There is much debate regarding the level of ethical responsibility a business has to its local community as well as to society as a whole. Although extensive research has been published in the U.S. on this debate (e.g., Carroll, 1999; Daft, 2003; Wherther & Chandler, 2006), related studies have not been conducted within Utah. To remedy this gap, we investigated employee perceptions of the ethical and social responsibilities of businesses, their organization’s related actions and priorities, and their own related actions and behaviors in the workplace.
The overall purpose of this research study was to better understand how Utah workers feel about business ethics and corporate social responsibility. The larger study (Madsen, 2011; ) had nine areas of focus, namely, (1) corporate social responsibility (CSR) , (2) treatment of customers and clients, (3) treatment of employees, (4) legal compliance, (5) “going green” , (6) moral agency, (7) multiple values, (8) endurance of threats and (9) moral goals. The survey also asked a few questions about employee perceptions of multi-level marketing (MLM). The demographics explored included age, marital status, highest education level, workplace location, ethnicity, yearly household income, position in organization, industry, hours worked per week, religion, and religious activity. The survey had 295 participants who consisted of workers of various ages and both genders working in Salt Lake and Utah Counties. A Likert-type scale (“1” through “7”) for survey question responses was used. The purpose of this paper is to briefly share findings specifically related to two demographic variables: religion and gender.
There were three items or questions that related to religion: (1) religious activity, (2) religion of participants, and (3) “In my organization, more religious employees are more ethical.”
Religious Activity: Participants in this study who rated themselves as more active in their religion also strongly believed that organizations should not participate in ethically questionable activities. However, they were also less likely to believe that organizations should promote environmentally friendly programs. In fact, those who were less active believed more strongly that companies should promote diversity in hiring and were less likely to believe their companies follow legal regulations as strongly. More religiously active employees were less likely to participate in “going green” activities and believed Utah employees behave more ethically than those living outside of Utah. Religiously active participants also agreed more strongly that they were moral people (with moral agency) and could endure ethics-related threats more firmly. In this sample, participants who were more active were also more likely to be male, married, more educated, and know MLM-associated individuals.
Religious Affiliation: While statistics were run on all participant religions mentioned, since a large number of participants are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), a variable was also created with just three items (LDS, other religions, and no religious affiliation). The statistical results were the same using all religions or the three item variable just mentioned.  In this sample, LDS participants were more opposed to having companies participate in ethically questionable activities. They were also statistically not as strongly committed to “going green” activities (LDS Mean=4.97; other religions Mean=5.18; no religion Mean=5.51). Although the statistical means look fairly close, there is a significant difference.  Those same participants believed that Utah employees behave more ethically than those in other states. They believed more strongly that more religious employees are more ethical as well. In this sample, more LDS employees were married and more educated. They also felt more strongly that they would “do the right thing,” that others could rely on them to exemplify moral behavior, and that engaging in principled action is an ongoing pursuit for them.
Perception of Ethical Behavior of Religious Employees: Participants were asked the following question: “In my organization, more religious employees are more ethical.” Participants who strongly agreed with this statement (at least in their own organizations) were those who believed that organizations should have ethics training and that organizations should not participate in ethically questionable activities. The same people who agreed with this statement also felt that Utah employees behave more ethically than those outside of Utah. These participants also agreed they work for companies who practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) and treat their employees and customers honestly, respectfully, and ethically. Employees who believed more religious employees were more ethical also felt they had strong moral agency and would hold firm with related threats. Those who agreed more strongly with this statement also believed that MLM is a great marketing technique.
Other Recent Research: A recent study was conducted in 2010 by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Researchers interviewed 3,003 respondents they reached on landlines and cell phones in both English and Spanish. They also found a low correlation between particular religious views and support for social and environmental regulations. Researchers found that many Americans said their religion affects how they feel about social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. However, far fewer felt it influences them on issues such as the environment. Many religious Americans favored more environmental regulations only as long as energy prices were kept low. However, that would make any legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions more difficult to be made into law and therefore achieve any reduction in emissions. Some (90%) of those polled considered the economy an important issue in the 2010 election, but less than 60% felt the same for the environment. Pew found that conservative Christians are very skeptical of climate change and do not support environment legislation especially if it raises energy costs.
The vast majority of regular churchgoers in the Pew study (88%) responded that their clergy speak about issues of hunger and poverty, but just 10% cited religion as the top influence on their opinions about government’s role in providing assistance to the poor. Nearly half (47%) said their clergy speaks out on the environment, almost always to encourage environmental protection. Yet only 6% said their own views on the environment are shaped primarily by their clergy’s teachings. These are among the key findings of the survey exploring religion’s connection with opinions about current social and political issues.
Discussion of This Study’s Findings: One would assume that a religious individual would want to respect and take care of “God’s creations,” yet the outcome was proved contrary to this basic intuition. There are several possible answers to this contradiction. It is a common belief held by Christians that the world is about to end. The Bible contains writings from John the Beloved that teaches the world started the seventh and last seal around the year 2000. Followers of the Bible believe that the world will be destroyed at the beginning of the seventh seal. If the World truly is going to end soon, why worry about preserving it for generations to come? Many Christians also believe that the Earth was created with ample resources for all human kind until the end comes. Many Christians feel that the shortage of Earth resources, global warming, and other Earth diminishing theories are really just noise from government and corporations who use fear to get gain. A second related explanation would be the belief that the need to “go green” may be perceived by religiously active participants as a political view rather than a belief of moral responsibility. If this notion is accepted, it may mean that Utahans may have a hard time distinguishing between CSR and politics.
A final possible explanation is related to the strong positive correlation between religiosity and moral agency. Most Utah professionals surveyed agreed that moral agency is important. The moral agency variable in this study implies that individuals should have self-governed moral agency. Politically speaking, this could translate to small government, and if Utahans believe that CSR will translate to additional legal regulations then it makes sense that active LDS business people prefer autonomous moral agency over regulated CSR.
There were only four primary study variables that had significant differences between the perceptions of men and women, but each was particularly interesting.
Females were More “Green”: As mentioned previously, female participants were significantly more likely to choose a higher rating on the “green” items (merged into the “going green” scale). The following is a list of the specific questions on the survey:
- If recycling bins were present in a business, I would use them.
- If available I would participate in carpooling to work.
- I would participate in electronic recycling programs (cell phones, computers, etc.)
- I would recycle empty laser toner or inkjet cartridges.
- I turn off the lights at work if I will be gone longer than 15 minutes.
- I throw away paper rather than using the other side as scratch paper. (reversed)
- I dress cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter to avoid using more heat/air conditioning than necessary.
- I throw away plastic products in the trash after each use. (reversed)
Females in this Utah sample practiced more personal “going green” activities than did males. This is not surprising as past published research has already reported this phenomenon.
Single Males are More Likely to Approve Exploitation of Employee Relationships: The survey asked if “Businesses should exploit employee relationships for capital gain.” Although the statistical mean was low (M=2.00), a significant finding was that males agreed more than females that this was either acceptable or at least not as wrong. Interestingly, single males were more likely to be comfortable with this exploitation compared with married males. Employees who believed businesses should exploit employee relationships for capital gain were those who scored lower on the belief of moral agency and were more likely to give in to pressure to be unethical. Participants who agreed with this statement were also those who felt that MLM’s are a great marketing tool. One statistical model found that employees who work more hours (males in our study worked more hours) were also more likely to agree that it is okay for businesses to exploit employee relationships for capital gain.
The statement “Businesses should participate in ethically questionable activities as long as they receive a profit” also provided a significant gender difference through a predictive model as well. Males are more likely to agree (or at least not disagree as strongly) when rating this item, meaning males were more comfortable than females with participating in questionable activities if the business makes a profit from it. Many MBA students felt that many Utahans separate personal ethical and moral behavior from workplace ethical and moral behavior. According to the students, some employees may feel fine about being involved in gray areas at work, but do not believe it affects their personal integrity or religious standing.
Females are More Supportive of Diversity in Hiring: In this study, females were significantly more likely to agree that “Businesses should encourage diversity in their hiring standards.” This may be because diversity usually means hiring proportional numbers of females, which would benefit them more than males in the current business environment. However, they may care more deeply about hiring minorities as well. Employees who said businesses should encourage diversity in hiring are also those who believe their companies are socially responsible and treat employees respectfully and ethically. These were also employees who were more environmentally conscious (“going green”), and who, as we already discussed, were more likely to be women. Apparently those who support environmental action also support diversity in the workplace.
Gender is Correlated with Perceptions of Company Treatment of Customers: Finally, participants were asked two questions related to treatment of customers and clients: 1) “My organization respects consumer/customer/client rights beyond the legal requirements” and 2) “My organization provides full and accurate information about its products and services to its customers/clients.” There was a positive correlation between gender and perceptions regarding their company’s treatment of customers/clients.  Females, as well as married employees, were more likely to say their companies treated customers respectfully and ethically. This could mean that women in this sample worked for more companies who treated customers well or they were just more optimistic about their companies.
The last decade has shown a drastic increase in greed and corruption (e.g. Enron, recent mortgage/banking crisis); consequently there has never been a more pertinent time in this world’s history for ethical and socially responsible individuals and organizations. This research study explored employee perceptions of these critical issues as they manifested in their personal lives and their affiliated organizations. The study revealed that many Utahans believe they behave more ethically than persons in other states. A supporting premise is the belief that religiosity equates to ethical conduct. However, this does not hold true when a person who considers themselves more religious is faced with acting socially responsible to the environment. Some conservative Christians believe that the end of the world is near and there is no need to worry about future generations. Therefore, it is more an issue about autonomous moral agency than political and corporate rhetoric. This is consistent with research conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life where religion plays a less important role influencing the views of participants on environmental concerns.
The study also revealed a few significant differences between the perceptions of men and women. Women were more likely to rate higher on the “going green” scale than men. Women were also significantly more likely to agree that businesses should encourage diversity in their hiring practices. This could mean that diversity in the workplace would help women or they may care more deeply about hiring minorities in general. Men were more likely to agree it is ethical for businesses to exploit employee relationships for financial gain. The difference was most significant for single males and less so for married men. This is an intriguing relationship between genders and suggests that women have a greater influence on men than previously recognized. This theory of women’s influence on men regarding religion and gender as variables on employee perceptions of business ethics and corporate social responsibility deserves additional research.
Finally, there are some Utahans who compartmentalize their professional and personal life. Some employees may feel it is fine to be involved with questionable ethical activities at work if it benefits the company but do not believe it affects their personal integrity or religious standing. Understanding the current perceptions of a sample of Utah employees is helpful for businesses determining how to most effectively design future ethics and CSR training and development opportunities for their workers. Future research could further explore how such CSR and ethics training and development opportunities can be best implemented within this Utah context.
*** We would like to thank Rick Killpack and Jessica Burnham for their editing and helpful suggestions. Susan R. Madsen is Associate Professor of Management in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University and also the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics. Kenneth Shaw is an MBA student at Utah Valley University. Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Business at Utah Valley University, specializing in strategic international human resource management and organizational behavior. His ongoing research examines issues of globalization, labor transformation, work-quality characteristics, and the determinants of job satisfaction cross-nationally
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 Multiple survey items were included for each of these areas to create appropriate scales (see Turker, 2009; Schwartz and Weber, 2006; Carroll, 2000). All scales had appropriate alpha coefficients, indicated statistical significance (detailed statistical analysis is available upon request). [Back to manuscript].
 Corporate social responsibility refers to the movement for corporations to be better “corporate citizens with a conscience” that focuses on corporate self-regulation to monitor compliance with ethical standards. [Back to manuscript]
 “Going green” refers to the growing movement to be more environmentally friendly in business/workplace practices. [Back to manuscript]
 Detailed statistical analysis is available upon request. [Back to manuscript]
 Detailed statistical analysis is available upon request. [Back to manuscript]
 Detailed statistical analysis is available upon request. [Back to manuscript]
Full Citation for this Article: Madsen, Susan R., Kenneth Shaw, Jonathan H. Westover (2011) "The Influence of Religion and Gender on Utah Employee Perceptions of Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility," SquareTwo, Vol. 4 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleMadsenEthics.html, accessed [give access date].
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