Corporate Spirit: Oxymoron or Possibility?

Spirituality is coming to the workplace thinly veiled as mindfulness, awareness, and stress management.  As the veil gets lifted, the questions arise: does it belong, can it co-exist with profitability, and what are the dangers?

Does spirituality belong in the workplace?  It depends. 

If spirituality is defined in terms such as connectedness, community, and joy; then the answer is yes.  If spirituality is defined in religious terms, then the answer is no.

A primary requirement of leadership is being self-aware or connected to yourself.  A primary requirement of high performing teams is a sense of connection with each other.  A primary requirement for motivation is being connected to a higher purpose.  Thus, to the extent that spirituality builds connectedness, it would seem that it can play a vital role in organizational life.

Credit: Mksaunders
Credit: Mksaunders

Community is also a central facet of effective organization.  There are communities of interest, communities of practice, and a palpable sense of community within high performing organizations.  Therefore, if spirituality can help to build community then it must belong.

Finally, recent studies show that employees are much happier and motivated if they believe their work contributes to helping others.  Thus, if spirituality can give people a sense of mission beyond themselves, it would seem that it belongs in the workplace.

On the other hand, if spirituality is cast in religious terms, then it is problematic. 

Just as there are clear constitutional guidelines for the separation of church and state, there are also clear dangers of imposing ideology in the workplace. 

Organizations should not be seen as “ripe for harvest” among religious zealots or evangelicals

Over 30 years ago, I introduced the idea of teaching connectedness at Johnson & Johnson as a part of their wellness program and as a way of introducing spirituality in the workplace.  

They didn’t embrace it at the time, but the book I wrote on Connectedness is now a critical part of the psychiatric rehab program at Boston University.  I also included a chapter on Connectedness in my book The Complete Guide to Wellness because it complemented physical, emotional, and mental health with spiritual health.

In 1989, I co-wrote the book Ethical Leadership which discusses how to rebuild trust in organizations by creating an ethical culture and focusing on relationships with employees, customers, and community.  The book includes an ethics evaluation tool that measures the level of interdependence organizations have with their stakeholders.  One could argue that a key result of spirituality is a greater sense of interdependence.

In 2001, I published the book, Spiritual Leadership, which discusses how to transform dysfunctional organizations into healthy communities.  It documents the work of several “soul models” who created healthy communities in their respective workplaces.

In 2009, I published the book, Creating Organizational Soul, which discusses the standards and conditions for creating meaningful, humanizing work.  The essence of the book is to be more mindful and aware of how our behaviors may affect others.  Carl Jung defined soul as the source of our enthusiasm and inspiration.  Victor Frankl suggested that the key to finding meaning in life is to seek possibilities against the backdrop of our reality.  All of these ideas are directly related to spirituality in the workplace, particularly when you define it as community, connectedness, meaning, and joy.

In 2013, I published the book, Being at Home in the Universe.  This book unabashedly addresses the differences between spirituality and religion.  It suggests that HOME is an internal space to which you can always return for peace and comfort.

Untitled photo courtesy UnsplashTo come back to the title of this piece, “Corporate Spirit: Oxymoron or Possibility?”,  I clearly vote for the latter. 

I believe spirituality belongs in the workplace as long as it transparently relates to creating community, connectedness, meaning, and moments of joy and is not a mask for religious indoctrination.

In this scientific age, the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of objective, quantitative analysis at the expense of qualitative, subjective analysis.  Ken Wilbur has written an excellent book, Integral Psychology, which brilliantly addresses this shift.  He argues for an all quadrant, all level approach—which simply means that you take into account spirit and soul as well as body and mind, and that you take into account qualitative and subjective as well as quantitative and objective.  One does not deny the other.  It is a mistake to go “all-in” on one way or the other. 

Introducing spirituality in the workplace does not mean you are anti-scientific. 

It should be quite the opposite—you are finding ways of integrating science and spirituality.

In my most recent book, The Consciousness Solution, I come out strongly for the need to raise our levels of consciousness through more mindfulness and awareness.  I review 2,000 years of writing on consciousness and its effects on individual and organizational well-being.  As Einstein said, we can’t solve the problems we are facing with the same level of consciousness that created them.  That’s a strong argument for introducing spirituality into our organizations.


Also published on Medium.

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