Spirituality in the Workplace, uh-oh!

Joan Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California - October 2002

In a critique on Matthew Fox's book "Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet," Riess (2002) presents an excerpt of the essence of this piece of literature. As long as there is referral to our creativity as an asset that is underused, I agree with Fox's insights. And for as far as we are encouraged to rethink "our social, religious, economic systems, even our personal lifestyle choices" (Riess, 2002), I concur wholeheartedly. But I get somewhat disturbed when Riess starts citing the following phrase from Fox's book, "This is redemption: that we be creative like God is. And that our creativity and co-creation serve God's agenda, which is always compassion." How interesting! My first thought was, "Mr. Fox must be God's secretary, because he knows what's in the Lord's agenda!" My second thought, as a conclusion to the first, was, that Mr. Fox assumes himself to have a superior position compared to the rest of humanity, for he knows more about God's preferences than we do! No need to explain that this is where Fox lost me, because, although I am a strong believer in God myself, I tend to get offended by those who claim to know what God's desires and dislikes are. My personal perception of God is totally different, as I think that God resides in all of us, which, consequently, makes his agenda quite diverse! And just because I realize the many ways that people can perceive (or not perceive) God, I carry the opinion that continuous use of God-involving statements, which usually pertain to the authors' particular perceptions, restrain spirituality in the workplace from becoming a widely accepted phenomenon.


If ever we want the spirituality in the workplace concept to strike globally, we will have to universalize our definitions about it. For as long as so-called guru's fling with their personal, cultural, or historical, and hence, biased perspicacity of the subject, there will be people who will reject the principle and won't even bother considering it, although these very people may unconsciously, apply the "spirit at work" concept even more ardently than these "spiritual leaders."


In my opinion, the most suitable approach toward spirituality in the workplace should be derived from the perspectives as represented in Immanuel Kant's principle of "universalizability," in which he states, "always act in such a way that you can will that the maxim behind your action can be willed by a universal law" (Hinman, 1998, p. 223). A "maxim," in this perspective, is "a subjective rule according to which we determine behavior" (Hinman, p. 222). In simpler wording, I think that Kant, an 18th century German philosopher, just suggests that in everything we do, we should consider whether it is our belief that this action is good enough to be universally accepted. Seen from this viewpoint, all we have to do to establish a spiritual workplace, is "to determine whether [our] maxim is one that [?] would be possible for everyone to consistently and rationally accept" (Hinman, p. 223).


This being stated, the spirituality in the workplace concept may finally become digestible to people from all cultures, nationalities, religions (or non-religions), and ethnicities, for there definitely are universal rules that every rational human being accepts. Here are, in my perception, the fundaments of a spiritual workplace:

  1. Happiness: everyone wants to be happy. If we want that for ourselves, and we universalize it, we will want it for others too. Therefore, we will act upon making as many people happy as we can, as long as it does not negatively affect our own happiness.
  2. Pleasant environment: No one in the world wants to work where the atmosphere can be cut with a knife. We all want to feel relaxed and welcome. A spiritual workplace is therefore one, where people feel that they are valued for their very being.
  3. Ownership: People in the entire world want to feel that what they do matters. They want responsibility: some more than others, but if guided in the right way, everyone will be able to deal with it, and even be brought to the point of enjoying it. Success in this regard will depend on the managerial approach, which should align with McGregor's "Theory Y," where it is assumed that "people are willing to work, accept responsibility, are self-directed and creative" (Schermerhorn, 2002, p.101). A strong point made by McGregor in his analysis is that of the "self-fulfilling prophecies," whereby he explains that "through their behavior, [managers] create situations where subordinates act in ways that confirm the original expectations." (Schermerhorn, p.101). Therefore, Theory Y-managers "behave in "participative" ways that allow subordinates more job involvement, freedom, and responsibility. This creates opportunities to satisfy esteem and self-actualization needs and causes workers to perform as expected with initiative and high performance" (Schermerhorn, p.101).
  4. Care: Not just limited to our species, but certainly applicable to all human beings, is the importance of caring. If colleagues, superiors, subordinates, customers, and other stakeholders feel that they are being cared about, they will be much more approachable, and, hence, become more likely to demonstrate a similar attitude in return.
  5. Respect: If respecting others boils down to the concept of "considering how you would feel before doing it to someone else," then respect can definitely be seen as one of the cornerstones of a spiritual workplace. However, in work environments, this concept can be drawn a little further: although a spiritual workplace does not thrive on mere financial prosperity for insiders, it is a sign of respect to the workplace members if they are rewarded appropriately for their input. Respect, furthermore, entails deference for other people's religious, political, cultural, and general convictions.
  6. Honesty: Although honesty is not a priority in every culture, since some cultures appreciate the reasons WHY you do something over WHAT you do, this phenomenon is still a widely valued trait within humanity. Yet, it cannot be denied, that circumstances dictate whether honesty is in place, or whether a well-meant lie may be better for a colleague's esteem. Yet, in general, we may state that people should be as honest as possible, although I realize that the "as possible" part may be a questionable issue.
  7. Interest: People are flattered if you are interested in their well-being. However, interest should not be driven to the point of nosiness, of course. For just as pleasant as moderate interest is perceived, just as aggravating is offensive inquisitiveness looked upon!

The "Spiritual 7" as listed above, can be used as the broad frame in which the spirituality in the workplace concept could be perceived, in order to become a globally accepted and workable theory. What it all boils down to is this simple truth: "Spirit is matter seen in a stronger light." (L.P. Jacks)


Jacks, L. P. (unknown). Great quotes to inspire, empower and motivate you to live the life of your dreams and become the person you've always wanted to be!, [Internet]. 2000 Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: http://www.cybernation.com/victory/quotations/authors/quotes_jacks_lp.html [2002, Oct 8, 2002].

Meier, R. L. (2000). Late-blooming societies can be stimulated by information technology. Futures, 32(2), 163-181.

Miller, J. (Unknown). TPCN - Great Quotations. 2000 Cyber Nation International, Inc. Available: http://www.cyber-nation.com/victory/quotations/subjects/quotes_serenity.html [2002, July 20].

Various. Serenity. Roger Ebsen. Available: http://www.actualizations.com/quotes/serenity.htm [2002, August 25].