigor represents high levels of energy, resilience, persistence, and willingness to
invest in one’s work; dedication is characterized by a sense of enthusiasm, inspiration, challenge,
and pride in one’s work; and absorption is a total immersion and concentration on one’s work
(Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004).
The Towers Perrin Talent Report (2003) suggests that engagement is directly tied to
meaningful work experience. It postulates that organizations who effectively provide work that is
perceived as meaningful will naturally lead to greater employee engagement (Townsend &
Gebhardt, 2008). While the engagement literature strives to identify traits that make work
universally engaging, the meaningful work literature strives to identify how people differ in what
they find meaningful. Some scholars argue that engagement refers specifically to the individual
employee’s “involvement and satisfaction as well as enthusiasm for work” (Harter et al., 2002, p.
269). While some have suggested the need to distinguish engagement from many of the positive
attributes mentioned earlier in this paper, others argue that when various biases are accounted for
in the data, a few of these attributes (including satisfaction, commitment, and engagement) seem
to be measuring the same thing (Harter & Schmidt, 2008).
Scholars have suggested that some of the connections between engagement and concepts
such as ability to thrive, zest, vitality, and even satisfaction might be suspect considering their
close definitional relationship, but significant findings show that engagement is positively
correlated to financial results (Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2009; Macey &
Schneider, 2008), job performance (Bakker & Bal, 2010; Halbesleben & Wheeler, 2008),
loyalty, turnover, safety (Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002), and client satisfaction (Salanova,
Agut, & Peiró, 2005). Such findings have fueled the popularity of engagement tools in major
consulting firms along with the larger corporate landscape (Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002).
Analyzing the Relationship between Employee Engagement and Meaningful Work
One of the primary areas of overlap between employee engagement and meaningful work
is their placement in the positive organizational framework. Scholars focusing on meaningful
work (including work as a calling, compassion at work, work centrality, etc.) are emphasizing
the many positive benefits of a workforce that draws strength from its employees’ purpose
(Geldenhuys et al., 2014). Similarly, research surrounding employee engagement is interested in
its positive effect on the employee, the leaders, and the overall organization. Both are interested
in helping employees be more productive, more fulfilled, more loyal, safer, and more committed
to the organization’s mission, all while finding greater life satisfaction. It is also interesting to
note that while both constructs are framed in a positive way, they have also been studied as
mediators against negative outcomes such as job stress, burnout, turnover, and so on.
The three basic components discussed in work engagement are vigor, dedication, and
absorption. For the purposes of demonstrating overlap, we will look more closely at what
scholars have said regarding dedication. Dedication is the emotional part of engagement that
some have called putting one’s heart into the job (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Perhaps more directly
correlated is a description used by Chughtai and Buckley (2008) when they expressed that the
dedication component of engagement typifies an individual’s strong sense of identification with
their work. Another scholar added that dedication involves “a strong involvement in one’s work
and a sense of significance and pride” (Fairlie, 2011). These ideas sound much like what
researchers focusing on meaningful work describe as an individual seeing their work as “a
central part of his or her identity” (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997) and what Bunderson and
Thompson (2009) label as “significance” and “purpose.”
Perhaps the strongest evidence of overlap is in the literature where both employee
engagement and meaningful work are studied together and where scholars identify a strong
relationship between the two (Lips-Wiersma & Morris, 2009; Geldenhuys et al., 2014; Hoole &
Bonnema, 2015; Fairlie, 2011). One study showed that “meaningful work characteristics had the
strongest relationship with engagement” and was also the “strongest unique predictor of
engagement” (Fairlie, 2011, p. 516).
While there are many other areas of overlap in the literature, it is also important to
analyze the distinguishing features that differentiate the two concepts. One of the key differences
between these two constructs is that meaningful work seems most interested in the “what,” the
“where,” and the “why” of work, while engagement focuses more on the “how.” Said differently,
meaningful work really wants to understand what an individual is doing for work, where they are
doing it, and why they have decided to pursue that occupation. Engagement also clearly draws
upon the idea of why an individual is in a certain job, but scholars are more interested in how that
job is being performed (vigor, dedication, absorption) and how employees can become even
more productive in their work.
Some scholars studying what would traditionally be called work engagement have
suggested a new approach to this concept. In 2005 Gretchen Spreitzer and her colleagues
introduced “a socially embedded model of thriving at work.” In this article they said,
“Employees vary in the degree to which they languish or thrive at work. Whereas languishing
captures the subjective experience of being stuck, caught in [a] rut, or failing to make progress
(Keyes 2002), thriving captures the opposite. When people are thriving, they feel progress and
momentum, marked both by a sense of learning (greater understanding and knowledge) and a
sense of vitality (aliveness)” (Spreitzer et al., 2005, p. 537). Vitality denotes positive feelings of
aliveness, spirit, and energy (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
Learning represents a commitment to personal and professional development and growth.
Speaking on the importance of thriving containing both vitality and learning, it was suggested
that “one can envision employees who show vitality at work, but over time, this vitality will
likely fade if they do not have opportunities for learning and growth, which replenish their
vitality. By the same token, one can envision employees who are constantly learning at work but
lack the vitality to apply their new knowledge and skills over time. The two components of
thriving interact to create an overall sense of forward momentum and progress at
work that is not captured by either vitality or learning alone“ (Paterson, Luthans, & Jeung, 2013,
Thus, while meaningful work and work as a calling focus on individuals being guided to
work that matches their passion and purpose, engagement wants to know how productive,
energetic, dedicated, and absorbed the individual is once they launch into their chosen work. In a
way, meaningful work creates the ideal context in which engagement can succeed. Another
important distinction is that it could be possible for an employee to demonstrate high work
engagement while being in a job that is not considered “meaningful” (Steger et al., 2012).
Job crafting can play a major role in helping employees to find greater engagement even
when their work calling has gone unanswered (Berg et al., 2010). As Berg and his colleagues
describe, in these situations “people do not simply accept the tasks and roles that managers
outline for them. Instead, they actively shape their lives at work to incorporate or emphasize
aspects of their unanswered callings. . . . Job crafting captures the ways in which employees
actively change the behavioral, relational, and cognitive boundaries of their jobs to alter their
experiences and identities at work” (Berg et al., 2010, p. 979). In short, engagement may be more
about techniques for enhancing one’s job, whereas meaningful work strives to understand the
purposes and personality that make one’s job inherently meaningful. After all, “engaging” is
something you do to someone else. “Finding meaning” is something one can do only
Religiosity, Spirituality, and Employee Engagement
Recent work done by Petchsawang and McLean (2017) argue for a relationship between
workplace spirituality and employee engagement. They suggest that the correlation is primarily
based on spillover theory, which says that individuals who are satisfied with their personal
spiritual life are more likely to be satisfied in their work life (Kolodinsky et al., 2008). In their
contribution to The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Fulfillment, Manish
Gupta and Sitamma Mikkilineni elaborate on this theory. They summarize that
when employees are happy at work, they invest their personal energies fully in their
work role. Spirituality at work influences the perceptions of employees about their
organization positively. However, it is important that organizations support the
cultivation of employees’ spiritual well-being to enable them to engage themselves and
outperform in the workplace. This support is majorly in terms of allowing individuals
to attain their own spirituality which leads to higher intrinsic motivation, greater
organizational commitment, and enhanced creativity. All this in turn leads to higher
engagement at work. (Gupta et al., 2018, p. 686)
Others have similarly found correlations between spirituality and employee engagement
(Kahn 1990; Roof 2015; Saks 2011). Spirituality in the workplace can increase an individual’s
sense of completion and wholeness and can likewise improve connectedness at work (Milliman
et al., 2003; Gupta et al., 2018). In addition to the overlap already discussed, the construct of
thriving could also find synergy when analyzed through the lens of spirituality. The two
components of thriving are an individual’s sense of vitality and a commitment to learning and
It is important to note that, like the idea of work as a calling, the construct of vitality also
has a spiritual heritage. In their Oxford handbook of character strengths and attributes,
Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman (2004) explained, “Concepts of organismic energy
and vitality have been central topics in a variety of Eastern philosophies and healing traditions.
Prominent among them is the ancient Chinese concept of chi . . . [and] a similar concept in
Japan, Ki, [referring] to the energy and power one has available to draw on and is related to
physical, mental, and spiritual health” (p. 275). With increased emphasis on employee health and
wellness, leaders can find ways to help individuals increase vitality and thus improve
productivity and job satisfaction (Palmer, Dankoski, Smith, Brutkiewicz, & Bogdewic, 2011).
Similarly, while a commitment to learning, growth, and development is not unique to
the religious space, there are subfields in religious studies—particularly in biblical studies—
committed to spiritual formation and growth. In Christianity, this emphasis is largely derived
from the biblical teachings of Jesus but are also found in his writings from his early followers
(Ward, 2003). A thorough academic treatment of spiritual formation emphasized various facets
of development (Boa, 2001). In addition to spiritual formation, studies have shown a
relationship between religiosity, learning engagement, and academic performance (Khalid,
Mirza, Bin-Feng, & Saed, 2020). Thus, spirituality seems to bring an innate emphasis on
progression, and religiosity is positively correlated to learning and growth.
There has been a traditional assumption that the separation between church and state
makes any discussion about religion or spirituality inappropriate in research in organizational
behavior. However, with the recent emphasis on authenticity in the workplace and the
encouragement for an employee to bring their “whole self” to work, scholars are finding it easier
to discuss the influences of religion and spirituality in the workplace. Two such scholars defined
workplace spirituality as “the recognition that employees have an inner life that nourishes and is
nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community” (Ashmos &
Duchon, 2000, p. 137). Others have defined religiosity as “a particular institutionalized or
personal system of beliefs, values, and practices relating to the divine—a level of reality or
power that is regarded as the source or ultimate transcending yet immanent in the realm of
human experience” (Worden, 2005, p. 221). Scholars have shown that as employees are
encouraged to draw upon this powerful part of their inner life, they are often more productive
and engaged in their work.
This article has demonstrated ways scholars have found to integrate religiosity and
spirituality with organizational behavior. Furthermore, it showed areas of future research where
scholars can continue to establish the relationship. While there are opportunities to explore
religiosity and spirituality in myriad aspects of the fields of organizational behavior and human
resource management, a few have already proven to be natural entry points, including positive
organizational behavior, meaningful work, and employee engagement.
In the Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, Sandelands (2012)
argued that “lacking an idea of the human spirit, business science cannot account for the trust that
makes business possible” (p. 1001). He continued. “If today’s literature on spirituality in business
is united about anything, it is in the claim that there is ‘something more’ to the human person;
namely his or her human essence or spirit. . . . Perhaps this literature evinces its subject, finding
inspiration in its study of ‘spirit’” (p. 1002).
For scholars, it seems appropriate to cite the biblical passage that states, “Behold, I say
unto you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John
4:35). Indeed, the deep correlations and influences of religion on organizational behavior
remains a largely underexplored field of study that promises to yield important fruit in the years
to come. For leaders and managers, as has been demonstrated throughout this paper, the existing
literature in these important areas of study has already shown ways in which religion and
spirituality can significantly improve organizational culture, employee engagement, and
productivity. Leaders can continue to find ways to enable individuals to bring their complete
selves to the workplace and to engage with their colleagues in authentic and meaningful ways.
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