Spirit at Work

by Sue Howard

In a nutshell

1. Spirituality in the workplace

Employees, globally, are searching for deeper meaning in life and satisfaction from work in terms of the contributions that are made to society and the manner in which these are made. There is evidence of a growing social consciousness, which is being seen through a developing sense of corporate social responsibility.

  • Many have come to accept as normal a lack of fulfilment at work beyond the necessary monetary reward and occasional step up the ladder, which itself often seems disconnected from effort and can be unpredictable.
  • One way to identify what workplace spirituality means is to ask what a dis-spirited workplace is like.
  • The purpose of spirituality in the workplace is to re-connect our lives with that sense of meaning and purpose.


2. Why now?

Many factors have combined to give rise to the growing interest in spirituality at work:

  • Turbulence in the global economy and societal insecurity
  • The internet and formation of new interest groups
  • Disenchantment with the material and the consequent search for meaning
  • New approaches to corporate social responsibility


3. Definitions of spirituality

In spite of many attempts to define spirituality, a ‘one size fits all’ definition has not been agreed upon. This is due to the complexity of the topic, in that spirituality has so many dimensions and is difficult to pin down to any one particular concept. Definitions seem to centre around these areas:

  • The basic feeling of being self-aware and in relationship with others, nature and God (or faith)
  • Underlying principles, such as values, morals, ethics, virtues, emotions, wisdom and intuition
  • The relationship between inner experience and outer manifestations, as seen in practices and behaviours – a journey of personal development and growth
  • Something which enables meaning and purpose to be found.


4. Spirituality and religion

There are many in the spirit at work field who are quick to point out that spirituality and religion are not the same. Individuals at work come from a variety of faith or non-faith perspectives, so personal approaches to spirituality amongst employees will differ. Some will inevitably be deeply religious and others not so.

  • Religion offers more discrete or identifiable sets of beliefs and values, and is associated with particular institutions or denominations.
  • Religious belief often involves assenting to concepts or propositions set forth in doctrines or creeds (or even dogma).
  • Spirituality is seen as a personal journey which is broader and more inclusive than religion, perhaps based on a wide variety of traditions.
  • Spirituality within the workplace is not about proselytising or advocating others to adopt any given religious beliefs, but about the ability to live with integrity and authenticity as far as possible.
  • Those within religions would argue that spirituality is a core output of their teachings, and that religious paths have much to offer when it comes to understanding these deeper aspects of life and learning how to live a more fully aligned life.


5. Benefits of spirituality at work

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.


6. 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. Organisations that have taken spirituality into account tend to have certain internal and 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
  • Use of spiritual imagery and terms in marketing and public relations
  • 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 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


7. How can it be applied?

Organisational transformation is often begun by inspirational leaders, who use a variety of tools to redirect the organisation’s vision and mission or its purpose and meaning. It is this transformational idea that often inspires the followers and frees them up to contribute and participate more in the progress of the organisation.

  • You might encourage an environment that can be seen as a ‘safe space’ for sharing deeper thoughts, ideas and questions, such as a monthly lunchtime conversation group or a ‘quiet room’
  • You might also like to cast a fresh eye over your work environment – does it help you to orient your day well?
  • You can also gain ideas from studying the stories that emerge from recipients of the Spirit at Work Awards.


8. The holistic development model

The model is based on published research in which people at work, from both faith and non-faith perspectives, have defined how spirituality is important to their career choices. Their responses show that spirituality is described in terms of

  • Being (the inner dimension of who you are)
  • Doing (the activities you engage in to express who you are)
  • Self (things that relate to how you understand yourself)
  • Others (the way you engage in relationships and how you understand the value of others in your life).


9. Personal spiritual development

You might find it helpful to try some of the following approaches:

  • Spend time in solitude and silence – listen to your inner voice, think about who you are and who you are becoming.
  • Develop practices that help you to be more open to spiritual wisdom, such as prayer, meditation, relaxation and walks in nature.
  • Use a journal to aid reflection.
  • Develop your listening skills.
  • Find a mentor or spiritual director.
  • Examine your vision and values.


10. Spiritual development in the organisation

Spirituality in the workplace gives people within the business the permission to explore their personal and collective inner needs and aspirations. It is inclusive of many differing traditions and its whole ethos is to encourage rather than to alienate. A useful model proposes that a spiritual organisation has a virtuous cycle, which incorporates some core elements:

  • A critical mass of individuals with a spiritual orientation who join the organisation
  • A precipitating event which creates need for change and doing things differently
  • A statement of the organisation’s espoused values
  • Values in practice are manifested in many ways – there are visible, pleasing, physical artefacts (such as office layout, for example), positive ways of working (such as management style, work-life balance policies, no ‘blame’ for mistakes, team-work and ‘away’ days) and business is conducted in a way that external stakeholders notice as being ‘different’ (responsive, delivering more, energising and even ‘life enhancing’).


11. Prioritising relationships

When it comes to working with people who have diverse beliefs, it is critically important to prioritise the creation of positive relationships. Good relationships have certain characteristics:

  • An element of mutuality – understanding that each person affects the other
  • An element of empathy and compassion – a willingness to see and imagine from another person’s point of view (the root meaning of compassion is to share another’s pain)
  • Good relationships are characterised by honesty
  • Trust can be built through active listening
  • Good communication involves the whole person – it is how we communicate as much as what we communicate
  • Principles such as approachability, being non-judgemental, respectful and person-centred are keys to good communication.


12. How does workplace chaplaincy fit into this?

Workplace chaplains offer a safe space in which those who may have questions about their spiritual life or who need someone to talk to beyond their line manager and work colleagues can be listened to and supported. This service can be for those who already identify with certain religious beliefs, such as Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Interfaith (or even Pagan); alternatively, it can simply be used by someone is experiencing difficulties in life (such as death in the family or divorce) or has other problems or challenges.


13. The Global Fitness Framework

Despite the financial crisis, wide range of urgent global issues and increasing calls for leaders to adopt a broader stakeholder focus, there is still a widespread presence in organisations of the short-term, narrow focus on maximising shareholder value – even if the importance of their corporate responsibility initiatives is publicly acknowledged. This narrow focus is underpinned by what has become an outdated business paradigm.

  • The Global Fitness Framework provides a model covering the range of issues identified as relevant to global leadership.
  • The organic level relates to whether an individual, group, or society is being considered.
  • The fitness plane considers their strength, stamina and suppleness.
  • At the holistic depth it is the physical, mental and spiritual attributes that are being considered.