Why Companies Should Encourage Spirituality in the Workplace

spirituality in the workplace

The purpose of this article is to research and study the phenomenon of what is known as “workplace spirituality” or “spirituality in the workplace”, a trend that is becoming more popular in current times. The field of workplace spirituality is gaining wide interest among scholars and management professionals around the globe. Although the topic is broad and can encompass many disciplines, this article is focused on the impact of workplace spirituality on organizational performance. Does spirituality in the workplace positively affect an organization’s performance in terms of productivity, profitability and success?

 

What is Spirituality?

The term “spirituality” is broad and can mean different thing for different people, depending on the culture, background, and context. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, spirituality is “the quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters: the quality or state of being spiritual”. In this article we look at spirituality as a construct that is broader than traditional religion, and not dependent on it. Carrette & King (2005) define spirituality as the search for meaning, transcendence, hope and connectedness. Spirituality for our purpose can be defined as an individual’s search for the sacred, or something greater than one’s self. (McGhee, 2008)

To better understand the meaning of spirituality Carrette & King (2005) suggest that we observe the behavioral characteristics of spiritual individuals, which include:

1. They seek to transcend their ego or self-interest.

2. They are aware of their inter-connectedness with others and the whole of creation.

3. They understand the higher significance of their actions while seeking to integrate their lives holistically

4. They believe in something beyond the material world, which ultimately gives value to all else.

Spirituality in contrast to traditional religion is a universal human feeling that is beyond the practices of any specific religion. (Karakas, 2010)

Understanding spirituality in different forms can enhance its integration in various spheres of life, including the workplace. For an in-depth exploration of how yoga harmonizes with different religions, check out our article on ‘Yoga and Religion‘.

What is Spirituality in the Workplace?

Workplace spirituality is as hard to define as spirituality itself. Rego and Pina e Cunha, (2008), define workplace spiritually as the “recognition that employees have an inner life which nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work taking place in the context of a community” (p.55). No matter how we define the term, the fact is that people want to practice their personal values and aspirations at the workplace and live integrated lives. The growing number of books, academic studies and research suggest that workplace spirituality is not a passing fad, but is becoming an important trend and is worthy of further research. (Miller, 2011)

Many companies are embracing this trend of spirituality in the workplace as managers see the benefits for both employees and the organization (Garcia-Zamor, 2003).

Workplace spirituality recognizes the uniqueness and individuality of each member of an organization. Employees are encouraged to bring their own spiritual values and work for the common good of the organization and humanity as a whole. Bringing spirituality into the workplace entails transforming leadership, employees and company culture. (Garcia-Zamor, 2003)

Spirituality in the workplace has two dimensions, the individual and the organizational.

At the individual level, spiritual people try to work at a place that supports their spiritual and moral core values, and where they can express their spirituality at work. An example would be of having a sense of responsibility, doing quality work, and feel connected to other employees and with the company as a whole.

At the organizational level, organizations support spirituality to achieve better productivity, profitability and performance.

Organizational Performance

Broadly speaking, organizational performance comprises the actual output of an organization as measured against the intended outputs. (Li-An, H. 2011) 
There are many studies and models that try to define and measure organizational performance. Exploring those models would be outside the scope of this article. For our purpose, though, we will define organizational performance from two perspectives:

1. Human resources. This includes employee satisfaction in their jobs, employee morale, employee attraction and retention, management/employee relations. (Li-An, H. 2011)

2. Economic overall profitability, sales growth and total return on investment.

Spirituality in the Workplace and Organizational Performance

One cannot definitely conclude that spirituality in the workplace automatically leads to organizational performance and profitability. More research is needed beyond the scope of this article. There are two opposing views in regard to the relationship between organizational performance and spirituality. The first camp argues that spirituality in itself is anti-materialist, and hence makes it difficult to scientifically measure its relationship to financial gain (Karakas, 2010).

The second camp argues that spirituality in the workplace is directly linked to productivity and profitability and can be used to improve organizational performance. (Garcia-Zamor, 2003)

According to Karakas (2010), research on spirituality and its effects on organizational performance have not been consolidated. Karakas tries to integrate three perspectives on how spirituality can lead to organizational performance.

1. Human resources perspective. Spirituality improves employee well-being and quality of life. This includes the effects of spirituality on employee morale, well-being, commitment and productivity. It also includes the reduction of stress and burnout. Contemporary research indicates that workplace spirituality does contribute to employee well-being and to a reduction of stress. Emmons (1999) summarizes several studies that have found a ‘‘a significant correlation between spirituality and mental health indices of life satisfaction, happiness, self esteem, hope and optimism and meaning in life’’ (Emmons, 1999, p. 667).

2. Philosophical perspective. Spirituality provides employees a sense of meaning and purpose in their job. In contrast to the industrial age of the past where the concern of businesses was on accumulating material wealth regardless of employees social and spiritual needs, today’s managers and employees are questioning themselves and searching for meaning and purpose in their work. (Burack, 1999) They want to be recognized for who they are as whole individual beings with passions, hopes, aspirations, emotions, souls with their own perspective on things. (Karakas, 2010) When employees experience a meaning and purpose in their work, they will be more motivated to work. Employee retention will increase as a result.

3. Interpersonal perspective. Spirituality provides employees a sense of connectedness and community, which leads to a sense of belonging to the organization. (Duchon and Plowman, 2005) This perspective stresses the social, interpersonal aspect of spirituality.

When employees feel that they truly belong to a work community, it will help them has more emotional stability and resilience as well as more trust in their organization.

Spirituality in the workplace helps to build a culture of connectedness, sharing, caring and respect for all stakeholders. Such an environment is conducive to creativity, cooperation and higher employee morale, factors that are linked to organizational performance. (Garcia-Zamor, 2003)

Spirituality in the Workplace and Profitability

Studies reveal that workplace spirituality help boost an organization’s profitability. One such study was conducted by Harvard Business School where 10 companies with strong spiritual corporate culture were compared with 10 companies with weak spiritual corporate cultures, over an 11year period, during which researchers found a strong correlation between the strength of a company’s corporate culture and its profitability. The more spiritual companies outperformed the others by over 400 percent in terms of profitability.

Another study by Vanderbuilt University Business School conducted on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for”, had similar findings. 

Advice to Managers

Managers should endeavor to assist employees to integrate their spiritual values in the workplace and to help them align those values with the organization’s values. (Rust & Gabriels, 2011).

Managers could incorporate the spiritual dimension by listening to the needs and concerns of their employees, ensuring that their needs are met and their concerns properly addressed.

Managers are encouraged to design company-wide training programs such as mindfulness meditation, yoga classes and other techniques that are known to reduce stress and increase effectiveness and productivity.

Seeing the positive outcomes of spirituality in the workplace, managers might be tempted to use spirituality as a tool to increase profits. Thus my suggestion to managers trying to incorporate spirituality programs into their organizations is to be authentic about the whole concept of spirituality and consider it as a philosophy of doing what is right and to establish strong company values and respect the rights and values of all employees and stakeholders. (Milliman et al., 2003)

Conclusion

At this time of global change, political turmoil, and competition, organizations are in need of integrating spirituality in the workplace. Organizations, managers and employees need to incorporate higher spiritual values into the workplace to foster harmony, connectedness, inspiration, compassion, and a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. 

There is mounting scientific evidence that a more spiritual workplace is more productive, flexible and creative (Eisler et al., 2003).

Spirituality in the workplace could ultimately lead to higher job satisfaction, increased productivity, profitability and overall performance.

Bibliography

Burack, E. H. (1999). Spirituality in the workplace. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(4), 280-291. Retrieved from search.proquest.com.wizard.umd.umich.edu/docview/197587030?accountid=14578

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The Silent takeover of religion. Abingdon, Oxfordshire Routledge

Duchon, D. and D. A. Plowman: 2005, ‘Nurturing the Spirit at Work: Impact on Unit

Performance’, The Leadership Quarterly 16 (5), 807–834.

Eisler, Riane & Montuori, Alfonso, (2003). Handbook of workplace spirituality and organizational performance, 2d ed. (2010). Reference and Research Book News, 25(4) Retrieved from http://0- search.proquest.com.wizard.umd.umich.edu/docview/761728871?accountid=14578

Emmons, R. A.: 1999, ‘Religion in the Psychology of Personality’, Journal of Personality 67 (6), 873–888.

Garcia-Zamor, J. (2003). Workplace spirituality and organizational performance. Public Administration Review, 63(3), 355-363. Retrieved from http://0- search.proquest.com.wizard.umd.umich.edu/docview/197173590?accountid=14578

Garcia-Zamor defines the term and discusses the history of workplace spirituality. The author compares and contrasts spirituality against both religion and ethics. He then examines some organizations that already incorporated spiritual principles and points out the benefits in terms of organizational performance. I used this article because of its clarity and thoroughness in explaining the material and theories presented.

Karakas, F. (2010). Spirituality and performance in organizations: A literature review. Journal of Business Ethics, 94(1), 89-106. doi:http://0- dx.doi.org.wizard.umd.umich.edu/10.1007/s10551-009-0251-5

In this study, Karakas reviews current literature, over 140 articles, on workplace spirituality and its correlation to employee well-being and organizational performance. The author tries to synthesize various findings and integrate different theories and concludes with thorough advice to managers on how best to incorporate spirituality and avoid certain pitfalls.

Li-An, H. (2011). Meditation, learning, organizational innovation and performance. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 111(1), 113-131. doi:http://0- dx.doi.org.wizard.umd.umich.edu/10.1108/02635571111099758

McGhee, P. (2008). Spirituality and Ethical Behaviour in the Workplace: Wishful Thinking or Authentic Reality. Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies , 13 (02).

Milliman, J., Czaplewski, A. J., & Ferguson, J. (2003). Workplace spirituality and employee work attitudes: An exploratory empirical assessment. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 16(4), 426-447. Retrieved from http://0-search.proquest.com.wizard.umd.umich.edu/docview/197604194?accountid=14578

Rego, A., & Pina e Cunha, M. 2008. Workplace spirituality and organizational commitment: an empirical study. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 21(1), 53-75. http://search.ebscohost.com, doi:10.1108/09534810810847039.

Rust, A. A. B., & Gabriels, C. E. C. (2011). Spirituality in the workplace: Awareness of the human resources function. African Journal of Business Management, 5(4), 1353-1364. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.wizard.umd.umich.edu/10.5897/AJBM10.113

 

 

Last Updated on July 11, 2023

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