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Business Dilemmas and Religious Belief: An Explorative Study among Dutch Executives

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Business Dilemmas and Religious Belief: An Explorative Study among Dutch Executives
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  Business Dilemmas and Religious Belief:An Explorative Study among DutchExecutives  Johan Graafland Muel KapteinCorrie Mazereeuw-van der Duijn Schouten ABSTRACT. This paper explores the relationshipbetween religious belief and the dilemmas Dutchexecutives confront in daily business practice. We findthat the frequency with which dilemmas arise isdirectly related to various aspects of religious belief,such as the belief in a transcendental being and theintensity of religious practice. Despite this relationship,only 17% of the dilemmas examined involve a religiousstandard. Most dilemmas srcinate from a conflict be-tween moral and practical standards. We also find that79% of the identified dilemmas stem from a conflictbetween two or more internalized standards of theexecutive.KEY WORDS: business dilemmas, CSR, religious be-lief, standards, values Introduction A growing body of literature can be found on therelationship between religious belief and standardsfor business conduct (Ciulla, 1998; Trevino et al.,2000). 1 It is important to individuals to act inaccordance with their personal moral framework inorder to avoid moral stress, dissociated personality or loss of personal integrity (Bird, 1996). The relevanceof personal belief systems and ethical standards in theorganizational context is also fuelled by a growingdesire to merge professional and personal standardsof conduct (Giacalone and Jurkiewics, 2003). Due tothe decline of traditional social networks, individualsincreasingly depend on their professional environ-ment for links to others. As links to other socialnetworks diminish, individuals seek a deeper sense of meaning and greater fulfilment from their job (Fry,2003).Coherence between personal belief systems,internalized standards and actual behaviour in orga-nizations is not only important for the psychologicalwellbeing of individuals, but it can also enhance  Johan Graafland is a Professor of Economics, Business and Ethics at Tilburg University and Director of the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at the Department of Phi-losophy of Tilburg University. He has published articles inThe Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics: A EuropeanReview, Philosophia Reformatica, Journal of Corporate Citizenship, Applied Economics, Economics Letters, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Empirical Economics, Journal of Policy Modelling, Public Finances/FinancesPublique, Economic Modeling, Journal of Public Economicsand others. His current research interests are corporate social responsibility and philosophy of economics.Muel Kaptein is a Professor of Business Ethics and IntegrityManagement at the RSM Erasmus University, where he chairs the Department of Business-Society Management.Muel is also a Director at KPMG Integrity and InvestigationServices. He has published articles in a number of journals,including The Journal of Business Ethics, Business & SocietyReview, Organization Studies, Academy of Management Review and European Management Journal. His most recent books are The Six Principles of Managing with Integrity(Spiro Press) and The Balanced Company (Oxford Uni-versity Press). His research interests include the management of ethics, the measurement of ethics and the ethics of man-agement. Muel is a Section Editor of the Journal of BusinessEthics.Corrie Mazereeuw-van der Duijn Schouten is a senior researcher at the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. She has several years of expe-rience as business consultant in the field of organizational change and group processes within organizations. Her researchinterests include leadership, religion and corporate social responsibility. She is currently working on a PhD thesis onreligion and leadership.  Journal of Business Ethics (2006) 66: 53–70    Springer 2006DOI 10.1007/s10551-006-9054-0  organizational performance. Empirical studies showthat a sound ethical culture that respects personalbelief systems and standards enhances trust in theorganization and consequently, the performance of the organization. Examples include a decline in staff turnover and an increase in productivity (Barnettand Schubert, 2002; Viswesvaran and Deshpande,1996). There is also evidence that workplace spiri-tuality programmes improve productivity and re-duce absenteeism and staff turnover (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz, 2003).Personal belief systems and standards are oftenrelated to the religious background of an individual.Several empirical studies have been conducted toexamine the relationship between religion andbusiness conduct (e.g. Agle and Van Buren, 1999;Angelidis and Ibrahim, 2004; Conroy and Emerson,2004; Giacalone and Jurkiewics, 2003; Kennedy andLawton, 1998; Mitroff and Denton, 1999; Worden,2003). To date however, no empirical research hasbeen conducted into the relationship between per-sonal religious belief, internalized standards andbusiness conduct. The relationship between thesethree elements can run in opposite directions. On theone hand, it can be argued that religious belief en-hances the coherence between internalized standardsand business conduct. Individuals who are stronglyreligious are likely to take time to reflect on their behaviour and relate their decisions to their inter-nalized standards. Consequently, they are capable of anticipating possible dilemmas and avoid situationsthat will tempt them to make decisions that cannot be justified by their standards. On the other hand, it canbe argued that individuals who are strongly religiousare less capable of adapting to the standards thatpertain to the business context. The reason for this isthat they perceive their internalized set of standards astranscendentally ordained and therefore non-nego-tiable (Pava, 2003). These individuals are thereforemore likely to be confronted with dilemmas as aresult of a conflict between internalized standardsderived from their religious belief and other standardssuch as those of the organization.In this paper we examine the relationshipbetween religious belief, internalized standards andbusiness dilemmas. We aim to answer three re-search questions. First, we examine whether thereis a relationship between religious belief and thefrequency with which people encounter businessdilemmas. To this end, we distinguish differentaspects of religious belief: the belief in God, aview of the nature of humans, eschatologicalbeliefs and the intensity of religious activities, andrelate each dimension to the frequency with whichbusiness dilemmas are confronted. Second, if arelationship can be discerned between religiousbelief and the frequency of business dilemmas, weproceed to identify the type of standards that giverise to the dilemmas. The standards are categorizedin order to establish clearly which dilemmas arerelated to religious belief. Third, if religious belief and the frequency of business dilemmas are re-lated, we examine whether the dilemmas arisefrom a conflict between internalized standards andthose from other sources or whether they arisefrom a conflict between different internalizedstandards.The methodology employed in this paper differsfrom most other studies in this field of research in anumber of respects. First, whereas most previousresearch was conducted in the US (e.g. Mitroff andDenton, 1999; Nash, 1994; Worden, 2003), thesample used in this study is from the Netherlands.Second, whereas the samples of most studies con-sisted of undergraduate or MBA students (e.g. An-gelidis and Ibrahim, 2004; Conroy and Emerson,2004; Kennedy and Lawton, 1998), our sampleconsists of executives. As Loe et al. (2000) argue, theuse of industry samples enhances the validity of re-search findings and increases the likelihood that itwill receive serious consideration by practitioners.Third, we use in-depth interviews rather thanquestionnaires. The advantage of interviews is that itis a flexible method that allows the researcher toprobe the answers of the interviewees, which in turnsheds light on their reasoning and motives. Ittherefore offers insight into the perceptions of theinterviewees and facilitates a sophisticated analysis of religious belief and its influence on business conduct.Fourth, our conception of religious belief takes intoaccount a number of aspects of religion that areabsent in other empirical studies, such as belief inGod, view on human nature and eschatologicalbeliefs. As Weaver and Agle (2002) have remarked,the absence of a detailed analysis of religious belief isone of the reasons that researchers fail to discover clear connections between religious belief andbusiness conduct.54  Johan Graafland et al.  The paper is structured as follows. The first sectionof this paper discusses the conceptual framework of this study. This is followed by an introduction to our research methodology. The third section character-izes religious belief and discusses the relationshipbetween religious belief, internalized standards andthe frequency with which business dilemmas arise.The final section contains the main conclusions andan agenda for future research. Conceptual framework In this section, we discuss the conceptual frameworkwithin which the relationship between religiousbelief and business dilemmas is examined. We beginby discussing the concepts of religious belief andbusiness dilemmas. This is followed by a discussionof two methods to categorize business dilemmas.First, business dilemmas can be categorized accord-ing to the standards that generate dilemmas. Thistype of categorization enables us to answer the sec-ond research question: ‘How often are religiousstandards involved in business dilemmas?’ Second,business dilemmas can be categorized according tothe sources of the standards that generate dilemmas.This categorization allows us to answer the thirdresearch question: ‘Do business dilemmas representconflicts between internalized standards and thosefrom other sources, or conflicts between differentinternalized standards?’ Religious belief   Definitions of religion abound (Spiro, 1966). Reli-gious studies scholars would argue that all definitionshave their shortcomings. While some definitionsemphasize the relationship with (a) transcendentalbeing(s), other definitions emphasize the social or philosophical character of religion. Spiro (1966, p.96) provides an example of a definition combiningthe transcendental and the social aspect: ‘‘ Religion isan institution consisting of culturally patterned interactionwith culturally postulated superhuman beings ’’. Bell(1980, p. 333) provides an example of a definitionthat combines the social and philosophical aspects: Religion is a set of coherent answers to the coreexistential questions that confront every human group,the codification of these answers into a creedal formthat has significance for its adherents, the celebration of rites which provide an emotional bond for those whoparticipate, and the establishment of an institutionalbody to bring into congregation those who share thecreed and celebration, and provide for the continuityof these rites from generation to generation. As Bell observes, religion provides answers to fun-damental existential questions. Religious belief thusimplies, first of all, a view of a transcendent being, itsnature and character and its interaction with humans(Baaren and Leertouwer, 1980). Furthermore, reli-gious belief implies a view of human nature. People’sexpectations of others will be influenced by their religious belief. During the Reformation, for example, some radical Protestants placed so muchemphasis on the inability of humans to do good thatany sign of goodness was seen as a manifestation of God’s mercy (Weaver and Agle, 2002). A thirddescriptive element of religious belief concerns theeschatological question of the final destination of human beings. The view of the final destination of humans in a religious system has major ethicalimplications (Thakur, 1969). For example, if some-one believes that heaven can be ‘earned’ by acting inaccordance with the principles prescribed by their religion, they will honour these principles to the bestof their ability to earn the reward of eternal life(Voert, 1994).The above mentioned descriptive elements of religious belief, namely a conception of God, aconception of human nature and eschatologicalexpectations, are often intertwined with normativebeliefs. While a system of ethics can be developedwithout any reference to religion or religious belief,the converse would hardly be tenable (Lewis, 1947).Normative beliefs are the standards that individualshave internalized and adhere to. When standards areinternalized, this means that an individual hasdeveloped an ‘internal sanction system’ (Coleman,1990). If people do not act corresponding to theinternalized standards, they experience discomfort.Internalized standards can be obtained from varioussources, such as, for example, the upbringing, socialrelations and someone’s religion. A conception of God as just and merciful may generate correspondingstandards. Likewise, a conception of human beings asequal to each other may generate standards such as Business Dilemmas and Religious Belief    55  solidarity and fairness. Donagan (1996) argues thatinternalized standards that are based in divine com-mands may be more likely to generate dilemmas.This occurs when there is a lack of coherence be-tween different divine commands or standards.Another reason that internalized standards maygive rise to dilemmas is that in practice, people donot always reflect on these standards. Therefore, theymay not be aware of the implications of their stan-dards for concrete situations or of the possibleinconsistencies between different internalized stan-dards. People may also have difficulty in translatingstandards to different contexts. Often, people areonly capable of valuing something in a particular manner in a social setting that upholds standards for that mode of valuation, which induces segmentationof their lives (Anderson, 1993). 2 We develop dif-ferent personas through participation in differentsocial relations. This view is shared by symbolicinteraction theorists (Mead, 1934). According tosymbolic interaction theory, people occupy multiplesocial positions in the family, religious community,workplace and so forth. Each of these positions hastheir own unique set of role expectations. Theidentity of the self is thus multifaceted. Business dilemmas A wide range of definitions for business dilemmascan be found. A business dilemma can be seen as aconflict between different values (Anderson, 1997;Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 1998), ideals(Railton, 1996), duties (Brink, 1996; Donagan,1996) or stakes (Donaldson and Dunfee, 1999;White and Wooten, 1983). On a more general levela business dilemma can be defined as a conflict be-tween different standards. Standards include values,ideals, duties and norms.In order to classify business dilemmas according tothe standards that generate them, we draw a dis-tinction between three types of standards: moralstandards, religious standards and practical standards.First, following Velasquez (1992), there are moralstandards. Examples of moral standards are solidarity, justice, integrity and honesty. Moral standards dif-fer from non-moral standards in several aspects(Kaptein and Wempe, 2002; Velasquez, 1992).First, moral standards overrule other, non-moral,standards. A second and related characteristic is thatmoral standards are impartial. This means moralstandards are formulated from a point of view thatgoes beyond the interests of a particular individual or group. Third, moral standards are universalizable.This means a moral standard must, for any personwho accepts the standard, apply to all relevantlysimilar circumstances. Fourth, moral standards dealwith issues that have serious consequences for thewelfare of others.Second, religious standards can be distinguished.Many religious standards meet the criteria of moralstandards. For example, justice is an importantstandard in many religions, but has become ageneral moral standard as well. But there are alsospecific religious standards. For example, com-mands such as refraining from work on Sundays,following the Jewish tradition and obedience to theSharia are specific to Christianity, Judaism andIslam, respectively. We classify a standard as reli-gious if it is directly related to the religious back-ground of an individual. This implies that it is astandard that is not applicable to everyone – nei-ther those from another religion nor those who arenot religious.The third category of standards encompasses allother (non-moral and non-religious) standards,which are classified as practical standards. Examplesinclude profitability, self-interest and pride. All of these standards, i.e. moral, religious and practicalstandards, can be involved in a dilemma. Dilemmas,conceived of as a conflict between different stan-dards, can therefore be divided into six categories asshown in Table I.A dilemma arising from a conflict between twomoral standards is classified as a moral dilemma. Anda dilemma generated by a conflict between a moralstandard and a religious standard is classified as anexistential religious dilemma. Situations in whichthese dilemmas occur are particularly challenging.On the one hand, moral standards enjoy priorityover religious standards. This follows from the cri-terion that moral standards override other, non-moral standards. On the other hand, since religioncan play an important role in individuals’ lives, thestandards they derive from it may carry more weight.A dilemma that arises from a conflict between amoral standard and a practical standard is classified asa motivational dilemma. This dilemma confronts an56  Johan Graafland et al.  individual with the problem of moral motivation:what motivates people to act in accordance withtheir moral standards (Crisp, 1998).A dilemma that results from a conflict betweentwo religious standards is classified as a religious di-lemma. This may occur when a particular religion’sstandards are inconsistent with each other – at leastin a specific situation. A religious dilemma can alsoarise in a specific situation where there is a conflictbetween the religious standards of different belief systems. A dilemma that arises from a conflict be-tween a practical standard and a religious standard isclassified as practical religious dilemma.A dilemma that results from a conflict betweentwo practical standards is classified as a practical di-lemma. A wide range of practical dilemmas areconceivable: from the dilemma of deciding on thecolour of the new company vehicles to the dilemmaof deciding what amount of money should be in-vested in the next year. In this paper we do not takepractical dilemmas into account. Sources of standards and business dilemmas As we have seen, business dilemmas can be catego-rized according to the type of standards that generatethem. This categorization gives insight into thefrequency with which religious standards are in-volved in business dilemmas. But in order to answer our third research question, ‘Does business dilemmasrepresent conflicts between internalized standardsand those from other sources, or conflicts betweendifferent internalized standards?’, an additional dis-tinction needs to be made.Standards can have various sources (Korsgaard,1996). Figure 1 portrays the four sources we dis-tinguish. First, as stated before, any individual has aset of internalized standards. A second source of standards is the religious community. In religiouscommunities, religious standards are communicatedthrough religious rituals and further illuminated byclergy and experts explaining the meaning of thesacred texts. The sacred texts often include generalstandards and more concrete laws that enable reli-gious people to identify the nature and will of theHoly Spirit. The organization in which a personfunctions represents a third important source of standards. Every organization has its own set of standards. Some of these standards are official and setout in the mission statement of the organization, itscode of conduct or some other policy. Other stan-dards are unofficial, and although they are not ex-plicit or documented on paper, they can be veryspecific and influential (Bate, 1994). The environ-ment of the organization provides a fourth source of standards. The organization’s environment consistsof all elements beyond the boundaries of an orga-nization that have the potential to influence thewhole or a part of the organization (Daft, 2001).Dependent on the degree of internalization, thepersonal standards of the executive will overlap with TABLE ITypes of dilemmasDilemma as a conflict between ... Moral standard Religious standard Practical standardMoral standard Moral dilemma Existential religious dilemma Motivational dilemmaReligious standard Religious dilemma Practical religious dilemmaPractical standard Practical dilemma Internalized standards Standards ofthe religious communityStandards of the organization’s environment Standards ofthe organization AB Business dilemmas C Figure 1. Sources of standards and dilemmas. Business Dilemmas and Religious Belief    57
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