Call it what you want but make sure you live it

Burbank, California; February,2003;
Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student

As many different ways people can come up with to indicate the same thing, as many different names seem to be available for one single phenomenon that we've heard plenty about in the past few years: spirituality in the workplace.
A definition for this idea, as good as any other, is the one by Thompson, which explains that spirituality in the workplace is an experience that comes into play when we decide to do what's right. It's basically a confinement of the awareness of how you feel about your work- whether it's just a job or a calling, and it emphasizes the values that make you who you are.

After looking at this concept from various angles, I came to some interesting conclusions: everybody is really looking for meaning at work, whether they express it or not. All people like to earn money to pay their bills and preferably have something left to enjoy an evening out or a vacation once a year, but they would love to earn that income in an environment where they could feel comfortable and valued.

Another interesting--and by now broadly recognized--conclusion is, that not everyone likes it when his or her feelings of contentment at work, due to the facilitation of bringing in his or her entire self, are called "spirituality in the workplace". Many people are afraid it may offend potential customers, employees, suppliers, or other stakeholders if they call their workplace "spiritual." And they’re not entirely wrong in their perceptions: in business settings especially, a word like spirituality can have an esoteric, non-sober connotation, possibly causing an unwanted impact, because it sounds so unlike the down to earth concepts people think of when discussing buying, selling, producing, transporting and storing.

Yet, this doesn't necessarily mean that business environments are not spiritual. It's just that some prefer to call it "our socially responsible approach", "our recognition strategy," "our quality of life project," "our renaissance program," or something else. In fact, it seems that the more an organization distances itself from the word "spirituality," while at the same time keeping its people happy and content; the more likely it is that this organization is applying the very concept of spirituality at work!

So, every organization that enables workers from all levels to perform to their very best, simply by creating working conditions that appeal to these workers, is in foundation a spiritual one. Some words that come to my mind when thinking about a spiritual workplace are: satisfaction, productivity, recognition, contentment, fun, positive input, contact, connection, cooperativeness, sharing, understanding, identifying, valuing, listening, considering, gratitude, respecting, and on goes the list. Now, I have to add right here, that the words on the list above cannot be implemented separately from each other in a spiritual workplace: a spiritual workplace consists of a combined application of all these words and more!

So when someone told me the other day that business organizations are doubting whether the idea of spirituality in the workplace fits in the harsh world of trade, as we know it, I firmly responded that spirituality in the workplace--or whatever you want to call it--is THE ultimate driver toward successful business and the establishment of a more healthy business environment. It can be illustrated by a simple cycle:

Employees who feel recognized, valued, and listened to, will be encouraged to share their findings with the organization's management, because they care for the place where they work, and they have a huge stake at the continuation of this environment that they so enjoy.
Management that empathically listens to- and seriously considers the suggestions from workers that are in contact with the customers (at the operational level), and thus know what the latest demands are out there, will be able to anticipate on the recognized needs, and become a first-mover in their area, with all the advantages this brings! First movers, as you may know, have the benefit of being able to set a nice price for their product, because no one else had thought of it yet. On top of that, they gain recognition from the market as well: their name and fame is set! Customers who know that their suggestions are being taken seriously, reported to- and considered by top-management, will be encouraged as well to stay loyal to the organization that provides this recognition and the subsequent service.

How much more profitable can, thus, a spiritual workplace be in business settings? Of course spirituality in the workplace means more than this simple picture: it starts with every person individually. You have to bring in your entire self--body and soul--and not be afraid to get hurt, bypassed, or even eliminated. That’s why a spiritual workplace needs the support of every person involved to get established and to maintain itself. And here's an important task for supervisors at every level of the organization: the spirit must be kept alive. The mindset cannot just be a mindset: it has to be lived! And that can only happen if you explain it to your people in ways that they best understand it. Now, consider this: Who would want to ignore the opportunity to feel good about him- or herself, and to feel safe in the workplace where he or she performs, for the simple reason that this workplace is likely to be around for a long time, now that everyone is encouraged to share his or her insights? No one!

So there it is: spirituality in the workplace DOES make sense in business settings. Nothing else ultimately does!