Spirit at Work

by Sue Howard

So what is organisational spirituality?

Organisational spirituality is about taking a more holistic approach to organisational life, where it is recognised that people are inherently spiritual and are compelled to seek meaning and purpose in all aspects of life, which naturally includes the meaning of one’s work.

Characteristics of a spiritual work environment

Organisations that have taken spirituality into account tend to have certain internal and external characteristics.

External characteristics

  • Strong commitment to social responsibility
  • Employees and management actively involved in the community, especially in charitable activities
  • Aesthetically pleasing and spiritually nurturing buildings and grounds
  • Communication of spiritual values in relationships with customers and vendors
  • Use of spiritual imagery and terms in marketing and public relations
  • Active involvement in the spirituality in workplace movement.

Internal characteristics

  • Employees see their work as vocational, a calling, an opportunity to grow and make a difference, and contribute to something that matters
  • Leaders are enlightened and compassionate and have a commitment to their own spiritual values and practices
  • Teams are spirited, passionate and committed
  • The organisation is focused on virtues and is values driven
  • The organisation is willing to hold itself accountable for its values as well as for the bottom line.
  • The organisation is creative, flexible and adaptive
  • There is a sense of community and even, at times, of family
  • Strong commitment to being of service to each other, to customers, and to the world
  • Long-term orientation; a willingness to make business decisions based on the common good rather than a short-term emphasis on maximising profit.

The individual viewpoint

Spirit at work embraces the sense that one’s work makes a contribution to a common purpose and through it you can be connected with others and to something larger than self. The organisation will engender an atmosphere in which individuals are encouraged

  • To develop a sense of meaning and purpose – to have clarity about spiritual values
  • To develop and use their full capabilities (intelligence, passion, skills) and to have the ability to demonstrate and communicate their potential fully through work
  • To enjoy serving others, making a difference – contributing to the common good
  • To feel a sense of connectedness with others – of belonging and being in community
  • To act with authenticity and integrity, experiencing an alignment of spiritual, moral and ethical values with actions and behaviours – character.

Our sense of meaning connects us with our larger life purposes. Meaning is created through our personal experiences and responses to concrete situations and tasks. Meaning-making work becomes an opportunity for us to act on our deepest beliefs and values and lead authentic lives. It is argued that recognising and including the transcendent dimension of life in workplaces generates profound feelings of well-being; our identity can be more fully expressed and this enhances our sense of spiritual flourishing and fulfilment.

Organisational culture

How is spirit related to organisational culture? Experience of spirit at work suggests it is strongly linked to the following factors:

  1. Inspired leadership
  2. A strong organisational foundation
  3. Organisational integrity
  4. A positive workplace culture and space
  5. A sense of community among members
  6. Opportunities for personal fulfilment, continuous learning and development
  7. Appreciation and regard for employees and their contribution.

At the organisational level, spirituality in the workplace refers to an organisational culture that is guided by mission statements and by leadership and business practices that are socially responsible and values-driven. Leaders recognise the contributions employees make to the organisation and put in place practices which promote personal spiritual development and well-being.

Here’s a practical definition of workplace spirituality from Cranfield University researcher Jane Harris (2005):


A people-centred culture that acknowledges our basic humanity and allows people to express their true selves, it’s a way of being that takes into account mind, body and spirit.

This people-centred culture, through its values and practices, builds trust and gives people permission to talk and engage openly. There is an awareness and acceptance that cultivates very meaningful working relationships that are trusting and honest, with integrity and depth. Through common aims and shared vision the collective purpose and meaning are clearly lived and understood. It’s not just getting the job done; it is about how the job is done. It all comes down to freeing people to recognise their own uniqueness and energy, so that their creative potential comes alive for the benefit of the individual and the organisation.

Spirituality in the workplace is about creating a culture that draws on a myriad traditions and gives people within that business the permission to explore their personal and collective inner needs and aspirations. It’s about a culture that is open, trusting, encouraging and that recognises the desires, the passions and the huge potential of its people. It’s a culture that cultivates and grows from within and has the mechanisms in place to create an atmosphere of sharing, common purpose and meaning and, ultimately, exploration.

It is about acknowledging people as assets and seeing their potential beyond their current role, freeing people and nurturing a sense of community, where fun and energy are in abundance. It’s a giving culture, where people are encouraged to be creative and rewarded for it. Everyone has a role to play within the organisational community and, wherever possible, the wider community.

Here’s a helpful definition of organisational spirituality which captures the importance of the community element:


Recognition of an inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community.