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Christmas symbols at work are fine, Beedie researchers say, but it’s also important to include symbols from other faiths in holiday celebrations and allow employees to celebrate religious holidays at other times of the year.Don Bayley

The Globe's roundup of research from business schools.

With the holiday season in full swing, employers should take care to show their employees that expressions of all faiths are welcome in the workplace, and not just Christian ones.

"It's important that organizations are sending the message that a diversity of religious beliefs and values are okay and open for discussion," says Brent Lyons, assistant professor of management and organizational studies at Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business in Vancouver. It's okay to deck the halls and spread Christmas cheer, he adds, but "if that's the only thing employees are seeing, you may be inadvertently sending the message that only Christian beliefs are valued in your workplace."

To foster a more inclusive office atmosphere, Dr. Lyons suggests including symbols from other faiths in the holiday celebrations or allowing employees to celebrate religious holidays at other times of the year. He wouldn't counsel prohibiting employees from expressing their faiths altogether.

A recently published study co-authored by Dr. Lyons found that employees who feel at ease disclosing their religious affiliation at work and openly discussing their religious values and beliefs are more satisfied and able to develop closer relationships with their co-workers. Those who feel uncomfortable doing so are less committed to their workplace. This can have "important productivity costs and potential financial costs for the organization," Dr. Lyons says.

He and his co-authors surveyed about 450 people who attended Christian churches in the United States and South Korea. The two countries were chosen because they are both predominantly Christian societies, yet they are believed to differ when it comes to expressions of individuality. South Korea is believed to be a more collectivist society where duty and loyalty to collective goals are valued whereas the United States is seen as a more individualistic society that encourages self-expression of all types.

The study found that the benefits of openly talking about religion and the costs associated with actively hiding it were the same in both countries. The results would be just as applicable to Canada, he adds: "Our study showed that our results tend to apply across cultures."

The paper was published in the July edition of the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

'Tis the season for shame and guilt?

The holidays are also a prime shopping season. And all that excess spending can trigger feelings of guilt and shame. Marketers might try to capitalize on those feelings to induce consumers to spend more.

A study co-authored by DaHee Han, assistant marketing professor at McGill University's Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal, found that feelings of guilt and shame can influence our judgment and purchasing decisions – but in distinctly different ways.

Across four experiments, the authors show that feelings of guilt lead consumers to focus on product details while feelings of shame lead them to focus on the bigger picture. In one experiment, about 170 participants were asked to write about a situation that made them feel either guilty or ashamed. Then they were told they would participate in an unrelated task in which they were asked what preferences they would consider when purchasing concert tickets. Some were told the tickets were for a band they liked but were above the usual cost; another group was told the tickets were to see a new unknown band but that the tickets were discounted.

Participants who had recently experienced feelings of guilt indicated they were more inclined to purchase the cheaper concert tickets for the unknown band while those who had experienced feelings of shame indicated a preference for the well-known band, regardless of the higher ticket price.

Likewise, Dr. Han explains, when purchasing luxury brands, consumers who experience feelings of guilt will focus on the price of the item while consumers who feel shame will focus on the way the product makes them feel.

The findings have important implications for marketers who rely on guilt and shame in advertising as a means to influence consumer behavior, the authors conclude. Guilt and shame are frequently used in public service messages such as anti-drinking or fitness ads. But they can also be used to entice shoppers to spend more at this time of the year, Dr. Han warns.

"Marketers want to develop messages which reduce feelings of guilt or shame so that they can increase sales," she writes in an e-mail.

The study was published in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

Worn, crumpled bills cause consumers to spend more

The state of the money in your wallet can also affect your holiday spending.

A new study by Theodore Noseworthy, associate marketing professor at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto, found that dirty money can influence consumer behaviour and spending.

Dr. Noseworthy conducted the study with Chelsea Galoni, a PhD student at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill. It is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

In two separate experiments participants were given a $20 bill; some of the bills were worn and crumpled and some were new and crisp. The participants then went shopping in a mock convenience store. The participants who handled the worn and crumpled bills spent more money than those who used the crisp, new bills. They did not buy more expensive items but they purchased more things. "Products purchased with worn bills were seen as less valuable than products purchased with crisp bills," the authors conclude.

Interestingly, when given an option between buying cleaning supplies and office supplies, those who had the worn bills were more likely to choose the cleaning supplies. But, in this instance, they didn't spend more money, perhaps because the cleansing power of the products added to their value, the authors say.

Rosanna Tamburri can reached at

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