What do Southwest Airlines, Hewlett-Packard, The Men’s Wearhouse, AES, Wetherrill Associates and Tom’s of Maine have in common? They’re among a growing number of organizations that have embraced workplace spirituality.
Workplace spirituality is not about organized religious practices. It is not about God or theology. Workplace spirituality recognizes that people have an inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work that takes place in the context of community. Organizations that promote a spiritual cultural recognize that people have both a mind and a spirit, seek to find meaning and purpose in their work, and desire to connect with other human beings and be part of a community.
Historical models of management and organizational behavior had no room for spirituality. The myth of rationality assumed that the well-run organization eliminated feelings. Similarly, concern about an employee’s inner life had no role in the perfectly rational model. But just as we’ve now come to realize that the study of emotions improve our understanding of organizational behavior, an awareness of spirituality can help you to better understand employee behavior in the twenty first century.
Of course, employees have always had an inner life. So why has the search for meaning and purposefulness in work surfaced now? There are a number of reasons.
The concept of workplace spirituality draws on our previous discussions of topics such as values, ethics, motivation, leadership, and work/life balance. As you’ll see, for instance, spiritual organizations are concerned with helping people develop and reach their full potential. Similarly organizations that are concerned with spirituality are more likely to directly address problems created by work/life conflicts.
What differentiates spiritual organizations from their non-spiritual counterparts? Although research on this question is only preliminary, our review identified five cultural characteristics that tend to be evident is spiritual organizations.
Strong Sense of Purpose:
Spiritual organizations build their cultures around a meaningful purpose. Although profits may be important, they are not the primary values of the organization. People want to be inspired by a purpose that they believe is important and worthwhile.
Focus on Individual Development: Spiritual organizations recognize the worth and value of people. They aren’t just providing jobs. They seek to create cultures in which employees can continually learn and grow.
Trust and Respect: Spiritual organizations are characterized by mutual trust, honesty and openness. Managers aren’t afraid to admit mistakes. The president of Wetherill Associates, a highly successful auto parts distribution firm, says: We don’t tell lies and everyone knows it. We are specific and honest about quality and suitability of the product for our customers’ needs even if we know they might not be able to detect any problem.
Humanistic Work Practices: These practices embraced by spiritual organizations include flexible work schedules group and organizations based rewards narrowing of pay and status differentials, guarantees of individual worker rights, employee empowerment and job security. Hewlett Packard, for instance, has handled temporary downturns through voluntary attrition and shortened work weeks (shared by all), and longer term declines through early retirement and buyouts.
Toleration of Employees Expression: The final characteristic that differentiates spirituality based organizations is that they don’t stifle employee emotions. They allow people to be themselves to express their moods and feelings without guilt or fear of reprimand Employees at Southwest Air, for instance are encouraged to express their sense of humor on the job, act spontaneously and to make their work fun.
Reason for the Growing Interest in Spirituality:
1. As a counter balance to the pressures and stress of a turbulent pace of life. Contemporary lifestyles single parent families, geographic mobility the temporary nature of jobs, new technologies that create distance between people underscore the lack of community many people feel and increase the need for involvement and connection.
2. Formalized religion has not worked for many people and they continue to look for anchors to replace lack of faith and to fill a growing feeling of emptiness.
3. Job demands have made the workplace dominant in many people’s lives yet another continues to question the meaning of work.
4. The desire to integrate personal life values with one’s professional life.
5. An increasing number of people are finding that the pursuit of more materials acquisitions leaves them unfulfilled.