March 2000 - Spirituality in the Workplace
Spirituality in the Workplace
Our guest author this month is Alan Pritz, who wrote a chapter on "Spirituality in the Workplace" for a new book, Training For Tough Topics, that is being published by the American Management Association this year.
Alan L. Pritz, Founder and President of Inner Resource Enhancement, (Minneapolis, MN 612-721-4100), conducts a workshop on “Spirituality In The Workplace” for the University of St. Thomas’ Management Center. His consulting business provides training on Mind-Body-Spirit interactions for health care, business and educational organizations.
Spirituality In The Workplace: A New Insight To Business
Monday morning, office doors open, coffee's on and it's business as usual. Or is it? For years, business routines have changed mostly as a result of externally driven technological advances and shifting market demands.
Currently however, an intriguing development is rising on the organizational horizon that involves an evolving relationship between two odd bedfellows, business and spirituality. Commerce it seems, like science and medicine, is gradually reviewing spirituality-related themes within its operating paradigms, if only because interest in such matters is so pervasive.
The business community reaction to this latest phenomenon is mixed, ranging from curiosity, exploration and implementation of eye-opening programs to indifference, rejection and outright hostility.
In this article, we'll examine what the workplace spirituality movement is all about, see if it truly offers something of commercial value, and explore its impact on both the local and national business scenes.
The emergence of spirituality in modern business has roots from multiple sources.
One source, the slash-and-burn economics of the 1970s and 1980s, generated a workforce strongly antagonistic to the toxic nature of certain corporate machinations. Ongoing economic upheaval produced prolonged stress, which in turn caused rampant employee burnout, increases in absenteeism, medical leave and turnover costs.
Having weathered that storm, seasoned and new generation employees silently vowed to reject further de-humanizing treatment that businesses can dispense in the name of sound fiscal policies.
This mindset coupled with a prosperous economy fostered greater entrepreneurial activity and an increasingly tight, selective job-market. As a result, HR departments have had to creatively scramble to recruit and retain quality employees.
Subsequent sensitivity to workforce interests has revealed burgeoning employee desire to work for socially responsible, ethically driven organizations that allow the "whole self" to be brought to work and not parked at the office door. This in turn has sparked corporate recognition of the value of promoting personal integration at work; of harnessing not only intellectual capability for peak performance, but emotional and spiritual passion as well.
A second source of workplace spirituality stems from advances in science and healthcare. Growing research in behavioral sciences and psychoneuroimmunology have established that physical fitness and a positive attitude can mitigate the effects of stress and reduce health care expenses.
Enter an organizational platform for holistic health considerations through wellness programs. In 1975 Herbert Benson, M.D., a Harvard cardiologist, pushed the wellness envelope further. Demonstrating that certain meditation practices produced a relaxation effect that reduced blood pressure without medicinal agents, Benson's work catalyzed the use of mental tools such as "focus words," guided imagery and visualization to promote overall health.
One result of his efforts is that pragmatic, and unfortunately, highly stressed corporate individuals have been given a legitimate "go-ahead" to turn their attention within to harness the healing power of mind.
The third and perhaps most important contributor to workplace spirituality is the rapid rise of social interest in such matters coupled with a generation of baby-boom executives experiencing mid-life review. Without doubt, exploration of spiritual themes has become a national, if not international point of focus.
A trip to the local bookstore provides ample evidence of this, displaying books on spirituality in topic areas ranging from love making to professional coaching, pet communication to work. Institutions of higher education like the University of St. Thomas are hosting symposiums on workplace spirituality and introducing courses about similar themes.
In fact, attention surrounding work and spirit is growing to such an extent that web sites and international conferences on business and consciousness now exist solely to explore these issues.
The desire to examine spirituality is only natural. We are, after all, beings with intense curiosity about our metaphysical origins and purpose. That this would impact business persons in their mid-life years is simply a matter of time and aging. That many such individuals also hold powerful decision-making jobs is perhaps serendipitous because they're better positioned to affect corporate culture change than any average spiritual enthusiast could.
Such convergence of popular interest with top-down organizational influence creates a healthy foundation and conduit for spiritual pursuits to root and grow.
Clearly, interest in matters of heart and soul has been rising for years. Yet, what's unique about this phenomenon is its broad visceral appeal, that it touches people of all orientations in a profound way. Moreover, it cuts across ideological boundaries by differentiating between spiritual and religious meaning and evokes a keen desire among enthusiasts to integrate the former in a workplace context.
The message ultimately is about being able to embrace what's most meaningful in life, spirituality, with where one spends the most hours during a day, work.
Spirituality and religious belief are compatible though not identical; they may or may not co-exist.
In office settings, it is absolutely crucial to understand the difference between these two.
In the workplace, these distinctions are important for various reasons.
Chief among them is that a person can pursue his/her cherished spiritual beliefs without demanding doctrinal complicity from peers. To seek the latter is to court an infringement of religious freedom lawsuit.
Understanding this is necessary because again, spirituality is not the same as religion.
To underscore this point I refer once again to the Sloan article where study participants (comprised of HR executives and managers) felt that religion was a highly inappropriate expression at work whereas spirituality was very appropriate for discussion and/or exploration.
What's the difference between the two?
The question of how to address spirituality in the workplace is undeniably challenging and made more so because empirical studies of its affects are few.
Two research projects that examine these matters include the Sloan article already mentioned and a study by the High Tor Alliance regarding contemplative practice within corporate life.
Both conclude workplace spirituality is beneficial and possibly necessary for long term organizational survival.
For the most part, workplace spirituality is handled as intriguing yet uncomfortable. All too often, it elicits an ambivalent response that courts inquiry while simultaneously striving to maintain "a healthy distance." As such, it's primarily addressed in couched terms of ethics, vision, values, meaning and working with passion.
Some organizations believe "higher domain" issues are beyond the scope of their training and responsibility. For them the historic separation of church and state represents a very welcome status quo.
Others feel workplace spirituality offers an ideologically safe and necessary reconciliation between higher life purpose and the innovative activity needed for an emerging global economy. Enthusiasts believe it provides value by harnessing the greatest creative potential available to generate world-class services and products.
Even still, there is the realization that organizations must learn how to broach the subject and tap this vital force without offending co-workers or causing cultural discord.
Despite the lack of empirical data there is increasing effort to honor human spirituality as a natural force to be used, not hidden.
Two pioneers in the movement are Martin Rutte and Richard Barrett.
Rutte, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, supports developing worksite discussion groups where people can examine spiritual matters in meaningful ways.
Barrett, formerly the Values Coordinator at the World Bank, started a Spiritual Unfoldment Society for them in 1993 and organized their first International Conference on Ethics, Spiritual Values and Sustainable Development in 1995. Author of Liberating the Corporate Soul, Barrett uses his unique measurement instruments to help businesses enhance their performance through optimal alignment of organizational values and culture.
Business is beginning to investigate new inner frontiers.
While spirituality may enhance results when integrated into the workplace, its presence is still fragile. The challenge is to accept that certain domains of reality may exist beyond the scope of modern measures that are both healthy for individuals and productive for corporate activities.
Definitely a very personal matter, those who are exploring the spiritual dimension in business may well foreshadow the inwardly balanced shape of things to come.
Copyright and More Information
© Copyright 1999 Inner Resource Enhancement. All Rights Reserved. (Article used by author's permission).
Page updated: June 05, 2009 Institute for Management Excellence, Copyright © 2001 All rights reserved
| Barbara Taylor | Books |
FAQ | Feedback | Interesting Links
| Mailing List |