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Spirituality in the Workplace
Self Excellence » Spiritual Insights

Chrm Message From: CHRM Total Posts: 209 Join Date:
Rank: Coach Post Date: 30/07/2006 12:47:38 Points: 1045 Location: India

Dear Colleagues,

Let me initiate the theme of  this week 'spirituality & management' with an awe-inspiring interview excerpt between the Effective Executive (ICFAI publication) & Wayne Visser which throws light upon the spiritual significance at the workplace and the distinguishing feature between spirituality & religion. Much of the questions that have raised a doubt in our minds have already been answered here by Wayne Visser. Wayne  writes and publishes widely on issues relating to corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, business ethics, inspirational leadership and personal meaning

Interview Excerpts :-

Effective Executive (EE): Many of us fail to distinguish between religion and spirituality. Is there a difference between the two? What according to you is the difference between religion and spirituality?

Wayne Visser (WV): The difference is in the eye of the beholder. Religion and spirituality can be synonymous in some people's minds, and different in others' perception. Usually, religion is understood to refer to the more formalised institutions of faith, while spirituality denotes a way of being, or an attitude to life. Hence, some who regard themselves as spiritual do not align themselves with any particular formal religion.

EE: What are the challenges faced by the world of business today? Can spirituality play a role in overcoming these challenges?

WV: Business is essentially a human enterprise, and therefore faces all the challenges of human relationships. Engaging in these relationships in a fair, loving, caring, compassionate way is the essence of spirituality. However, in addition to the complexity of relationships inherent in business, companies have to deal with power - more than ever before, business commands vast resources and great influence. And power has the potential to corrupt the human spirit. Therefore, the onus on business to act responsibility is that much greater. In practical terms, business faces challenges of practicing business ethics, ensuring economic justice, striving for environmental sustainability, displaying social responsibility and upholding human rights. Since all of these challenges rely on human values, spirituality is at the heart of business' response, although few companies would use the "spiritual" label to describe their actions.

EE: Companies like ServiceMaster in the US states one of its company objectives as "To honor God in all we do", while Kyocera from Japan has its corporate motto as "Respect the Divine and Love People." Even leaders from Indian companies are speaking about application of spirituality in business. What is the reason behind this increasing interest in spirituality? Is it a fad?

WV: I am not sure that interest in spirituality is increasing. It has always been there, in various forms. Perhaps there is a growing interest in spirituality outside of formal religious structures. The reasons for this could be many. Existential psychologist Viktor Frankl talked about the growing "existential neuroses", especially in affluent industrial nations. "We have the means, but not the meanings", he said. Hence, as people's material needs are met, their existential angst tends to increase. That is one possible explanation. Another is that uncertainty has increased in the world - change has become a constant. And with uncertainty, comes existential angst. Another reason could be that some of the problems we face - like global poverty and climate change - have prompted people to look outside of themselves, to wonder how they can make a difference to others. Such unselfish actions have always been linked with spirituality.

EE: Is concepts like 'spirituality at workplace', 'organisation renewal' etc meant only for mature organisations which have financial and human resources to support such activities? What about start-ups/ small scale industries etc?

WV: Ultimately, spirituality in the workplace is an attitude, a way of being. Hence, formal structures, organisation size, and supportive resources are not the determining factor. Companies large and small can embrace spirituality by the way the conduct their business, by the way they treat their employees and customers, by their generosity of spirit in distributing profits, by the concern they show for pressing social and environmental issues, by the example their leaders set in placing values at the heart of all decisions. In some senses, spirituality is more difficult to practice in large, mature organisations, where bureaucratic procedures and formal roles dictate behaviour. People are allowed to hide behind the masks of their job titles, their obligations to shareholders, their mantras of corporate protocol. In smaller organisations, the human face is more visible and the human touch more tangible.

EE: Are there experiments/studies to show that tapping spirituality at work has resulted in a positive impact on business? Can you cite examples of companies boldly engaging in spiritual dialogues inside and outside the organisation? Any specific examples you would like to share...?

WV: There are numerous books that make this claim. Examples of companies that seem to explicitly embrace a spiritual perspective include The Body Shop, Brooklyn Union and Medtronic. Some academic studies show a positive correlation between life satisfaction and work satisfaction. And it seems an obvious point to make that if people are able to finding more meaning in their workplace, motivation, loyalty, productivity and commitment will improve. However, companies should also be careful not to impose formal spirituality structures or practices on employees, since this can have the opposite (i.e. a negative, demotivating) effect.

EE: Your messages to a business leader who would like to tap spirituality at her/his workplace?

WV: Focus on values. Engage with social, ethical and environmental issues. Create opportunities for employees to get involved in volunteering. Practise servant leadership.

EE: Any other thoughts /views you would like to share with our readers?

WV: I find that "meaning" or "purpose" are less alienating concepts for many people than "spirituality", even though they refer to similar ideas. Everyone is searching for meaning or purpose in their life, and work is one of the main places through which meaning can be discovered. My research suggests that people find meaning in many ways in business, for example: through embedding or living values in the workplace, through making a contribution to society using business as a channel, through being a catalyst for constructive change in the organisation, through empowering people in their careers, and through embracing the goals of responsibility and sustainability. This avoids the danger of categorising people or businesses into "spiritual" versus "unspiritual". Rather, it affirms the existential journey that we all have in common, but which we express in different ways in our lives, in business and through work. Hence, spirituality in business becomes whatever allows the human spirit to thrive, irrespective of what we call this sacred endeavour. Adapted from Publication details: Interview article | Effective Executive : Special Issue on Spirituality in the Workplace | September 2005

I hope that was an interesting conversation on the issues at hand, more views from spiritual management seekers are anticipated..



"To must stay in the game" - Claude Bristol

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