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Appalachian alumna honored for thesis studying relationship between workplace ethics and view of God

AmberHardesty_t.jpgBOONE – How does one’s view of God influence job performance?

Amber Hardesty, who earned a master’s degree from Appalachian State University in 2008, studied the relationship between a person’s view of God and their ethics, conscientiousness and level of control they believe they have in their own lives.

She is now receiving national acclaim for her work. Her thesis was selected for Best Paper Proceedings of the National Academy of Management’s 2009 annual meeting to be held in Chicago in August. The academy received more than 6,000 paper submissions from 75 countries, the majority from university professors.

“It is extremely rare for a master’s student’s work to even be accepted for presentation at the academy, much less receive ‘Best Paper’ recognition,” said Dr. Jim Westerman, Appalachian’s Daggett Professor of Management in the Walker College of Business and Hardesty’s thesis advisor.

Hardesty graduated from Appalachian’s industrial-organizational psychology and human resource management program (IO/HRM). She now works in human resources for Premier Inc. in Charlotte.

“In the business sector, spirituality in the workplace is increasing in prevalence, and it has been linked to higher employee creativity, commitment and performance.  However, one’s personal view of God and religion has not been examined in relation to business-related outcomes.  Amber’s pioneering study uncovered a variety of important relationships for future study in this regard. Given the ethical challenges that our major corporations seem to be facing, this is an area that needs a closer look,” Westerman said.

Her findings

Hardesty’s thesis was titled “Relating religious beliefs to workplace values: Meta-ethical development, locus of control and conscientiousness.”  She polled 250 Appalachian students about their religious beliefs, ethics, level of control they believe they have over their own lives, conscientiousness, values and other beliefs.

Her data shows that the more one views God as angry and highly engaged in one’s life, the less one’s ability to engage in higher levels of moral/ethical reasoning. Those scoring low on ethical development may work better in situations with established structure and rules, Hardesty said, while higher scoring individuals likely work better on their own and in ethically ambiguous situations than lower scoring individuals.

Hardesty also found that individuals who believe in an angry God also are more likely to believe that they are not in control of their own lives. In business, this may imply that they are better suited for tasks in which compliance behavior is expected from employees, rather than initiative or creativity; or, that perceptions of control for those who believe in an angry God may need to be increased by enhancing employee job autonomy and participative decision-making.

Thirdly, Hardesty found that individuals who believe that God is highly engaged in their lives had higher conscientiousness scores. They tend to be more cautious, have higher self-efficacy, be more self-disciplined, and will strive for achievement.

The implications

Understanding individuals’ image of God may eventually allow supervisors and co-workers to better predict individuals’ workplace values, attitudes and behaviors, Hardesty said.

There are legal restrictions in the United States for using religion for decision-making about employees, as represented by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, but her findings may have practical applications in other countries.

“Spiritual views can permeate all aspects of a person’s life, so why not the workplace too? This is a base study to build upon. It gives some glimmer of where people stand, but we need more in-business studies to link religious beliefs to job performance,” she said.

“It takes us one step closer to understanding how religion interacts with employee attitudes, values and beliefs,” Westerman said of Hardesty’s thesis. “As religion increases in ubiquity and importance in our workplaces, this area of study will receive additional attention.”

About the program

Appalachian’s industrial-organizational psychology and human resource management program
(IO/HRM) is an interdisciplinary Master of Arts degree program offered by the university’s Department of Psychology and Department of Management.

The program equips students with specialized training in human resource management and prepares them for work in business, industry and government. Using theories, methods and research findings derived from the behavioral sciences, graduates can excel in organizational activities such as selection, placement, and motivation of employees; training and development; performance appraisal; and development and change of organizations.

The program has a high national reputation. In addition to above national average pass rates on certification exams, the program was ranked second in the nation for program culture and third in the nation for program resources in Kraiger and Abalos’s “Rankings of graduate Programs in I-O Psychology based on Students Rankings of Quality.”