Spirit at Workby Sue Howard
Benefits of spirituality at work
Those who are strongly motivated from a spiritual orientation can see clearly that there are many possible benefits to be gained from embracing spirituality at work. The benefits evolve from really knowing how to treat people well so that they thrive and are able to accomplish their best within the organisation.
The spiritual life is, at root, a matter of seeing – it is all of life seen from a certain perspective .
People can be highly productive, innovative and cooperative in the right environments. They can feel fulfilled through their work and know that what they do each day is of value. This brings an important sense of meaning and job satisfaction. It generates happy and enthusiastic employees and productivity rises. Invoking spirituality is a way to help create work environments where people can thrive and flourish.
In a spiritual work environment, people thrive because
- The organisation, through line-management, takes a personal interest in their development and success
- People are encouraged to be all that they can be
- They are appreciated, challenged and excited at the opportunities they have
- Business leaders promote trust and empowerment
- Participation in collaborative dialogue is encouraged – instruction and control minimised
- Employees are supported, coached and thanked
- Positive emphasis is placed on relationships, ethics, inspiration and reflection
- Successes are noticed and celebrated.
But many businesses are not like this! Rather they are run in ways that emphasise rationality, process, finance, the short-term and efficiency. Financial outcomes are often seen as the sole measure of success. Control mechanisms which are in place lead to self-centred behaviours.
Spirituality and well-being
People spend a lot of their time at work and partly derive their social identity from the workplace. So what happens on the job is important for mental and physical well-being. Managing people in a way that is consistent with their spiritual values may help in establishing an overall sense of well-being and health.
The well-being of employees is a serious issue, especially in jobs which can be highly stressful, such as policing, the armed forces, fire services and other emergency services. Even in our secular society, it is recognised that the spiritual needs of staff should be supported, as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) points out:
HM Inspector recommends that all forces have resources in place to meet the spiritual needs of police officers and police staff, while respecting the diversity of faiths and beliefs both inside the service and in the communities which they serve.
As the credit crisis intensifies, some of the experiences in modern workplaces are becoming closer to those experienced by police officers. The fear of large-scale redundancies and other stresses which emerge within work can create similar ‘issues of survival’ to that experienced by police officers – such issues can create conditions of trauma. The impact of stress at work is seen in increasing numbers of people experiencing depression, bullying and long-term sickness and absenteeism. Dealing with these spiritual challenges can be addressed as part of training and support, and can help people learn how to deal with their emotions and manage stress effectively.
The benefits of a positive environment
Spiritual alignment is beneficial both to deal with personal challenges and problems, as well as to provide a way to create a positive work environment. Management is concerned with achieving high performance from staff, and the type of management practices and approaches managers put in place and use have substantial effects on whether or not this is achieved. The impact of good management is not only felt by staff, but can be measured through economic outputs, using measures such as quality, productivity and profitability. The argument is that when management practices are positively regarded, they elicit high commitment and high performance in discretionary effort from staff and then profitability increases.
The importance of free choice
The danger with this argument is that organisations may decide to ‘use’ spirituality as a means to generate productivity or profits. Organisational spirituality itself becomes meaningless if it is used to increase control over employees. Rather, openness to organisational spirituality should provide freely-chosen spiritual development opportunities to its members within it structures. The element of free choice should allow for resistance and deviance as much as for agreement and receptivity. Organisational spirituality enables individuals to uncover greater meaning (and understanding) for themselves at work, rather than having meaning prescribed by the organisation.
What is important to understand about the whole area of research into organisational spirituality is that ‘it is moving beyond traditional, economic, instrumental and strictly materialistic conceptions of organisations and the positivist, scientific research methods that undergird and support the continuation of such conceptions.
Spirituality and change
The great ‘difference’ that spirituality offers is its capacity for radical transformation. When you look into any spiritual practice, you will find it yields insights into personal change or transformation, self-knowledge and inner learning. Since people and organisations are continually and increasingly facing change, both planned and unanticipated, it makes sense to gain some understanding from spiritual wisdom, which has been supporting deep change for centuries!
Even with access to spiritual wisdom it is sometimes hard for people to translate ‘good’ ideas into practice. A focus on spiritual ideals reveals that organisational environments are resistant to spiritual change, even in the face of such possible benefits. The nature of spirituality is paradoxical. It offers light, but the light also reveals the ‘shadow’ in organisational life: the typical mistrust between managers and subordinates; fear of power sharing and loss of personal influence on the part of decision makers. And structurally, short-term measurement systems create a blockage that prevents more spiritually-based cultures from being supported. Spirituality is not a ‘panacea’ but it is a way to engage in new perspectives – it offers insights into humanity that can bring support, strength and sometimes clarity about priorities in difficult times.