Concept of Workplace Spirituality

Workplace spirituality has recently emerged as a significant aspect of organizations and hence, a significant topic of inquiry in the organizational science. Since the late 1990s, publications such as Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune and others have reported a growing desire among employees for meaning and purpose at work, for a spiritual dimension to organizational life. Spirituality is the state of intimate relationship with the inner self of higher values and morality as well as recognizing the truth of inner nature of people. The concept of spirituality at workplace can be explained as an experience of interconnectedness, shared by all those involved in the work process, initially triggered by the awareness that each is individually driven by an inner power, which raises and maintains his/her sense of honesty, kindness, and courage, consequently leading to the collective creation of an aesthetically motivational environment characterized by a sense of purpose, high ethical standards, acceptance, peace, trust, thus establishing an atmosphere of enhanced team performance and overall harmony. Many organizations are encouraging the development of this new trend because a humanistic work environment creates a win-win situation for both the employees and the organization.

Definitions of Workplace Spirituality

According to Giacalone and Jurkiewicz, workplace spirituality has been defined as “a framework of organizational values evidenced in the culture that promote employees’ experience of transcendence through the work process, facilitating their sense of being connected to other in a way that provides feeling of completeness and joy.”

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.

  • Conditions for community include items that assess the extent to which necessary elements or enabling conditions for community are present. Thus, a community is a place in which people can experience personal growth, be valued for themselves as individuals, and have a sense of working together.
  • Meaning at work includes items that capture a sense of what is important, energizing, and joyful about work. That is, it taps into work-related dimensions of human experience that are neither physical nor intellectual, but spiritual.
  • Inner life is composed of items that capture an individual’s hopefulness, awareness of personal values, and concern for spirituality.

Spirituality is a way for celebrating the self behavior of the employees that enables the organization to be different. Firmly rooted at the center of organizational spirituality discussion is the notion of core values. For core values to be inspiring, they must be shared by the organization and its people. Community is perhaps the most frequently discussed value. Community enables workers to find substantive meaning in their work, facilitating them to help co-workers and customers achieve greater success. Teamwork and serving others can create a sense of family that inspires improved creativity and productivity. Closely linked to community are the values accomplished, self esteem and balanced work life.

What is driving spirituality in the workplace?

Business in the 18th and the 19th century were established and run on spiritual principles but somewhere along the 20th century, business and spirituality parted ways as business became more obsessed with perspectives such as profits, analytical thinking, strategic planning, and reasoning. Now again, World over, businesses are on the verge of major transformation as in today’s environment employees find themselves uncertain and under threat. The concept of “work for one employer for life” seems irrelevant these days. Corporate downsizing, lay-offs, outsourcing business etc have become a part of life. An employee may be a critical resource one day and may find that he is excess to requirements the very next day. The justification given for downsizing is to make the organization leaner and improve profits but the calamitous impact it has on employee’s engagement is never thought of. In today’s world employee loyalty has vanished into thin air. The bottom line is pretty loud and clear to everybody that no job is secured anymore. This causes increased levels of anxiety, fear, and depression and stress. Outscourcing and re-engineering multiply these insecurities manifold. As we all know there is a strong connection existing between mind and the body. Scientific observations and experiments have shown that techniques such as meditation, prayer can reduce anxiety, fear, and depression and stress Indeed, spirituality and all that it encompasses is critical to good health. In addition to fear, there is a pushing desire for spiritual fulfilment. There are several factors which reflect the desire for spirituality. The baby boomer generation is reaching mid-life and looking at issues such as: “What values would I leave behind?”; “Now that I have reached the peak of my career where do I invest my energies now?” These kinds of thoughts are usual but due to a large population of the baby boomer generation these issues have become a part of the society. Thus spirituality emerging from them affects the whole society. Another factor is the scientific paradigm. We thought science is the answer to everything but the more we come to know we realize that there is a lot more which we do not know. Science has been staying away from spirituality for a long time. However, science without spirituality seems senseless and that is why a large number of scientists are moving into spiritual exploration. Market these days is flooded with books, videos, programs, courses that offer an impressive take on spirituality at one’s workplace. World over, companies have been organize conferences and workshop based on spirituality to help employees discover their spiritual side. Thus spirituality in the workplace is part of overall phenomenon.

Benefits of Workplace Spirituality

Positive individual transformation is an outcome of inner spiritual transformation of an individual. Development of each individual’s full potential is one goal of emphasizing spirituality in the workplace. Individual growth also benefits work organizations because one of the goals of allowing spirit to enter the workplace is to improve profit and productivity. Growth is a win-win outcome for individuals, organizations, and society.

There is also evidence that workplace spirituality programs not only lead to beneficial personal outcomes such as increased joy, peace, serenity, job satisfaction, but organizational benefits also including organizational development and less turnover. Employees who work for organizations they consider being spiritual are less fearful, more ethical, and more committed. And there is mounting evidence that a more humane workplace is more productive, flexible, and creative. Most importantly from a management, leadership, and organizational perspective spirituality could be ultimate competitive advantage.

The spiritual well being, which includes a sense of community, will be positively related to co-operation and negatively related to turnover and absenteeism. Several researchers have advanced the idea that sense of community is linked to employee commitment and turnover which is strategy related to intention to quit. Increased workplace spirituality results in organization commitment, intrinsic work satisfaction, more job involvement and organization based self esteem.

More productive, creative, and personally fulfilled employees have a direct and close impact on the corporate success, be it financial or non financial. As organizational values and structure encourage individual growth, self esteem is promoted. Strong self esteem makes it easier for individuals to be part of community without losing personal identity. Inspiring organizational values promote the development of the whole or complete individual.

While traditional approaches aim at managing change from the outside in, knowledge of the spiritual foundation of life suggests that change can be handled from ‘inside out’. It suggests that individuals who experience the spirituality foundation of life can grow and develop in ways consistent with organizational goals. Improvement in personal functioning (e.g. improvement in ability to overcome fatigue), interpersonal functioning (e.g. improved conflict handling), and organizational functioning (e.g. improved interdepartmental understanding) are suggested to be some of the organizational relevant outcomes of individual spiritual transformation. Workplace spirituality provides an ethical process that reflects requirements for legitimacy for both leader influence and follower empowerment to facilitate value congruence across the strategic, empowered team, and individual, and ultimately corporate social responsibility.

The benefits of workplace spirituality can be summarized as follows:

  • A sense of relevance and purpose to employees’ lives
  • A better work ethic and work/life balance
  • A greater respect for diversity in the organization
  • Lower stress for employees
  • Less ego and less organizational conflict
  • Increased competitive advantage
  • Mentoring and supportiveness
  • High levels of creativity and innovation
  • Respect for conservation of resources

Spiritual intelligence is an ability to access higher meanings, values, abiding purposes, and unconscious aspects of the self and to embed these meanings, values and purposes in living a richer and more creative life. Signs of high Spiritual Quotient include ability to think out of the box, humility, and an access to energies that come from something beyond the ego, beyond just me and my day-to-day concerns. SQ is the ultimate intelligence of the visionary leader.

According to Danah Zohar, spiritually intelligent leadership can be fostered by applying following principles:

  1. Self Awareness: Knowing what I believe in and value, and what deeply motivated me
  2. Spontaneity: Living in and being responsive to the moment
  3. Being Vision-and-Value-Led: Acting from principles and deep beliefs, and living accordingly
  4. Holism: Seeing larger patterns, relationships, and connections; having a sense of belonging
  5. Compassion: Having the quality of “feeling-with” and deep empathy
  6. Celebration of Diversity: Valuing other people for their differences despite them
  7. Field Independence: Standing against the crowd and having one’s own convictions
  8. Humility: Having the sense of being a player in a larger drama, of one’s true place in the world
  9. Tendency to Ask Fundamental “Why?” Questions: Needing to understand things and get to the bottom of them
  10. Positive Use of Adversity: Learning and growing from mistakes, setbacks, and suffering
  11. Sense of Vocation: Feeling called upon to serve, to give something back

Risks associated with workplace spirituality

Although there is no doubt that any organization which tries to introduce spirituality at work is doing a good job and the benefits to the organization would be huge but it should embrace spirituality with caution as employees may confuse it with religion and may blame the organization for bringing in religious convictions. Most of the employees would like to work in a secular environment with work separated from faith hence they need to be convinced that spirituality is different from religion and whatever is being done is for the good of the individual and the organization. A few employees would think it to be a desperate attempt by the organization to appease their employees while some of them may laugh it off as a management fad. The organization should have the courage to create a spirited workforce and should be ready to face a few setbacks on the way.

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