For years, Harrah Hotel College’s Anthony Gatling, an assistant professor, has used data-driven analyses to test factors affecting workplace culture, leader commitment, and performance. One of these factors is, surprisingly, “spirituality.”
This form of spirituality, Gatling says, is not of a religious nature. Rather, it is the pursuit of meaning and purpose, a sense of community, and alignment of professional values in the workplace.
“The conflation of spirituality and religion is common, but these are two distinct concepts,” he says. “Religion can be divisive. Spirituality in the workplace, on the other hand, enables leaders and employees to see how their work has higher purpose and fulfills the need to belong and to be interconnected. Workplace spirituality should not only be a cultural objective, it should be a strategic imperative.”
A former restaurant-industry executive, Gatling spent more than 20 years observing firsthand how leadership development affected companies’ culture and employee attitudes.
“All hospitality organizations want their leaders to have an emotional connection to the organization,” Gatling says. “They want them to create an environment where they and their employees can see the higher purpose in the mission.”
Gatling’s passion for leadership and organizational development has carried into his academic work at UNLV. In a study recently published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Gatling and co-authors Jungsun Kim (an assistant professor in the Harrah Hotel College) and John Milliman (a professor of management and organization at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs) tested relationships among workplace spirituality, organizational commitment, and turnover in 190 hospitality supervisors.
Although many hospitality organizations may not consciously recognize what Gatling calls an “innate link between hospitality and workplace spirituality,” they are indeed looking for answers when it comes to strengthening organizational culture; increasing employee commitment; and reducing the costly impact of poor employee-retention rates, which have been climbing steadily in the last five years. In fact, from 2014 to 2015 alone, the turnover rate in the U.S. economy’s hospitality segment rose to 72.1 percent from 66.7, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.
Gatling sees this “innate link” through the lens of what management scholars refer to as self-determination. In the business context, Gatling says, “self-determination theory proposes that all human beings are intrinsically motivated to fulfill three core psychological needs in the workplace: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. When organizations enable greater empowerment, encourage creativity, engage intellectual potential, [and] provide a social setting where leaders have a sense of purpose and belonging, these psychological needs are fulfilled exponentially.”
Gatling’s findings suggest that workplace spirituality increases the commitment level of hospitality supervisors and decreases turnover. “It’s clear that workplace spiritualty strengthens leaders’ emotional connection to their organization and significantly reduces the intentions of supervisors to quit their jobs,” he says.
The big takeaway for the hospitality industry, Gatling says, is that organizations should be intentional in creating, maintaining, and enhancing their cultures through the development of their frontline leaders.
“It makes strategic sense,” Gatling says, “and is the key factor that will separate the good from the great in the hospitality industry.”