In this lesson, you will learn the meaning of workplace spirituality and why there is a growing interest among organizations to establish and maintain a spiritual workplace. Find out how it can enhance the working environment for its members.
Spirituality vs. Religion
In order to learn what workplace spirituality is, we must first understand what it is not. Workplace spirituality has nothing to do with organized religious practices, God or any form of theology. Organizations that recognize workplace spirituality realize that people have an inner life, that they must find meaning in their work and that their work must take place in the context of community. The following narrative will illustrate the difference between a spiritual organization and an organization that lacks spirituality.
Workplace Spirituality and Organizational Culture
Sam Ebenezer stared at the resignation letter on his desk. It was the third one this month, this time from the head of his housekeeping staff, Martha. Martha’s letter explained that she was leaving the inn to pursue a better opportunity at the Cosmos Hotel. The Cosmos Hotel had opened less than a year ago right across the street from the Ebenezer Inn. Sam stared at the letter in disbelief. ‘I just don’t get it,’ he thought, ‘I pay the same wages as the Cosmos; why do I keep losing employees to that place?’
The Ebenezer Inn is a bed and breakfast that has been in business for almost 100 years, and Sam Ebenezer runs it the same way his father did – by keeping tight control of the people on his staff and a close eye on the bottom line. Sam’s father taught him that his business should be run like an efficient machine, and the people who work for his business should be treated like parts of the machine that are easily replaced. ‘I’m going to run a job ad in the paper,’ thought Sam, ‘but first I need to go to the Cosmos and find out who is stealing all my employees.’
Why Spirituality Now?
People have always had a spiritual center, but the trend towards establishing and maintaining a spiritual culture in organizations is relatively new. By uniting employees with a common purpose, workplace spirituality provides organizational members with a way to counterbalance the demanding and stressful workplace environment that is commonplace today. A spiritual workplace is also beneficial for the companies that provide them. Research shows that companies with spiritual workplaces experience improved productivity and reduced turnover from their employees.
What Is Workplace Spirituality?
The aspects of workplace spirituality that are sought by organizational members can be categorized into three areas: the pursuit of meaning and purpose in their work, the desire to connect to other people and the desire to be part of a community.
Sam left the quiet, antiquated lobby of the Ebenezer Inn and walked across the street to the recently built Cosmos Hotel. He entered the noisy lobby and went right up to the modern front desk. Sam couldn’t believe what he was seeing – behind the desk was his old assistant manager Jake Marley wearing a name tag that read ‘general manager.’
Sam was in no mood for pleasantries. He sternly told Jake that he had better stop stealing his employees. Jake smiled back at Sam and calmly explained that everyone he had hired from the Ebenezer Inn had come over of their own free will. Jake explained that he had left the Ebenezer Inn because he felt like he was only there for a paycheck. Jake explained that things were a lot different at the Cosmos; people worked together to try to provide their guests with the best possible experience, and everyone tried to help each other reach their full potential. Jake told Sam that if he wanted to stop losing employees, he was going to have to make some changes. ‘Change isn’t easy,’ Jake said, ‘but you can do it. Just look for the signs.’
The Desire to Be Part of a Community
Organizations that provide a culture that embraces workplace spirituality realize that their employees want to feel like a valued member of their community. Spiritual organizations provide ways for their members to make positive contributions to the places they work and live.
Sam left the Cosmos Hotel walking with his head down and muttering to himself. He ran right into a street sign that he had not noticed when he walked over to the hotel. The sign said ‘Adopt-A-Highway: the Cosmos Hotel.’ Sam stared at the sign and realized that this was a way for the staff of the Cosmos Hotel to serve their community. Every time they cleaned the highway or drove by the sign, they would feel like they were making a positive impact to the place they lived. ‘Before now, I never knew why people did that sort of thing,’ Sam thought.
The Desire to Connect to Other People
Spiritual organizations realize the importance of providing their members with an environment that fosters positive relationships with coworkers. In the course of performing their jobs, they have opportunities to work with other organizational members and feel like they are part of a team that is working towards the same goal.
Sam Ebenezer was in the parlor when he noticed a little girl cutting out paper dolls. She proudly stretched her arms out to reveal a string of boy and girl silhouettes that were happily holding each other’s hands. Sam thought back to his visit to the Cosmos Hotel. He remembered seeing a bellman carrying a vacuum up the stairs for an elderly member of the housekeeping staff. ‘Something like that would never happen at the Ebenezer Inn, ‘ he thought. ‘Everyone here does their own job and only looks out for themselves.’
The Pursuit of Meaning and Purpose
While making profits is important, they are not the primary goal of a spiritual organization. Spiritual organizations have clearly defined goals that every member of the organization can measure and understand. Keeping organizational members focused on the same purpose:
- Gives them meaning in their jobs
- A way for them to feel like their work is important
- Helps the organization achieve its goals
Spiritual organizations want their employees to find meaning and purpose in their jobs and want their employees to reach their full potential.
Sam Ebenezer was sleeping soundly later that night when a large figure entered his bedroom. At first, Sam thought it was a guest in an oversized bathrobe who had lost his or her way. The figure, which was barely visible to Sam, raised his arm and pointed his index finger directly at Sam. The figure pulled two signs from the pocket of his robe. Each sign had one brightly illuminated word on it. The first sign read ‘Purpose,’ and the second sign read ‘Meaning.’ After a minute or two, the figure put his signs back in his pocket and faded from view. Sam closed his eyes, but he could still clearly see the two words. Suddenly it all made sense to Sam. ‘Things are going to be different around here starting tomorrow.’ Sam thought.
The next day, Sam gathered his entire staff in the ballroom of the inn. He explained to everyone that he had provided poor leadership in the past by not providing his employees with a work environment that encouraged spirituality. He then announced a vision statement for the Ebenezer Inn, which included both goals for the organization and goals for the organizational members.
‘From now on,’ Sam declared, ‘we will all work together to make this inn an organization that cares about the people who work here and stay here. We will give back to the community, which has been so good to us. I will do my best to help everyone find meaning and purpose in their jobs and to help everyone reach their full potential.’
Let’s review. Workplace spirituality has nothing to do with God, organized religious practices or any form of theology. Spiritual organizations realize that people have an inner life, that they must find meaning in their work and that this work should take place in the context of community.
Although people have always had a spiritual center, the trend towards workplace spirituality is relatively new among organizations. Spiritual organizations provide a more rewarding work experience for their members and therefore have more productive employees who are less likely to leave the organization. Members of organizations seek workplace spirituality in three areas:
- Finding meaning and purpose in their work
- Connecting to other people
- Feeling like a member of their community
After finishing this lesson, you should be able to:
- Recognize that successful organizations work from a spiritual base
- List the three goals of workplace spirituality
- Remember that a spiritual workplace should create more productive workers and a more profitable bottom line