Spirituality in the Workplace: It’s not what you think!

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By Jim Funk

Spirit Tree / Astonishing light peeks through a tree on the coast.

When we enter our workplace are we expected to bring only our body and mind, and leave our spirits at the door? Much has been written about spirituality in the workplace, and there are many different interpretations of what that means. Some of my clients say there is no way that anything spiritual can be introduced into their workplaces. Others believe that recognizing the fact that the whole person—body, mind and spirit—comes with us to work provides a greater opportunity for personal, as well as organizational, transformation and development.

First of all, by spirituality I do not mean religion. While religious beliefs and faith traditions give us a way of expressing our spirituality and practicing our beliefs, our spirit is something different. The human spirit enables us to have an awareness of meaning, to form values, to have relationships with others, and to make choices through reflection and the use of our intellect. Some believers, philosophers and theologians would say our spirit connects us with God, and reflects our relationship with the Mystery that created us. But whether we believe in God, or are atheist or agnostic, most people will agree that the human spirit does exist, and that it is more than just a part of our physical being, personality and mental state. In fact, the human spirit is what distinguishes us from all other living creatures. It allows us to hope, to dream, and to yearn for a greater meaning and purpose in life.

So how and why should we talk about spirituality in the workplace, and how can it be done? Just as our physical self enables us to complete tasks, and our mind allows us to think, judge and act, our spirit gives us the capacity to bring our passions, deeply held values and motivations into our work. Recently I heard a person reflect on the life of a famous actress when he said, “She brought a wonderful spirit to her work.” What does that mean? I think it means we are in fact able to “see” and experience the spirit of people, which shows up as authenticity. When we invite spirituality to be expressed and nurtured in the workplace, we don’t mean proselytizing or converting people; rather, we simply allow time and space for people to be themselves—to be “integrated” (meaning to have integrity) without duplicity. When we are able to integrate all the aspects of our lives, how we make decisions, and how we relate to others, then we can be at our best and give our best as authentic and whole personsnot just skillsets.

When we invite spirituality to be expressed and nurtured in the workplace, we don’t mean proselytizing or converting people; rather, we simply allow time and space for people to be themselves—to be “integrated” (meaning to have integrity) without duplicity.

Some might think that spirituality in the workplace should be reserved only for faith-based or church-sponsored organizations. I worked for a faith-based organization for many years that I thought did an excellent job of spirituality at work, even in the midst of a very diverse workforce and leaders with different or no faith traditions at all. I also came to understand through that experience that people everywhere have a need for spiritual expression and development, not just in workplaces where spirituality is natural or expected. The spiritual nature of people can be respected, acknowledged and nurtured in any work environment without engaging in religious practices, but rather by making spiritual practices acceptable and normal for anyone who wishes to participate in them.

One of my clients, a for-profit company, has a moment of silent reflection before every staff meeting. During this pause everyone is free to use the time however they wish, and the client feels that it allows people to become more centered and fully present at the meeting. Recently I facilitated an off-site retreat for a government client, and I tried something similar. I invited the group to take a few moments for personal reflection and journaling on their vocation of service to others, as well as gratitude for what they personally believe is the source of that vocation or calling (e.g., how they got there). Was that praying together? No. Was that religion? No. Was that a spiritual practice? Yes. It simply provided space and a way for the spirit in each person to be expressed, in whatever way the person decided to express it.

What can you do with Spirituality in your organization?

Any workplace can recognize the body, mind and spirit of people when leaders are willing to make space and time for the whole person to come to work. Besides the examples I gave from my two clients, here are some additional ways for people to express spirituality in the workplace:

  • Designate and dedicate a space where employees can go for personal reflection on breaks. Wherever possible, offer access to green space, nature or indoor plants.
  • Encourage and give employees time off for service to the community, and/or for retreat days sponsored by their church if they belong to one.
  • Have a memorial service (non-denominational) annually for employees or their family members who have passed away in the last year.
  • Celebrate team and individual accomplishments, and acknowledge the gifts and talents that brought it about.
  • Provide a retreat day at least once a year for the executive team, the entire leadership team, and for all employees in groups.
  • Offer classes in mindfulness, tai chi, yoga, meditation, or other practices that help people experience the connection between their body, mind and spirit.

Implementing these ideas in the workplace might take extra effort, but it’s worth it. Holistic organizations that treat people as whole human beings rather than expendable “human resources” find their employees experience deeper meaning in their work, discover more of their gifts and talents, and grow personally and professionally. I’ve seen firsthand that employees are more satisfied, engaged, and happy because they feel appreciated for who they are on a personal level. Bringing spirituality into the workplace also addresses the problem of duplicity, where people feel they can’t be themselves at work and have to play a role that is different from who they actually are. Duplicity causes stress and an uncomfortable dissonance within a person. The results can range from slight dissatisfaction to actually becoming physically sick. A holistic workplace is a healthier workplace.

A holistic workplace comes from holistic leadership. My next blog post will introduce a model of holistic leadership which brings out the best in people, teams and organizations.

Jim Funk is a consultant who helps leaders, teams and organizations discover and develop their full potential. He is passionate in believing that strong leadership competence combined with the leader’s personal characteristics, values and virtues are key to achieving goals and driving business results. In addition to his work at J L Funk & Associates, Jim has served on various boards and commissions, and is currently a member of the Economy of Communion in North America Commission. Learn more about Jim’s work at www.jlfunk.com and www.linkedin.com/in/jlfunk or e-mail him at jim@jlfunk.com.


One thought on “Spirituality in the Workplace: It’s not what you think!

    Jim Milway said:
    May 10, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Hi Jim Funk,and John Mundell,

    This is great. We are working hard these days in sharing our spiritually to the community, church and with our Focolare Community meetings

    In unity, Jim Milway


    Liked by 1 person

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