Workplace Spirituality: Why & How it Works Like a Charm

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 21. century.

We need to re-imagine organizations and the ways we organize

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.

we need to be motivated beyond paychecks and task performance

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:

a)  Human resources perspective: Spirituality enhances employee well-being and quality of life;

b)   Philosophical perspective: Spirituality provides employees a sense of purpose and meaning at work;

c) 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.

Vibeke Vad Baunsgaard, Ph.D.
Vibeke Vad Baunsgaard, Ph.D.https://managemagazine.com/
Vibeke is Founder and CEO at ManageMagazine. Entrepreneur, lecturer and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Technology Sydney. Sociologist and Ph.D. in Organization Studies and Innovation Management. Passionate about facilitating a positive research impact through knowledge sharing and professional networks, an impact that will allow people to live out their highest, truest and fullest expression of themselves.
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Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

A well-rounded discussion of spirituality and its merits in the workplace, Vibeke. I could not agree more and how you outlined ways of honouring your points. People before profits – absolutely! Thank you for this work.

Marcia Martin

A beautiful description of why it matters. We all long to feel purposeful. Thanks for this brilliant article Vibeke. Sending you love and blessings

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