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Americans who see God as 'a secure base' tend to be more committed, satisfied on the job

March 01, 2016

People who see God as a "secure base" for intimacy and attachment are more likely to be emotionally committed to their workplace and satisfied with their jobs. They also tend to see their work as a calling from God, which correlates to higher levels of job commitment and satisfaction, according to a Baylor study of working American adults.

"Attachment to God may relate to a sense of safety and confidence that encourages exploration of the world -- and as adults, our primary form of exploration is work," said lead author Blake V. Kent, a doctoral candidate in sociology in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.

The study -- "Attachment to God, Vocational Calling, and Worker Contentment" -- is published online in the journal Review of Religious Research.

The research is an analysis of data from Baylor Religion Survey 2011, a national random survey about Americans' religious attitudes, beliefs and values that was conducted by The Gallup Organization. Respondents in this study included 860 adults who are full- or part-time employees or volunteers and who believe in God or a higher power.

While other studies have found a link between job commitment and such religious influences as faith-work integration beliefs and congregational involvement, the Baylor research differs in that it suggests that inner feelings of attachment to God rather than statements about God may relate to attachments elsewhere -- as in the workplace.

From a management perspective, research has shown that employees' work experiences in previous jobs generally trump personal characteristics -- such as age, race/ethnicity and gender -- when it comes to effectively managing them after hire. The Baylor study, however, suggests that "divine attachment" may be viewed as a personal characteristic to be taken into account in the workplace.

"Research suggests that workplaces which allow their employees to engage in spiritual activity at work -- even if it's just 15 minutes a day of meditation -- tend to see boosts in employee satisfaction," Kent said. "What we're doing here is providing evidence that how people relate to God matters for their commitment and satisfaction at work."

For the research, "affective commitment" was measured by individuals' responses to such statements as "I really feel this organization's problems are my own" and "I do not feel a strong sense of 'belonging' to my organization," with answers ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree."

"This type of commitment is a measure of the emotional bond between a person and an organization, in which employees keep their jobs because they want to rather than because they need or ought to," Kent said. Such commitment is linked to lower absenteeism and conflict, lower turnover rates, and higher performance and productivity, previous studies have found.

The measure of "job satisfaction" as used in other published research is broader because many factors can affect satisfaction -- among them pay, benefits, co-workers and bosses. Respondents considered two statements: "In general, I do not like my job" and "All in all, I am satisfied with my job." Their responses ranged from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree."

Attachment to God may have a "spillover effect" as a buffer against negative emotions and experiences, thus helping people to cope with workplace challenges, Kent said.

In the study, a "calling" was defined as "a sense of work as a 'transcendent summons' for meaning and purpose in the workplace," he said. "The work may be seen as a 'mission from God' or as serving God, even if it is a very commonplace job without religious orientation."

Previous research indicates that a sense of vocational calling may sustain people amid difficult circumstances, Kent said. Individuals who feel called show higher levels of motivation, stronger coping skills, lower absenteeism and higher work satisfaction.

Types of attachments generally are formed in the first 3 to 5 years of life and affect an individual in future relationships with family, friends, romantic partners, God and work. They include:
  • Secure attachment. "This is when the child knows the primary caretaker -- usually a mother -- is available to hug and hold you. That creates a certain confidence in the child to explore his or her surroundings but still be confident that the caretaker will be there when the child returns," Kent said.

  • Insecure attachment. "This is formed when the primary attachment figure seems cold or distant and is often unavailable for emotional connection," Kent said.

  • Anxious attachment. "These attachments are ambivalent," Kent said. "You feel that the caretaker is sometimes there for you with a lot of love to give, but sometimes they're not."
Theories differ about how a person's concept of God is developed. One theory is that one's view of God as caring, personal and responsive -- or as impersonal and indifferent -- mirrors the relationship with the main childhood caregiver. Another theory holds that a person's notion of God can change over time and compensate for a lack of attachment to others in early life.
Co-researchers: Matt Bradshaw, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology, and Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, both in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences.

Baylor University

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