When reading the slowly increasing bulk of research literature about the positive results of workplace spirituality – it is a wonder that researchers are not out there shouting it from the rooftops!
Academics speak of ‘groundbreaking work’ and positive results (van der Walt & De Klerk 2014). Workplace spirituality is gaining ground in modern organizations and for good reasons. Research reports – one after the other – are providing evidence of extraordinary positive results in organizations that focus on spirituality.
Interestingly, the benefits of workplace spirituality are a rather perfect match to problems of modern organizations and this makes workplace spirituality a solution, which you want to have a closer look at. While it is overlooked by some, it is embraced by others. Some call workplace spirituality the most significant trend in management since the human-potential movement in the 50s.
The Challenges of Modern Leaders
Leaders of today are facing a multitude of challenges. They need to create a triple bottom line, finding economic, environmental and socially sustainable solutions. Moreover, global leaders are not only expected to see a strategy through on a global level; they also need to balance all acts with local demands across nations and cultures to name just a few things.
More and more it becomes obvious, that current structures and policies are not fit to solve the problems of the 21st century.
The final total is that modern organizations are commonly struggling with employee-related problems such as stress-related illnesses, burnout, people not coming to work (absenteeism), violence, and corruption. Research shows how this holds to be particularly true in organizations where spirituality is absent (Nasina & Doris 2011). We need to re-imagine organizations and the ways we organize. Thankfully, the realms of ‘spirituality’ and workplace spirituality provide some answers.
What is Workplace Spirituality?
Workplace spirituality is rooted in meaning, value, and purpose. People enjoy applying meaning and purpose to their work as it fulfills them in ways not experienced when the opposite is the case. As human beings, we want to make a difference and feel energized while making this difference.
In this sense, workplace spirituality is closely connected with organizations having a meaningful purpose. A front-runner on the need of asking why before what and how is Simon Sinek, who since his famous TedTalk: Start with Why – How great leaders inspire action (watched by more than 44 M) – has initiated a wave of ‘purpose talk’. Most people know what they do and how they do it, says Sinek, yet surprisingly few know why they do it. Why is, in other words, a purpose, a cause, a belief.
Southwest Airlines, for example, which made it through the economic crisis, is at times described as a spirit-driven organization. They say that part of the Warrior Spirit (company language) is about having a servant’s heart and a LUVing attitude. In other words, the airline is connecting purpose, identity, and impression on the world.
In essence, we need to be motivated beyond paychecks and task performance. A combination of different approaches helps us to view spirituality as a new perspective.
With Dandona’s words: “Spirituality at work integrates three different perspectives on how spirituality enables or leads to organizational performance:
- Human resources perspective: Spirituality enhances employee well-being and quality of life;
- Philosophical perspective: Spirituality provides employees a sense of purpose and meaning at work;
- Interpersonal perspective: Spirituality provides employees a sense of interconnectedness and community” (Dandona 2013).
While understanding what is workplace spirituality it is worth the effort – and crucial – understanding also what it is not.
Religion Versus Spirituality: What Workplace Spirituality is NOT
To be clear, workplace spirituality is not about religious beliefs. When communicating spirituality in the workplace it is important to be crystal clear on this matter. This is to avoid any organizational members should get the feeling that leaders are imposing a belief system upon them. This would surely create a negative impact.
Dalai Lama gives a splendid distinction between religion and spirituality in his book named Ancient Wisdom, Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium:
Religion I take to be concerned with faith in the claims of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is the acceptance of some form of heaven or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual prayer, and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit—such as love and compassion, patience tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony—which brings happiness to both self and others (BooksGoogle).
Likewise, be certain to initiate working with workplace spirituality because you genuinely want to increase the well-being and happiness of employees while lifting your organization. You are conscious about how people prosper when feeling meaning and purpose in their work-life and through being given creative space – and this is why you do it.
Sure – spin-offs are higher performance rates, work commitment, and so forth. While these things obviously are important, don’t let them be your starting point. Profit before people is rarely a good sell! Make it people before profit, and the rest solves itself.
Workplace Spirituality Definitions
Let’s add a few definitions, to more fully grasp what is workplace spirituality and how understandings of it may vary.
“According to Ashmos and Duchon, spirituality at work is the recognition that employees have an inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community. Thus spirituality at work has three components: the inner life, meaningful work, and community” (Ashmos & Duchon in Dondona 2013).
Giacalone & Jurkiewicz famously define workplace spirituality as those aspects of the workplace, either in the individual, the group, or the organization, that promote individual feelings of satisfaction through transcendence (2010: 13).
Emmons (2000) simple states that workplace spirituality is ‘the personal expression of ultimate concern’. Wong phrases it as ‘That which involves ultimate and personal truths’ (1998: 364).
What these definitions have in common is that they involve feelings of something as ‘greater’ than us – an encompassing feeling that provides us meaning. Workplace spirituality is further talked of in terms of dimensions of spirituality to come closer to ways of assessing the degree to which organizations practice workplace spirituality.
Dimensions of spirituality are, for example, spiritual well-being, spiritual transcendence, spiritual development, spiritual wellness, spiritual distress, spiritual intelligence, spiritual self-consciousness, spiritual growth and spiritual health (Giacalone & Jurkiewicz 2010: 8).
Workplace Spirituality – The Benefits
Evidence reveals that workplace spirituality programs have many benefits. While they lead to positive personal human health and psychological wellbeing, spin-offs are improved employee commitment, productivity, and reduced absenteeism (staying away from work)(van de Walt & De Klerk 2014).
Moreover, workplace spirituality is recognized to increase integrity (also called spiritual integrity), motivation, job satisfaction and workers performance in general (Cavanaugh & Bandsuch 2002; Pawar 2009).
To go on, workplace spirituality is also shown to reduce staff turnover rates. One of the explanations is that leaders having spiritual values are as leaders judged as more effective. Studies of leaders judged as more effective show that they increase work satisfaction, motivation, productivity, and profits – as mentioned before.
The above are the main benefits of workplace spirituality as confirmed again and again through different types of research methods. After looking into how to encourage and implement a culture of spirituality in the workplace, we shall return to explain benefits in more detail.
Spiritual Developments: How to Encourage Workplace Spirituality
The following are some tips, tools, guidelines and background understandings for actually encouraging a workplace spirituality culture in practice:
- Work with your purpose and turn it into a brand agenda, which is about what you support your clients, customers, students or alike in doing. To do this you must be clear on your mission (how you are going to enable clients to do it) and vision (what the world looks like when this has come to be).
- Make your purpose greater than the individual. Be deliberate about engaging a vision of betterment of mankind or the planet, or similar.
- Avoid actions, at all levels and at all costs, that to your knowledge hurt people, organizations or the planet. Obviously, we cannot fully engage ourselves in things that create a negative impact. Instead, step by step, turn your organization into one which employees can be proud of. One which they want to show-off.
- Ensure that all managers are onboard. We all know the old watercooler story when organizations spent millions of dollars building open offices to encourage communication across departments. The first time the floor manager looked sharply at the people talking by the watercooler and said: ‘don’t you have better things to do? – these millions were wasted.
- Know your employees and what triggers them. There is no other simple way than just asking them. This will spin-off many other great things, and your people will feel recognized and praise you for your concern.
- Recruit people that buy into your purpose… your brand agenda, mission, and vision statements. You don’t want Paul aboard if Paul is completely indifferent about the purpose, which you have spent time, money, and effort into making the center that all else spins around. Surprisingly I hear none talk about this. It is to be on top of all purpose-oriented organizations’ agenda. Recruit in accordance with company purpose.
- Accept that people are at different levels in terms of both spirituality and awareness. Accept also that some will welcome workplace spirituality efforts warmer than others. This way you avoid for it to be another mask to wear because the leaders seem to like it that way.
- Be consistent. Make sure that the purpose and your approach runs through the entire organization. If you want compassion and consideration to signify your organization, it will confuse employees if, for example, customer support is known to not work by these principles. It will moreover signal a lack of genuineness.
- Encourage employees to explore their creative abilities and provide them the resources they need for it. When we are creative we typically feel enthusiastic about our creativity and at these moments we pour consciousness and ‘Being’ into what we do. This is a spiritually awake moment.
- Cultivate an environment of inclusion. Don’t worry so much about fancy CVs and papers promising abilities. Look instead for true and genuine character and skills. To cultivate an environment of inclusion, cultivate an environment of listening and curiosity. When we listen and are genuinely curious as to why another person thinks the way he/she does – then we understand and feel connected with this person rather than disconnected. Moreover, inclusion is also about creating a mix of employees that represent the mix we see when looking at the population. If the board room, the line up of executives, and leaders, in general, are all men – then inclusion is still only words on a piece of paper looking to be implemented in practice. Again – it undermines genuineness.
- Educate your leaders and managers in the skills of life-leadership. I cannot emphasize this enough. Leaders must know their values, live accordingly, and signal trustworthiness and true self-worth. Some call this self-leadership, yet I’ve recently started calling it life-leadership to emphasize it is not intended as an alternative to being lead by a superior. It literally refers to the ability to lead one’s own life with success. We find it natural to conceptualize and employ strategies in organizations, yet overlook the necessities of life-strategies to avoid floating around like a leaf in the wind in our own lives.
- Encourage self-awareness. It is a skill of life-leadership, yet it is so fundamental to the success of all of the above that I chose to make it stand out. When you are aware – and recognize the common acts of ego – in yourself and others, which all people are guilty of at times – then it is possible to leave ego acts behind you, and show strength, for instance, by daring to be vulnerable rather than diminishing others.
- Allow all to employees to have mindful moments of stillness. It may contradict your common sense of time evaluation, yet allowing people to do nothing increases their performance. Moreover, it increases awareness, job satisfaction, creativity, and general well-being. This way stillness and mindfulness also reduce stress, burnout, and stress-related illnesses, which means more people show up at work each day. Why? Because they enjoy coming to work and look forward to it.
Spiritual Development – The benefits of Workplace Spirituality Continued
Dandona (2013) has provided us a list of benefits, which I’ve decided to share with you in full length. Besides mentioning its benefits it moreover provides some ‘hooks’ on which we can hang ideas and greater understandings of what is workplace spirituality.
“The full benefits of spirituality on morale and productivity will not be realized without a sustained, large-scale cultural transformation at all levels of the organization. When this happens, we will see the following changes in the workplace” (Dandona 2013):
- The organization will become purpose-driven and meaning-based.
- Management with a mission will replace management of efficiency and control.
- There will be a shift from fear-based culture to love-based culture.
- Management practices and decisions will be clearly consistent with spiritual values such as integrity, honesty, love, hope, kindness, respect and nurturing.
- Spirituality is about bringing passion – bringing our heart, soul, and spirit – into what we do, because, from a spiritual perspective, work has a deeper meaning and serves a higher purpose.
- Management learns to truly listen and builds a safe place where employees can speak the truth without fear of repercussions.
- Management will break down the walls of hierarchy to create a sense of community and inspire a sense of belonging in the workers.
- There is a new willingness to reflect on the meaning of life and moral implications in making important decisions.
- There is a shared attitude that products and services need to be beneficial to the community and humanity.
- Management will value employees based on who they are, what they can become, rather than what they can do for the company.
- Bosses will treat employees in a responsible, respectful and caring way because people are not instruments to be used and exploited.
- Management will also resort to spiritual ways of resolving conflict. Therefore, they will be reluctant in issuing an ultimatum and slow in the “firing trigger”.
- There will be a move from command-and-control leadership to horizontal servant leadership, which emphasizes empowering, delegation and cooperation.
- There will be an improvement in morale, job satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.
- The spiritual dimension will be fully integrated with every aspect of work-life, such as relationships, planning, budgeting, negotiation, compensation, etc.