Religion_and_the_Unaffiliated___Pew_Research_Center_s_Religion___Public_Life_ProjectReligion remains important in America. Just take a look at the 2012  Pew survey, where 58% said that religion was very important and another 22% saw religion as moderately important leaving only 18% considering it “not too / not at all” important. That meshes with the Gallup assessment that finds seven in ten Americans are “very or moderately religious.”

Those are some bare-bones figures. For now, I will leave aside some of the more revealing nuances of these percentages, such as the increasing numbers of unaffiliated, the differences and similarities between religious and “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) self-identification, what the differences between affiliation and participation might mean and so on. That said, it is clear that religion and spirituality are a major part of American life. But what about religion / spirituality in the workplace where people spend more time than anywhere else?

Work is the way most people contribute to society, earn necessary income and contribute to the care for their families. If religion and spirituality is so important and this is where people spend most of their time, how does religion play into this? This is where some of the nuances become more relevant.

According to Ian I. Mitroff and Elizabeth A. Denton who led the MIT’s Sloan Management Review 1999 empirical study on spirituality in the workplace, unless your organization is a religiously based one, the chances are that the majority of your employees will not want religion in the workplace. They will however be hungry for ways to include spirituality.

They discovered that:

…in general, the participants differentiated strongly between religion and spirituality. They viewed religion as a highly inappropriate form of expression and topic in the workplace. They saw spirituality, on the other hand, as a highly appropriate subject for discussion. This does not mean that they had no fears, reservations, or ambivalence with regard to the potential abuse of spirituality. Nonetheless, they still felt it was essential.

They defined “spirituality” as “the basic feeling of being connected with one’s complete self, others, and the entire universe.” If a single word best captures the meaning of spirituality and the vital role that it plays in people’s lives, that word is “interconnectedness.” Those associated with organizations they perceived as “more spiritual” also saw their organizations as “more profitable.” They reported that they were able to bring more of their “complete selves” to work. They could deploy more of their full creativity, emotions, and intelligence; in short, organizations viewed as more spiritual get more from their participants, and vice versa.

People are hungry for ways in which to practice spirituality in the workplace without offending their coworkers or causing acrimony. They believe strongly that unless organizations learn how to harness the “whole person” and the immense spiritual energy that is at the core of everyone, they will not be able to produce world-class products and services.

Looking at what led many to this interest in spirituality in the work place was their sense of what gave them the most meaning and purpose in their jobs. Mitroff and Denton listed the following answers, ranked from first to seventh:

  1. The ability to realize my full potential as a person.
  2. Being associated with a good organization or an ethical organization. (Since most people saw “good” and “ethical” as the same, it didn’t seem to matter to them whether they picked a good organization or an ethical organization as their second choice).
  3. Interesting work.
  4. Making money.
  5. Having good colleagues; serving humankind.
  6. Service to future generations.
  7. Service to my immediate community.

The fact that money is not the most important thin about their jobs was consistent with other studies. That is, beyond a certain threshold, pay ceases to be the most important issue, and other drives kick in.

A number of the findings of Mitroff and Denton is relevant to the exploration of ways in which organizations can facilitate the ability of their employees to realize their full potential and benefit from this. It is also relevant to an implicit assertion of and that is, chaplains can help corporations innovate.

Acknowledging that a paramount concern in the workplace is the ability for people to realize their full potential

….when asked how much and which parts of themselves they were able to express at work, the interviewees noted that they were able to express their “total intelligence” and “complete creativity” significantly more than their “total feelings,” “complete soul,” or “full humor.”

They clearly indicated that they were more able to show their intelligence than their emotions or feelings at work. This finding is not surprising since it aligns with the prevalent design and expectation in current workplaces. What is unfortunate, however, but still not surprising, is what people report as a separation between their brains and feelings or emotions, which contrasts sharply with what gives them the most meaning in their jobs — the opportunity to realize full potential as a person. Unless “full potential” is narrowly defined, which it isn’t in the total context of the interviews, this means that most people will never realize their full potential at work.

4047-ex1-lo74047-ex2-lo7Add to this their findings that of the five organizational models of organizations (religious-based, evolutionary, recovering, socially responsible and values-based) only religious-based organizations are friendly to having religion in the workplace. This implies that the environment most appropriate for  facilitating greater realization of people’s full potential is a spiritual one  rather than religious. Interestingly this dovetails with their 2008 ten-year follow up study that strongly implied “Spiritual organizations are somehow more secure.”

While simply having a chaplain attached to a secular (evolutionary, recovering, socially responsible or values-based organization) may be a start, clearly it will provide no guarantee about efficacy or what kind of innovation may be possible.

Neither will this article explore that here. We will, however, look further at religiousness/spirituality and how the known correlation of these with wellbeing and health have implications for the workplace in future articles.

To close this out, we can simply consider the conclusions of the Mitroff and Denton study:

We could conclude that the only way in which humans can manage spirituality is by clearly and completely separating it from work. When anything is especially difficult to control, the temptation is always strong to relegate it to other realms. As Ken Wilber argues, the separation of elements was a necessary strategy at earlier stages of human evolution. Art, science, and religion had to separate from each other to develop into more mature forms. A characteristic of earlier stages of human development is that critical elements are so merged together that they have no separate identity. Thus, for development, the key elements need to be separate.

However, at our current stage of human development, we face a new challenge. We have gone too far in separating the key elements. We need to integrate spirituality into management. No organization can survive for long without spirituality and soul. We must examine ways of managing spirituality without separating it from the other elements of management.

The Innovation

While the simple act of associating a chaplain with a corporation may indeed open up new ways to strengthen employees’ ability to realize their full potential,  as with any role and responsibility, the title is not sufficient. The specifics of each organization are critical as are the specific skills of the chaplain. Suffice to say, based on these studies, the chaplain needs to be aware of the nuances of religion and spirituality, clear about their role in the context of the corporation’s nature and objectives and importantly, a peace-builder. That is one who can discern and address schisms in the workplace: between intelligence and feeling, between explicit and implicit goals at odds with one another, and with the ability to work with a increasingly diverse workforce. Addressing the movements of the hidden tectonic plates of conflicting assumptions and values, as well as the more obvious difference of personality, limitations in dealing with difference, stress and crises is a skill set, the benefits to the company of which, will probably not show up in the next quarter’s numbers, but will play out through increased employee satisfaction, reduced turnover, increased innovation and happier people!

Article Resources

Good News About the “Spiritual But Not Religious

Americans’ Spiritual Searches Turn Inward Retrieved 2014-06-04.

7 in 10 Americans Are Very or Moderately Religious Retrieved 2014-06-04

“Nones” on the Rise Retrieved 2014-06-05

2013 Profile of the Spiritual But Not Religious Retrieved 2014-06-04

A Study of Spirituality in the Workplace MIT Sloan Management Review Retrieved 2014-06-04

Mitroff, Ian I, and Elizabeth A. Denton. A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America: A Hard Look at Spirituality, Religion, and Values in the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999. Print.

#conciergechaplain #spiritualityinworkplace