Does spirituality belong in the workplace?
This may sound like a fluffy question, but unless your employees are cyborgs, it’s also a relevant one.
Of course we are human, and that means every single one of us brings our personal beliefs, goals, needs and values into the workplace.
This poses a challenge for corporations.
The secularisation of government and industry (at least in the West) has promoted the suppression and exclusion of anything remotely related to religion, including spirituality.
Yet we are human. For many of us, our sense of spirituality provides the context for everything that we do. We can’t put it in a box during business hours and wear it like a hat on our way home.
We wouldn’t even want to. That’s the point.
The challenge for secular organisations is how to deal with it.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic with one of Australia’s leading thinkers: Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Editor of Spirituality and Corporate Social Responsibility: Interpenetrating Worlds.
I posed four rather pointed questions to David, and I have recorded his answers for your review:
If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.
It’s clear to me that a corporation that supports the spirituality of its employees can get buckets in return in the form of engagement, motivation and performance.
However, the goals and values of the individual may not always align with the goals and values of the company.
This might happen, for example, when the company decides to upsell products rather than service the real needs of its customers.
It is also important to recognise that spirituality has a broad horizon and when a company is open to encouraging its employees to deeply engage with their lives at work, they may bring new concerns to the job. In such cases, the company must be open to dialogue about its strategic direction in different ways, for example, building on a more relational approach to its stakeholders.
A company may find the benefits of spiritual engagement arise in intangible ways, such as stakeholder loyalty; however, creating expectations and enlivening employees needs to be genuine, otherwise the same employees may be equally motivated to seek a more fulfilling role elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the conflict between personal and corporate values can damage both parties. A disengaged worker is unlikely to be a high performer!
The “R” word
It is also clear to me that spirituality and religion are not necessarily the same thing. You can be a highly spiritual person without aligning yourself to any church or god.
However, I am acutely aware of the fact that, for many people, spirituality and religion are the same thing. Religion provides the moral and existential framework within which they live their lives.
So if a corporation commits itself to supporting the spirituality of its employees, it must inevitably deal with the “R” word.
Times have changed and recently, interfaith dialogue has emerged as an important vehicle by which traditionally adversarial religious groups are learning to build understanding and harmony.
The multicultural dimension
In an increasingly multicultural society like the one I live in, not everyone is Christian. Nor is everyone atheist. There are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Agnostics… the number of spiritual labels in the workplace is as long as a piece of string.
This presents a series of dilemmas to the secular organisation:
Does it promote religious activity or ignore it?
If it funds a Christmas party, must it also fund a Ramadan festival?
How about a Passover feast?
Is it a double standard to relabel the Christmas party and Easter holidays, yet celebrate Pooram or Loy Krathong as a “diversity” initiative?
The corporation can’t be all things to all people; but by the same token, it can’t be some things to some people. It has to be egalitarian.
My personal opinion is that a secular organisation should support, accommodate and tolerate all religious affiliations, but not own them.
It can’t afford to.