Spirituality in the Workplace: A Socialistic Sprinkle in a Capitalist Work Society?

Joan Marques - Ed.D., MBA.
Burbank, California

In the past years I have done some intense thinking and exploring on the topic of spirituality in the workplace. And there certainly is much to explore, as an increasing number of authors interested in management excellence and outstanding organizational performance mechanisms examine this phenomenon.

Through readings, interviews, and casual conversations about workplace practices, an interesting idea emerged in my mind: Is not spirituality in the workplace simply a grain of socialism in a capitalist work society?

Since there are multiple interpretations possible for both ideologies, some of which may even have an extremely negative connotation to some readers, I consider it imperative to first clarify the definitions I am working with here:

Dictionary.com explains capitalism as: An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

The above definition for capitalism is the one I consider most applicable to the societal circumstances in the U.S., and in most countries that consider themselves having a free market economy.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, as well as Dictionary.com, provides a wide variety of definitions for socialism. The 2 definitions that closely resemble my perception of this ideology are the following:

    1. A stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done. (Merriam-Webster)
    2. A theory or system of social reform, which contemplates a complete reconstruction of society, with a more just and equitable distribution of property and labor. (Dictionary.com)

Now that these definitions are presented, it is not more than rational to also clarify my idea of a spiritual workplace. It is, after all, not a secret that spirituality means various things to various people, and that, consequently, spirituality in the workplace has different meanings for different individuals. Some confuse it with religion, while others consider it too ethereal to belong in the corporate environment.

However, after thorough reading and dialoguing with people from various walks of life, I came to the conclusion that spirituality in the workplace has all characteristics of good management behavior, in which workers at all levels are respected and valued, and where reciprocal understanding and cooperation are nurtured, while backstabbing and internal competition are discouraged.

Spirituality in the workplace, thus, involves an environment where interconnectedness among workers is optimal, because all workers participate in the work-process with their best mindset, and perform to their best capacities. They get encouraged by the overall atmosphere of helpfulness and accessibility at all levels; the friendliness; the understanding; the atmosphere of trust; and the general feeling of "we-ness" that prevails. And since their leaders keep them involved in processes, changes, and important decisions, and keep them informed about organizational goals, they feel connected with the purpose of the organization as well.

This whole set of good and encouraging behavior expresses itself through optimal performance from all workers, resulting in optimal performance of the organization. And optimal performance of the organization leads to longevity for the company, translated in enhanced job security, which, in turn, increases the devotion, dedication, and self-esteem of the workers. Result: an upward spiral that just cannot go wrong in any way.

So, here is the issue:
The cooperative nature of a spiritual workplace -- the interconnectedness, and the "we"-spirit among all workers -- is very much in line with the ideal socialistic mindset as presented above, although it does not necessarily negatively affect the capitalist mindset!

For, while "the means of production and distribution" are still "privately or corporately owned," and "development" is still "proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market" (see Dictionary.com's definition of capitalism above), this very development is now achieved by a "reconstructed" workplace that enhances "a more just and equitable" sense of ownership among the work society (derived from Dictionary.com's definition of socialism above).

Of course deliberate ill performers will still be rewarded less, but that, too, fits in the earlier presented definitions of socialism (see last part of the Merriam-Webster definition for socialism: "pay according to work done"). And fortunately, a spiritual workplace, by its very nature, inspires high performance from all workers, so that the problem of deliberate ill performance rarely occurs.

All I am stating here is that no extreme system or practice seems to have a lasting impact. The best results are always achieved by interaction, understanding, and the application of the best elements of all factors at stake. Some examples? In teams the best long-term results are achieved by the united efforts of members with various backgrounds, educations, and cultures. In the general evolution of inventions (think of cars and entertainment devices), the best creations ultimately emerged after inputs from various disciplines: the innovativeness of the American and the precision of the Japanese.

So, why would it not be the intertwinement of two seemingly opposing ideologies the encouragement for individual excellence and development of capitalism, combined with the collective and equitable approach of socialism -- that turns out to be the ultimate guarantee for lasting organizational success: spirituality in the workplace?