Do Mormons make better employees?
July 27, 2009 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Are businesses moving to Utah because Mormons make better employees?

I recall reading an article in a college Economics class that many businesses are choosing to relocate to Utah because of the disproportionate number of Mormons residing there. Apparently, because most Mormons do not drink coffee or smoke, companies save on coffee and cigarette breaks in the short term, and health insurance premiums in the long-term.

Clean-living = Better Employees = More Profitable Company

Does anyone know whether this article exists, or whether I'm just remembering someone's discriminatory ranting?
posted by jefficator to Work & Money (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Utah does have below-average unemployment but that explanation seems a little simplistic and suspect to my amateur economist self.
posted by downing street memo at 6:53 AM on July 27, 2009

I’ve got a friend whose family controls about 8% of the truck trailer market. He just closed his last factory in California and he had one in Texas that was even worse. The workman’s comp cost in his Texas plant got to be about 30% of payroll. Well, there’s no such profit in making truck trailers. He closed his plant and moved it to Ogden, Utah, where a bunch of believing Mormons are raising big families and don’t game the workman’s comp system. The workman’s comp expense is 2% of payroll.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:06 AM on July 27, 2009

Hmm, as a business neophyte, that sounds a little fishy. What companies care about is the bottom line-- that is, how little they can get away with paying their employees without strikes/unionization. That's why China and India are such popular outsourcing destinations. The big cities in India (Mumbai and Delhi) are currently becoming less attractive to American companies looking to outsource because the workforce there is mobilizing to demand higher salaries. American business is therefore moving to Madras, expanding in China, and considering South America.

Utah's a big state, with, as downing street memo says, high rates of unemployment. I'd wager that it's more a combination of low real estate prices and large numbers of people willing to work for low wages rather than any cultural benefit.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:06 AM on July 27, 2009

Wow interesting question.

I've got access to Athens and Business Source Complete (academic databases), so I took a look to see what papers I could find on this topic. While I'm not comfortable posting the full text of articles that live behind a pay-for firewall, I can share abstracts and citations.

There really wasn't a lot in terms of academics formally testing this this hypothesis; what I did see, however, were periodic waves of media attention, all attesting to the positive business benefits of the clean cut lifestyle.

So yes, anecdotally this does make sense. Call me cynical if you'd like, but I it seems what we're seeing are periodic public relations pushes from Utah's economic development office.

There were only 34 papers, most were very self congratulatory, hardly objective. I tried to post a few representative titles below.

Parsons, Tom. "The Mormon Question." Business Mexico 13.4 (Apr. 2003): 64. B
Focuses on hiring of Mormons by American businesses in Mexico. Praise for their clean living and work ethic; Big question facing American expatriates in that country; Missionary work by American Mormons.

Donnelly, S.B. "Mixing business and faith." Time 138.4 (29 July 1991): 22.
Describes the current economic boom in the state of Utah, due partly to shrewd timing and partly to the efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints (Mormons). Attraction of the state to companies in the US and abroad; Low-cost average monthly wage; Difficulties for women and racial minorities; Tourists and new residents; Changing from reactive politics to active politics.

Budman, Matthew. "questioning authority." Conference Board Review 44.2 (Mar. 2007): 34-34
This article presents an interview with journalist Jeff Benedict. When asked about the popularity of his book "The Mormon Way of Doing Business: Leadership and Success Through Faith and Family," Benedict refers to the ethical and honest work values mentioned in it. He says that being faithful to one's spouse translates into business success. He also comments on the doctrines of Mormonism.

"More than Mormons." Economist 319.7708 (25 May 1991): 34-34.
Reports on the increasing number of businesspeople migrating to Utah. Factors for businesspeople's selection of Utah as location for their businesses; Social values of Mormons who dominate the population of the state; Conditions of industries in the state; Utah's need for additional employers due to its increasing population.

Finally, not all of the papers were positive. I don't live in the United States so this controversy wasn't on my radar, but apparently many Mormons protested California's Proposition 8, and Utah based businesses paid the price. Boycotts, hate mail, loss of key staff, some companies directly suffered as a result of the churches position.
posted by Mutant at 7:17 AM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Businesses typically move to places where there is opportunity to make a profit.

Utah has a lower cost of living than say, California or New York. This means paying lower wages, a nice cost cutting measure. Utah also is not as crowded as the coasts, offering more land space for operations requiring such.

Employees are going to take breaks, regardless of whether they're downing stimulants and inducing lung cancer or drinking water and doing fifty push-ups. It is true that clean-living and healthy employees result in lower health insurance premiums, although I cannot say whether Mormons are statistically healthier.

Utah and with wide swaths of "flyover country" are in a relatively good position for gaining jobs. Currently, I am working in Garfield County, Oklahoma. Very uninteresting to most people, very difficult to draw people in. Cost of living is unbelievably low, wages aren't much better. Unemployment has doubled in less than a year, yet that still leaves us at 4.2%. Utah is in a similar position logistically.

I couldn't tell you whether Mormons make better employees. I'd say they have their good and bad sides, like most cultural groups. I can tell you that it likely isn't the single reason for a business to move to Utah, but such perceptions sure don't hurt.
posted by Saydur at 7:30 AM on July 27, 2009

I think the explanation lies more along the lines that Utah is more business-friendly than some other states, such as California, and, on average, has better-educated people than elsewhere.

The Mormons, at least the mainstream ones, do seem to value education. Employers like that.
posted by dfriedman at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2009

Anecdotal: Many mormons I know tend to be small business owners or franchisees. The missionary experience seems to remove a lot of the fear of promoting themselves to other people, which is the major barrier to successfully selling what is essentially a brand of personality to a community of customers.
posted by SpecialK at 7:51 AM on July 27, 2009

Slightly Related Data Point #2: I remember, back in the day, AT&T opening a large call centre in Utah. Because of the missionary ethos, a concentrated Mormon population will give you more potential hires who speak a wide range of languages. For years, if you made an international conference call and required the assistance of a live translator, those services were provided from Utah.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:55 AM on July 27, 2009

Business-friendly, lower cost of living and lower prevailing wage are probably the main factors.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:00 AM on July 27, 2009

Does anyone have any research at hand regarding longer-term prospects for employment growth in Utah, with or without argumentation viz. causation?
posted by jefficator at 8:11 AM on July 27, 2009

jefficator -- "Does anyone have any research at hand regarding longer-term prospects for employment growth in Utah, with or without argumentation viz. causation?"

Bureau of Labour Statistics, Utah specific data.

State of Utah's economy as of mid 2008 [.pdf], contains forward looking statements.
posted by Mutant at 8:26 AM on July 27, 2009

Sorry to tag on, in a way, but I wonder if this would be another way of asking the same question: are health insurance premiums lower in Utah, and if so, could that be attributed to healthier people (rather than differences in costs) - in other words, if costs are 10% lower, but premiums are 16% lower, then maybe that's interesting.

Or - is there some index of the healthiness of people in a particular state?
posted by amtho at 8:30 AM on July 27, 2009

Many Mormons also have strong foreign language skills, due to the value placed on education and missionary work. This is an overlooked asset, I think.
posted by pentagoet at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2009

I've heard anecdotally that Mormons are business owners in numbers disproportionate to their overall representation in the population. Does anyone know if this is confirmed by statistics? If this is true then perhaps people are simply locating businesses in the place where they (or their families) live.
posted by serazin at 9:15 AM on July 27, 2009

This seems a classic case of fallaciously inferring causation from correlation. Mormons are known to be good employees (being Mormon and being a good employee are strongly correlated).

It doesn't follow that being Mormon causes one to be a good employee.

It may be that both being Mormon and being a good employee share a third variable.
posted by dfriedman at 9:23 AM on July 27, 2009

Utah has a lot of Mormons, but not everyone in Utah is Mormon. Of those who are Mormon, not every one of them is strictly observant. Even among those who are strictly observant, for many sugar is the legit drug of choice, and the Mormons in my extended family, while observant, consume gobsmacking amounts of sugar, which can't be great for your health either.

The notion that Utah is a more competitive place for business because of the healthy Mormon lifestyle is either hopelessly naive or a brilliant strategy cooked up by the State of Utah to bring in business. Your pick.
posted by ambrosia at 9:27 AM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

amtho -- "Sorry to tag on, in a way, but I wonder if this would be another way of asking the same question: are health insurance premiums lower in Utah, and if so, could that be attributed to healthier people (rather than differences in costs) - in other words, if costs are 10% lower, but premiums are 16% lower, then maybe that's interesting.

Or - is there some index of the healthiness of people in a particular state?"

Ah another interesting question.

The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) tracks a lot of this data. Aggregate tables are here they may answer your question. If not I'm aware of several detailed data sources, some of which underlie the aggregate data.

MEPS IC will give you state (and national) level data on employer based health insurance.

MEPS HC tracks health care and means of payment again either at national or state level.

You could cross reference with CDC data, which might be a fruitful exercise.

The America's Health Rankings "Nation at a Glance" is always interesting to look at. They list the cons of Utah as
  • Limited access to primary care
  • Moderate Immunization Coverage
  • High Geographic Disparity
Those are the links I had left over from researching something else. The MPES ones have very comprehensive datasets, used CDC and a few other sources I haven't listed to vette MEPS and other data we were looking at.

These datasets are very interesting to work with but be careful about reaching conclusions based on direct comparisons across sources as there are lots of data quality and integrity issues (e.g., timing of collection, granularity, meaning of attributes, etc, etc, in other words don't trade on this data).
posted by Mutant at 9:28 AM on July 27, 2009

I've had several LDS co-workers. One of them uses an unusual amount of sick time. It's possible that there are employment traits due to culture associated with a religion and the Mormon concentration in Utah, but it sounds like an urban legend.

The US Govt. has stats on worker's comp usage in every state. Maine, for instance, has average to low wages, high productivity, high honesty. Worker's comp rates are not low, because we have many people employed in commercial fishing and lumbering, both high injury occupations. There's real research available, your local Small Business Development Center(SBDC)/ Small Business Administration(SBA) should be able to help.

In addition, truckers spend so much time sitting that back injury is common. An exercise program, and a healthy back program, might really reduce injury costs.
posted by theora55 at 10:39 AM on July 27, 2009

As with other religious affiliations, races, ethnicities, national origins, sexual orientations, genders, or other suspect classes, stereotypes do not really help with Mormons, unless the definition of Mormon is narrowed significantly to include only certain Mormons (and then the narrowing is what makes the stereotype true: All observant Mormons abstain from Coffee is a true stereotype, by definition).

I know lots of Utah and California business owners. I have on numerous occasions heard business owners from both states (but not all of them) say that they think Mormons make good employees. The stereotype may or may not be true. And maybe they just say this to me because I'm Mormon or because some of them are Mormon.

But I think the primary reason why a lot of business have opened in or relocated to Utah is not because of any stereotype about Mormon employees, but rather because of favorable state law in Utah toward business generally and also toward specific types of businesses.
posted by The World Famous at 11:22 AM on July 27, 2009

Utah is a Very Republican state, and as such, is very union-unfriendly. That's a much more likely reason for businesses to move there than any stereotype surrounding mormons.
posted by Citrus at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2009

Also: good health is not necessarily directly related to health care costs.

An insurance company person once told me that the two highest categories of expenditures for health insurance companies are prescription drugs and pregnancy-related costs.

As I understand it (IANaM), Mormon teachings encourage having lots of children.

Employees who have lots of children may drive up health care costs considerably.
posted by kristi at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2009

The answer has nothing to do with Mormons directly, and everything to do with the tax situation in Utah. This report says it ranks 11th among the most business friendly states in terms of taxation.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:19 PM on July 29, 2009

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