The Spirituality at Work Paradox

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

Just this morning a friend of mine was reminiscing about the good old days at work when people got turkeys or gift baskets instead of gift certificates at Christmas, and when there were regular boat trips and park celebrations where every worker could bring his or her family along. My friend was mulling over the liveliness that preceded those events: the female colleagues agreed among each other about the dishes to prepare, and the male workers made sure all the attributes for the trip were coordinated well. The essence of these gatherings, my friend recollected, was to bring workers of all levels together and give them the opportunity to get to know each other in a different setting. It increased the mutual bond, and it enhanced understanding and empathy.

But somewhere down the line the company decided, just like so many others, that a present at Christmas was too much hassle, and that the risk of organizing family days was too big. What if someone got hurt during the event? How easily wouldn't the company be sued over a frivolous issue? In other words: how hazardous could these seemingly innocent gatherings become for the corporation?

Here is a point to ponder: it may very well be that the escalating amount of lawsuits in recent years for even the most simple irregularities lies at the core of the present cautious and impersonal approach of many U.S. corporations. Understandably. But at the same time, the sense of togetherness and learning to accept each other as more than just a production factor in the work setting has diminished to worrisome degrees.

And here is where the paradox of the surging call for spirituality at work comes peeking around the corner. Increasingly, authors, workplace analysts, social researchers, and maturing employees plea for the need for better understanding between co-workers at all levels, because they think that this will enhance the willingness among workers to contribute more than just the required skills, and it will give those who have to spend so many hours in the same environment with each other a better sense of purpose and a higher level of satisfaction. Interconnectedness is the magic word here.

But how can there be any interconnectedness if people are robbed from the one activity that would enhance it in the first place: getting to know and value each other as whole beings, in which gatherings outside the workplace play an important role? We may as well admit it: indirectly this estrangement from family-activities has been caused by the same society that is now yearning for it. And as a conclusion may serve that the current absence of spirituality in the workplace may have been brought upon us by…ourselves.

Just look at it from this angle: it is pretty difficult for any work organization to continue sponsoring out-of-work activities, if the chance for a multi million dollar lawsuit lurks behind every employee's and his or her family-members' back. The business environment is hard and competitive enough as it is. Businesses have to remain on their toes in order to stay abreast of the developments in their area of expertise. New inventions and the subsequent changes in market demands occur at a much faster pace than ever.

And, while spirituality in the workplace can be a valuable contribution toward better relationships in the work environment, and therefore, toward higher productivity through increased cooperation, it is not stimulated by employers. Not necessarily by choice, but as a result of the ever prowling threat of escalating and costly repercussions of an over-sensitive society.