researchsalesman.jpg“Treat others as you would like to be treated.” We’ve heard this phrase since elementary school—but when 20-plus years have gone by, and you’re standing on a car lot trying to make a sale, will your grade-school teacher’s voice still resonate in your mind? Research from Mays Business School finds that those who follow religious traditions have a greater chance of following the golden rule—encouraging ethical business practices and strong customer relations.

J. Garry Smith, a Mays PhD graduate who is now a professor of marketing at Middle Tennessee State University, says that almost all types of faith incorporate morals and a version of the golden rule. Smith’s dissertation, “Spirituality in the Salesperson: The Impact of the Golden Rule and Personal Faith on Workplace Job Attitudes,” evolved from a collection of questionnaires from 142 members of automobile dealers’ sales force—finding that in sales and marketing, people with faith tend to care more about the customers they serve.

What surprised Smith is that job satisfaction and life satisfaction aren’t interrelated. He found that faith doesn’t impact job satisfaction or propensity to leave one’s employer, and faith is not a moderator of any relationships. The golden rule disposition positively influences forgiveness, gratitude and agape love—with no effect on selflessness or humility.

“Personal faith has a significant, direct, and positive influence on some personality traits that favorably affect job-related attitudes such as customer orientation, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment,” Smith said. “Employees with strong faith are more likely to focus on customer needs and be more committed to their employer and job.”

While making a company revolve around religion isn’t necessary to encourage corporate morality, Smith said tolerance and prevalence of religion or faith in the workplace is a step forward in showing that a company stands for customer service.

Smith said it’s important to see that faith and spirituality are part of an individual’s personality. There’s a positive relationship between personality and job-related attitudes, and faith could influence behaviors that determine this attitude.

“Much of our difference in faith is hard-wired,” Smith said. “It’s in you, it’s part of your make-up. If you’re a religious person, you can’t check that at the door—it’s your personality.”

Having faith is such an innate part of most people, Smith said, that employers need to embrace it in a way that benefits the organization. For companies run by Christian families, such as Chick-fil-a and Hobby Lobby, being closed on Sundays is a way of showing respect for employee faith without bringing personal beliefs into the workplace.

One of the auto dealerships Smith surveyed employs a large number of devout Muslims, and the company embraces this. “An interesting part of this dealership,” Smith said, “is that the top executives say, “At one o’clock on Friday we hope not many people come in,’ because that’s when devout Muslims pray.” Here, the company isn’t promoting faith, but is allowing room for religious practices in the work schedule.

Smith also notes that religion and faith don’t need to be advertised, but they should be an innate part of a company that allows employees to remain comfortable in their beliefs. By allowing employees to embrace the golden rule at work—without pushing religion—offense to employees and customers is avoided, and values stay intact.

“If religion is done and it’s said,” Smith asks, “then why isn’t it shown? And if it’s shown, why does it need to be said?”

Smith’s dissertation was chaired by Charles Futrell, Federated Professor of Marketing at Mays Business School. Before earning his PhD in marketing from Texas A&M University in 2006, Smith worked in sales for more than 20 years.

—Ashley N. Coker