The difference is most striking in Germany, where 70 percent of top executives questioned by the reputable Allensbach Institute said they were religious people. This compared with 48 percent of the general public in western Germany and 23 percent in the formerly communist East.
In the United States, interviews with a random national sample of 500 company owners, officers, executives, directors or managers revealed a remarkably high influence of faith on their daily decisions at work. In a poll commissioned by Central Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and other faith-based organizations, 90 percent of these business leaders said they were "spiritual," although only 54 percent went as far as to describe themselves as "religious."
However, 74 percent told pollsters of Lawrence Research of Santa Ana, Calif., that they prayed to God for inspiration in their jobs. When faced with serious business decisions, 33 percent consult a religious or spiritual leader. However, twice that many--60 percent--talk these issues over with their wives or husbands.
Almost all business executives--96 percent--believe in good and evil. By a narrow margin, they even outdo the population at large in their faith in God: 91 vs. 90 percent; the latter figure is taken from a 2001 Gallup poll.
These results exceed church or synagogue membership by a stunning margin. Only 72 percent of the bosses queried belonged to a religious congregation. Slightly more executives than other Americans believe heaven (84 vs. 83 percent) and the devil (69 vs. 68 percent), and attend religious services at least once a week (47 vs. 42 percent), while significantly more expect a day of judgment (80 vs. 52 percent).
Evidently, the executives interviewed had a higher awareness of sin (89 vs. 86 percent), while fully agreeing with the rest of the population on other expectations for the hereafter: Life after death (70 percent), hell (71 percent) and the resurrection of the dead (65 percent).
The study is especially remarkable as it was launched by a huge Lutheran congregation of 3,200 members with a special interest in ministering to the downtown business community of Minneapolis. Its senior pastor, Craig Lewis, had learned development banking in mid-career "to help all people benefit from America's prosperity," according to his congregation. Lewis, a Harvard graduate and a former executive assistant to the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is an African American.
It is rare for an individual congregation to commission a nationwide study, particularly on such a specialized issue. In the present case, it yielded remarkable insights into the spiritual life of what is considered a highly worldly vocation.
Three out of 10 business leaders keep a Bible or other religious books at work, according to the pollsters. Of those, half read these texts at least two or three times a week. A full 59 percent of the polled bosses reported to have discussed religious concepts with employees.
The patterns of prayer, scripture readings and discussions of religious concepts in the workplace "are probably well established, as indicated by positions and longevity of the sampled executives," the research group reported.
Bosses evidently prefer hiring job candidates with church affiliations rather than those without a religious commitment, even if the latter has done better in college. The pollsters gave executives the following two samples of applicants for a position in their sales department:
"Mr. A. graduated from a top university with an A minus average. He is single, well dressed and articulate. He worked his way through college in a fast-food restaurant. He mentioned he's not particularly religious.
"Mr. B graduated from a state college with a B average. He is newly married, looks nice and is soft-spoken. He worked during the summer in his father's business. He mentioned he attends church every week."
Nationwide, 51 of the respondents said they would hire the churchgoer with a B average, and only 27 percent preferred the religiously disinterested A minus graduate. Curiously, though, in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a predominantly Lutheran and Catholic area, a reverse response was given: 39 percent would rather take the a-religious candidate, while 37 percent would hire his competitor.
While religious beliefs or spirituality clearly play a significant role in America's corporate life, this does not necessarily translate into ethical behavior. "Have you ever seen someone in your company do something that may have been legal, but in you was unethical?" More than half--55 percent--responded they have. But 12 percent said they would usually keep quiet in such cases and another three percent expressed no opinion on how to react under such circumstances.