How Spirituality in the Workplace can create Gray-Haired Revolutionaries

How Spirituality in the Workplace can create Gray-Haired Revolutionaries

Burbank, California; January, 30, 2002; Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student.



Sounds pretty paradoxical, doesn't it? "Spirituality" and "revolutionary," mentioned in one sentence, and on top of all in a cooperative way toward each other! Yet, it can make perfect sense! But first, let's get the definitions straight and obtain a deeper understanding of how these two topics are perceived in this article.


Spirituality in the workplace, as many authors have stated in numerous articles before, is not the same as religion in the workplace. Religion is something we can all make a choice for. We can change religions from one day to another. We can choose to be non-religious. And we should definitely not be forced to put up with other people's religion. As Rosner (2001) stated so well,
"there is a difference [] between religion and spirituality. [] You can have an exploration, a deepening of the spiritual experience at work without having people become upset with someone trying to shove a particular point of view down their throat."

Or, like Paterson (2000) asserts,
"Religion and Spirituality are often confused with each other, yet in many respects religion has very little to do with spirituality and everything to do with the attainment of secular power and wealth for rather base and venal reasons. Religion invariably presents an over-simplistic and narrow view of reality, is intolerant of contrary views and demeaning to the basic tenets underlying spirituality in that it attempts to present a finite and limited interpretation of the infinite. Spirituality on the other hand is usually a far deeper personal experience associated with an individual's personal quest to re-discover his or her essence and who he or she really is (i.e. the essence of one's identity so to speak)."

So, that said, let's consider what we perceive as spirituality, then. It may be best explained as "something we all carry within us; our pure selves; our sense for self-respect and respect for others". According to Thompson (2001),
"spirituality [] comes into play when we decide to do what’s right. Spirituality has to do with how you feel about your work- whether it's just a job or a calling. Spirituality gives birth to the values that make you who you are."

In fact the age-old statement that we are not human beings with a spiritual experience, but rather spiritual beings with a human experience, comes as close as possible to explaining what an intrinsic part spirituality is within- and for us.

Spirituality in the workplace, therefore, is that "at home" feeling that we all should have when doing our daily job: a great level of comfort, intermingled with a great level of responsibility at the same time. Isn't that after all what being "at home" is all about? While we feel at ease, we also know that it's all about us. "We" matter! Our opinion, our input, our presence, our entire being is appreciated and makes a difference. And because we realize that, we care. Being heard, and having ownership, makes us feel that what we do is worthwhile. And that's the whole point of having a spiritual workplace that becomes a "gray-haired revolutionary" (Hamel, 2000).

Now let me explain what a gray-haired revolutionary is. A gray-haired revolutionary, according to Hamel (2000) is a company that has managed to reinvent itself and its industry more than once (p. 209). A company that goes by some kind of an unwritten, but commonly understood and practiced rule, such as, "whatever is the real deal at the moment, that's what we're specializing in." Something like that. A gray-haired revolutionary, as Hamel (2000) further explains, is a company that realizes that strategies are not immortal phenomena. They are as much subject to change as anything else. At least, if you want your company to survive in the fast changing world of today!

Now we all know that very few CEO's have the capability of coming up with new, successful visions more than once. Even if you haven't read or listened to Hamel, you'll agree that apparitions about what will be hot tomorrow can't possibly emerge in CEO's heads on demand. But what the CEO can't see, others can! That's why everybody in the organization should matter. Because at other levels, especially the operational, there are people too who would like to be heard; who may have great ideas about what would work... who talk to clients and customers that translate to them what they would like. So can you imagine what would happen to a company, if only these "average fieldworkers" were given an opportunity to get their findings and opinions conveyed into the top of that skyscraper! If only they could be considered "people" with brains instead of machines that are turned off at 5:00 PM! Because the main reason that today's workforce predominantly behaves irresponsible and seems uncaring - according to many managers - is because for years on end, they were expected to behave like machines; to do the job without thinking what was right or wrong. So how, then, can you suddenly expect those people to feel any sense of ownership and loyalty? Or to take responsibility? Or even to grant you the solution to a problem that might seem undefeatable to the boss, but may be so obviously solvable to them, because they are the ones who know "what’s cookin’" out there?

So now, let's recapitulate: a workplace where people have the feeling that they matter; that their family and their feelings are appreciated; that their thoughts on processes at work are heard and seriously considered; a workplace where there is a connection between top-management and the operational level without 50 doors that need to be passed first, is a workplace where everyone will want to stay. And wanting to stay means making it possible to stay. So every idea, every vision, every hunch, will be shared for the benefit of the community. The company will be able to reinvent itself countless times, and the workforce will be content, because they found meaning in what they are doing. That's how spirituality in the workplace can create gray-haired revolutionaries. Now tell me, where’s the paradox, and what is so idealistic about that?


Hamel, G. (2000). Leading the Revolution. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Paterson, A. (2000, 23 May). RELIGION versus SPIRITUALITY, [Internet]. Available: [2002, January, 23].

Rosner, B. (2001). Is there room for the soul at work? Workforce, 80(2), 82-83.

Thompson, W. (2001). Spirituality at work. Executive Excellence, 18(9), 10.