Spirituality is not Religion...?

Joan Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California

In the past weeks I consumed a large amount of articles and books on the topic of workplace spirituality. And some interesting things surfaced, which got me thinking and wondering...

For starters: there are multiple definitions in circulation for workplace spirituality. Depending on their interests and disciplines, theorists will include words like energy, meaning, and knowing in their explanations; others will explain that workplace spirituality comes into play when we decide to do what's right (whatever that may be); yet others will explain that spirituality at work is about employees who understand themselves as spiritual beings whose souls need nourishment at work. An overall theme seems to be "connectedness," and a search of the working souls for depth of meaning and significance under the surface appearances of things in our world.

Many scholars specializing in workplace spirituality emphasize the importance of bringing the soul into the workplace: enabling workers to be their entire self at work, where they spend a large part of their life anyway.

Some of these scholars will explain at the same time that spirituality in the workplace is not the same as religion, nor should it be. And to me, this is understandable: There can be great connectedness and understanding among people in a workplace without the pressure of accepting each other's religious convictions. It is therefore that these scholars conclude that there can be no place for religion at work.

Yet, the seeming contradiction, as it appears to me, is that bringing the whole self into work would also involve bringing in your convictions. Some people are very religious. And they cannot be their entire self without their religion. So, how would they go about bringing in their entire soul? Isn't the statement "there is no place for religion in the workplace" a conspicuous contradiction to "bringing in the entire self at work"?

In his article "Spiritual and religious diversity in the workplace: Implications for leadership," Douglas Hicks rightfully states that scholars who uphold a view of bringing the whole person to work are inconsistent if they view spirituality as appropriate in the workplace but exclude diverse employees' particular, specific religious expressions from it. In Hicks' opinion, the task of effective organizational leadership is not to promote a single spiritual framework, but to create a structure and culture in which leaders and followers can respectfully negotiate religious and spiritual diversity.

As for myself, I wonder if bringing the entire self at work is really the best definition for a spiritual workplace, given the fact that the "entire self" has many sides and moods, some of which will form a set-back to workplace productivity, and ultimately workplace existence, if encouraged?

The vision of a workplace where everybody does what he or she is best at, without being micro-managed, and preferably within the time that serves his or her creativity best, is a very attractive but not always achievable one, given the construction of our current global work-environment. And yes, a number of workplaces will be able to implement this vision, especially if they manage to keep their company within manageable sizes. After all, it has been clarified by many successful performers of spirituality at work that the ultimate goal of the business should not be profit or growth, but happiness for all stakeholders: owners, workers, customers, and current and future societies at large.

In conclusion, I would like to list the 7 keystones that—in my opinion—workplace spirituality should definitely be about:

1. Trusting and encouraging each other at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, as that will enhance workers' desire to attend their workplace everyday.

2. Minimizing workplace politics, because they are in fundamental contradiction with the trust issue.

3. Respecting each others' (religious and other) convictions, and exactly for that reason: not interfering with them.

4. Valuing diversity, as that is not only morally the best thing to do, but it also benefits the company in many ways such as enabling a broader organizational perspective through the extended cultural availability at work; and enabling a more extensive group of customers to identify with the organization.

5. Enabling workers-where possible-to perform in the area and at the time that aligns best with their skills, creativity, and interests, in order to serve as an advantage to them as well as the organization in total.

6. Encouraging workers to explore their skills in various regards, and facilitating training in these areas, so that all their hidden talents can surface, allowing them to ultimately bring in an even bigger part of themselves at work. This will not only be an advantage to them, but also to their workplace. And it will be seen by these workers as a compassionate attempt from their workplace to prevent them from becoming obsolete if ever the day arrives that they will find themselves having to explore the job market again.

7. Recognizing and rewarding people when they deserve it and in the ways their specific personality values these recognitions and rewards best.

Spirituality in the workplace is indeed a fascinating and still multi-interpretable theme, which has come a long way, yet still has a long way to go. But in general I think we all agree that workers' main concern in today's workplace is much less financial prosperity, and much more satisfaction, meaning, connection, and recognition. And whatever your personal definition of a spiritual workplace may be, try to live it. It's the only way you will find ultimate peace of mind.