employees

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.

 

Humanizing Human Resources

Posted on

02b22c8
By Jim Funk

Years ago, when Personnel Departments around the country were beginning to change their name to Human Resources, I proudly told a friend that my job title at the time was changing from Personnel Director to Director of HR—we were coming into the modern business age. I was taken aback when he retorted, “How dehumanizing to refer to people as resources!” I thought a lot about his reaction, and in many ways he was absolutely right. At least “personnel” had a connotation that the work is about the people. By definition, “resources” means “money, or any property that can be converted into money.” In other words, resources are things we own and/or use. This is not typically the way people like to think of themselves.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify that the purpose of this article is not to criticize Human Resources departments, or the moniker. Companies can call their HR departments whatever they want, but it isn’t the name that’s going to make the difference. It’s how they treat employees. That’s why this blog post raises the big picture question of how companies think about their employees: as usable resources or as people?

I had another friend who told me why he left a good job at a company he originally thought was a great place to work. As a consultant he worked hard and put in lots of time, churned out many billable hours, and did excellent work for his company and their clients. One time his boss said something quite chilling to him, something to the effect of: “You know, you are like inventory to me. When I need you, I take you down from the shelf and put you in service. When I don’t, I put you back and you stay there until I need you again.” It was at that moment when my friend realized he was not in a place that respected him as a person, and so with his highly sought-after skills he quickly found another position elsewhere.

Large group of people

My friend’s story is the perfect example of an inhuman approach to management. His boss treated him as a resource to use up and wear out. And soon enough, he did just that.

Wouldn’t it be better to value your employees, work to develop and engage them, and keep them around? I sure think so. Far too many organizations today need to put the “human” back in human resources.

There is a quote attributed to four sisters of the Daughters of Charity who came to Indianapolis in 1881 to open a new hospital at the request of Francis Silas Chatard, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Vincennes. In speaking of their mission, the sisters said, “We have a mission, a reason for being here. To keep health care human, human for our patients, human for our families, human for our doctors and human for all associates. The poor will come and the rich will come, if they know they are going to be treated as people.” Their philosophy worked, as that was the beginning of what is now St.Vincent, a thriving, successful, mission-focused health system of hospitals and care providers in Indiana. 

When you treat employees as people, you acknowledge that they are more than just their job title. They have a mind, body, and spirit that make them a human being; a person with dreams, goals, and a life outside of work. I believe that whether we can successfully treat employees as people in the workplace depends on the leader.

I was speaking with an executive at one of St.Vincent’s facilities recently, Blake Dye, President of St.Vincent Heart Center. He told me how important it is to have a balanced, holistic view of work, self and others, and to model and encourage work-life balance. When every new leader comes on board, Blake talks with him or her about his belief that we bring our whole selves with us to work, and that who we are is not just made up of our skillsets. He points out that being successful is first about being capable, but it is also about balance. He stresses that he doesn’t want his leaders to just have the appearance of being busy and working hard, but to do excellent work and achieve results within a reasonable workweek. He tells leaders that if they have to work excessive hours to get the job done, then they aren’t doing something right. He acknowledges that leading healthcare is hard work, so he takes an interest in making sure their work doesn’t overtake and exhaust them, knowing they cannot be at their best in any aspect of their life if that happens.

What Can Leaders Do?

Meaningful change comes from the top. As a leader, what can you do to make your workplace more human?

  1. Speak to your employees at the time of their orientation and acknowledge the importance of work-life balance, and share some practices that encourage it. Model what you say, and ask yourself if you are also allowing yourself to be human and practice work-life balance.
  2. Integrate your messages to employees so that excellence and respect for our human nature are balanced. Emphasize that excellence includes learning from mistakes, and if we are too afraid of failure we may not be bold enough to create new solutions and find better ways of doing things.
  3. Create policies and practices that encourage new skill development within your workforce. Plan and budget for employee training and development.
  4. Assess your workplace culture. I have done this with clients using a Cultural Health Indicator (CHI) tool, and have found it to be very revealing about what makes for a flourishing workplace.
  5. Add a “People Report” to the Board agenda—before the Financial Report—to emphasize the important work people are doing to help meet organizational goals and to discuss what could be improved.

Making a workplace human is not only the right thing to do, it engages people because they are able to flourish and be at their best. The sisters who came to Indianapolis to start St.Vincent 135 years ago knew that, and they also knew that patients, families, doctors, associates, and people of all types and socioeconomic levels served by the hospital would be attracted to that kind of place. They were right.

My next blog post will explore what it means to attend to the body, mind and spirit of people at work, and how spirituality in the workplace is not limited to faith-based 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.

 

5 Things Employees Need to be at Their Best

Posted on Updated on

02b22c8

By Jim Funk

Group of business people.

People love hearing the words, “You did a great job on that project!” Most people want to do a good job, and are willing to work hard to do their best. But in the world of work, the reality is that it doesn’t always happen. Why? Certain circumstances play a role in how engaged employees are in their jobs, and these factors impact performance.

I believe that enabling employees to do their best boils down to the ability to meet 5 important needs:

  1. To be treated as a whole person – body, mind and spirit. People want to be recognized for who they are, and not simply a set of skills or productivity numbers. They bring their whole selves to work, and need some degree of nurturing and expression in each of the dimensions of the human person: physical, intellectual, spiritual, social, and leisure.
  2. To be treated fairly. Policies and practices provide clarity regarding expectations, and they help ensure that people will be treated fairly. But as everyone knows, a policy manual doesn’t provide answers to every situation. Leaders must be able to make decisions that are just. Don’t get me wrong, everyone won’t always agree with every decision a leader makes, but all decisions should be supported by a rational explanation.
  3. To have safety, security and trust. The workplace must be one that feels safe and secure, with ready access to assistance if a safety or security issue arises. But more than physical safety and security, employees in this day and age seek job security. People need to feel the organization’s leaders can be trusted to keep their word, and communicate with honesty and transparency, especially as it relates to job security. When layoffs are expected or people are let go, they should be told the truth and assisted in making the transition.
  4. To have a thriving community at work. By definition we could say that any work group is a community of people. But a thriving community is one in which people are individually and collectively at their best because the work culture recognizes the importance of relationships and teamwork. Competition between teams can also be healthy, and fun!
  5. To have meaning in their work. While work is certainly a means to making a living, people need to feel that their work makes a difference in the world. Further, there is an inherent dignity in work because it allows the person to become more fully who he or she is. People need to feel that their talents and skills are being used, and want to be given the opportunity to grow and develop so that they can reach their full potential. 

When these 5 needs are met, people feel more fulfilled and more committed to doing their best work for the organization. It might seem obvious, but what does it really take to meet these needs? First of all, organizations whose values include statements like, “a great place to work,” or “people are our most valuable asset,” must be able to live up to those and not just give lip service. Leaders who understand these needs and intentionally work to meet them are what make the difference. I would call this “holistic leadership,” because the holistic leader treats people as people and not just a skillset or a “human resource.”

What Can Leaders Do?

When I consult with organizations, I recommended that leaders ask each of their employees to write down answers to three questions:

  1. What do you need in order to do your job well and be at your best?
  2. What will it take for you to ask for and get what you need?
  3. What types of rewards motivate you and make you feel appreciated?

I suggest that they keep this sheet of paper in all of their employees’ folders, so when they meet with them or want to reward them they can be more personal and specific in addressing their needs. It works!

Please share any comments, reactions or questions you have about these ideas. If you believe you are working or have worked in an organization with leaders like those I am describing, I invite you to write about it in a reply to this blog or contact me directly. I would like to talk with you. In my next blog post we will look at the business case for holistic leadership, and what difference it can make in terms of actual outcomes.


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.