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Spirituality in the Workplace

by Hillary Geisler, MA

As a marketing director for high-tech software start-ups, I witnessed the challenging ways businesses pursued their goals. In some companies, there was the constant pressure of earnings, where every quarter required maximum participation to close enough sales to keep the doors open, and investors satisfied. These corporate climates were fast-paced, profit-driven, and overwhelmingly stressful. In other organizations, I saw cross-department teams coming together to solve a business problem creatively or rally to the aid of a customer in need. These corporations fostered an environment of individual development and collaboration that continually inspired employees, and customers.

In my position of evaluating brand awareness and company cultures, I began to realize certain energies guiding each of these types of organizations, whether the leaders were aware of them or not, and that those energies could be characterized as spirits. Here, spirit defined as a way of being in the world can be viewed as neutral energy that is either life-giving or life-defeating. How a company or person manifests their spirit determines whether it is life-giving or not. A company’s spirit is revealed in the enactment of its principles and protocols. Comparatively, an individual’s spirit is exhibited in the way they engage with others. Each individual brings their soulful energy with them to work. As a result, corporations have both collective and individual spirits coalescing within the workplace, for better or for worse. For businesses to implement a model where all stakeholders flourish, leaders must distinguish how and where these existing spirits are leading the organization and become an advocate for life-giving spirituality that seeks a greater good. To do this, we need to enter the spirituality in the workplace conversation.

Surprisingly, most of us already have. We just use different language. We may not speak the vocabulary of an academic or theologian, but every day we use terms that refer to spirit or spirituality in our daily lives. We say words like essence, transcendent, life force, synchronicity, aura, presence, culture, core being, longing, movement, intuition, atmosphere, visceral, awareness, universal, and energy.

Initiating a spirituality dialogue in today’s business climate is delicate. Spiritual conversations almost always elicit ideas that are intangible, even ineffable at times, like trying to communicate successes that were either unplanned or occurred out of the blue. Admittedly, there is a mystery to spirituality, a mystique, that is unnerving to some and dismissed by others. Our culture tends to place supreme value on those things that are material and tangible—such as production and the bottom line—and struggles with goals that are more obscure, like fulfilling one’s purpose and finding meaning in work. But meeting intangible goals such as these can have a transforming impact on products and profits as well as a company’s ethos. The challenge, and I would argue also the appeal, is in marrying subjective ambitions with objective realities. Business innovation arises when employees develop inwardly. When employees grow in awareness of themselves and others, they are intrinsically motivated to reach beyond normal standards and create leading edge products and services. It is also true that the viability of a company rests in reaching a financial target. When meeting a sales quota generates a profit, businesses are able to reinvest in the company as well as fulfill its mission. Both subjective and objective goals are essential to a company’s quest, and spirituality allows us to integrate these two intentions—if leaders are aware of it and support it in a healthy, positive manner.

To keep a company on course requires business leaders to be mindful of how its own spiritual energies and those of its employees are affecting executive orientation, employee morale, customer affinity, industry perceptions about the company, and, ultimately, the company’s ability to match its mission with a community need. A healthy spirituality fosters peace, harmony, compassion, and a sense of a greater good among employees. Positive spirituality springs from an individual’s desire to continually develop, contribute their talents to and collaborate within a group, and be responsible for seeking something greater than self-promotion in work. From a collective perspective, positive spirituality translates to companies demonstrating that they are more than just a place to get a paycheck, that they represent an evolving community that values individuality, cooperation and connectivity with the world. 

If we want transformative change in our businesses, we have to be open to a new model, one willing to look beyond profits and products to actually looking at people and the spirits present at work. Corporations are becoming more willing to consider the spiritual health of their business. They are turning to professional spiritual coaches to help them navigate the spiritual aspects of their institutions, on both the personal and collective levels. This shift in attitude opens the door for a new discourse on growth potential for businesses and their employees.

As companies continue to pursue their goals, they build a road map for transitioning from their current state to their targeted destinations. Being aware of the energies flowing through a company as well as having the skills to discern whether those spiritual energies are positive or negative allows business leaders to understand when and how they are missing the mark. A company’s spirituality thus becomes a pivotal asset in developing individuals and a viable corporation. Promoting this kind of life-giving spirituality strengthens the transforming model where all stakeholders flourish.

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