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Spirituality in Business
Corinne McLaughlin
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“Are spirituality and profitability mutually exclusive?”

In an article entitled Spirituality in Business, 1999, Corinne McLaughlin, Co-author of Spiritual Politics and Executive Director of the Centre for Visionary Leadership explores the signs of a growing realisation by business leaders that spirituality and profitability are not mutually exclusive, and gives many examples of ways in which this is being expressed.

Are spirituality and profitability mutually exclusive? A recent study done at the University of Chicago by Professor Curtis Verschoor and published in Management Accounting found that companies with a defined corporate commitment to ethical principles do better financially than companies that don’t make ethics a key management component. Public shaming of Nike’s sweatshop conditions and slave wages paid to overseas workers led to a 27% drop in its earnings, for example.

A growing movement across the country is promoting spiritual values in the workplace and pointing to many examples of increased productivity and profitability. More employers are encouraging spirituality as a way to boost loyalty and enhance morale…

To the surprise of many, this movement is beginning to transform corporate America from the inside out. Growing numbers of business people want their spirituality to be more than just faith and belief - they want it to be practical and applied. They want to bring their whole selves to work - body, mind and spirit. Many business people are finding that embodying their values - “doing well by doing good” can strengthen the bottom line.

People at all levels in the corporate hierarchy increasingly want to nourish their spirit and creativity. When employees are encouraged to express their creativity, the result is a more fulfilled and sustained workforce. Happy people work harder and are more likely to stay at their jobs. A study of business performance by the highly respected Wilson Learning Company found that 39% of the variability in corporate performance is attributable to the personal satisfaction of the staff. Spirituality was cited as the second most important factor in personal happiness (after health) by the majority of Americans questioned in a July 1998 USA Weekend Poll, with 47% saying that spirituality was the most important element of their happiness.

Across the country, people increasingly want to bring a greater sense of meaning and purpose into their work life. They want their work to reflect their personal mission in life. Many companies are finding the most effective way to bring spiritual values into the workplace is to clarify the company’s vision and mission, and to align it with a higher purpose and deeper commitment to service to both customers and community.

What is spirituality at work? There’s a wide range of perspectives. Some would say that it’s simply embodying their personal values of honesty, integrity, and good quality work. Others would say it’s treating their employees in a responsible, caring way. For others, it’s making their organisation socially responsible in how it impacts the environment, serves the community or creates social change. And for still others, it’s holding religious study groups or using prayer, meditation, or intuitive guidance at work. Some see God as their business partner or even their CEO. However, some observers fear the corporation has begun to co-opt the function of churches. Others fear spiritual beliefs or employers will impose practices, but to-date this has been extremely rare. Others warn about the potential for superficiality and the distortion of spiritual practices to serve greed.

Spiritual values that are widely embraced in business include integrity, honesty, accountability, quality, co-operation, service, intuition, trustworthiness, respect, justice, and service. Perhaps spirituality is not so much “the answer” to corporate problems, but rather a way to prompt an inquiry about them.

Why all the sudden interest in spirituality at work? Researchers point to several key factors. Corporate downsizing and greater demands on remaining workers has left them too tired and stressed to be creative - at the same time that globalisation of markets requires more creativity from employees.

To survive into the 21st Century, organisations must offer a greater sense of meaning and purpose for their workforce. In today’s highly competitive environment, the best talent seeks out organisations that reflect their inner values and provide opportunities for personal development and community service, not just bigger salaries.

Also, spending more time at work means there is less time available for religious activities. The New York Times recently reported that a growing number of companies are allowing employees to hold religious classes at work. This accommodates busy professionals who are pressed for time and afraid they have abandoned their faith. Many people are feeling more comfortable in the public expression of their faith. For some people, though, religion seems too structured and dogmatic, whereas the word “spirituality” emphasises how one’s beliefs are applied day to day.

Another factor in the popularity of spirituality at work is the fact that there are more women in the workplace today and women tend to focus on spiritual values more often. The ageing of the large baby boom generation is also a contributor as boomers find materialism no longer satisfies and fear their mortality.

Using spiritual values as guiding principles has many positive effects on business. Business Week reported that 95% of Americans reject the idea that a corporation’s only purpose is to make money. 39% of US investors say they always or frequently check on business practices, values and ethics before investing. The Trends Report of 1997 reported that 3 out of 4 consumers polled say they are likely to switch brands associated with a good cause if price and quality are equal.

The ABC Evening News recently reported that the American Stock Exchange has a Torah study group; Boeing has Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayer groups; Microsoft has an on-line prayer service. There is a “Lunch and Learn” Torah class in the banking firm of Sutro and Company, Woodland Hills, CA. and Koran classes at defence giant Northrop Grumman. Wheat International Communications in Reston, Virginia has morning prayers open to all employees, but not required. Spiritual study groups at noon are sometimes called “Higher Power Lunches” - replacing the usual “power lunches...”

In addition to prayer and study, other spiritual practices at companies include meditation; centring exercises such as deep breathing to reduce stress; visioning exercises; building shared values; active, deep listening; making action and intention congruent; and using intuition and inner guidance in decision-making. According to a study at Harvard Business School published in the Harvard Business Review, business owners credit 80% of their success to acting on their intuition…

Aaron Feurenstein, CEO of Malden Mills in Lawrence, MA, producer of polar fleece fabrics believes labour is the best asset a company has. He says a company has an equal responsibility to its community and to itself, and since Lawrence, MA has high unemployment, he kept all 3,000 employees on his payroll after a major fire destroyed 3 out of its 4 factories.

Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, with stores all over the world, purposely built their soap factory near Glasgow, Scotland because it was an area of high unemployment, urban decay, and demoralisation. She made a moral decision to employ the unemployable and put 25 per cent of the net profits back into the community because she said this is what “keeps the soul of the company alive.”

Tom Chappell, CEO of Tom’s of Maine, stays mindful of profit and the common good by giving away 10% of pre-tax profits to charities, giving employees four paid hours a month to volunteer for community service, and by using all natural ingredients that are good for the environment. Chappell re-engineered his business into a sort of ministry, saying “I am ministering - and I am doing it in the marketplace, not in the church, because I understand the marketplace better than the church.”

The American Manufacturing Association recently organised a conference called “Building Community at Work: Profiting from a Values-Based Corporate Culture,” saying “Spirituality and ethics or ‘doing the right thing’ are proving to be crucial components of your strategy for success.”

Consulting firms using spiritual approaches are doing a booming business. The Enlightened Leadership International in Colorado has been teaching top executives at major companies such as GTE, Georgia-Pacific and Lockheed Martin how to focus on what’s positive, instead of problems, because our beliefs create what we experience. Other major firms such as the Covey Leadership Centre and the Centre for Generative Leadership teach Fortune 500 executives how to align their company’s mission with their deeper values…

The spirituality in business movement is one of the signs that corporations, as the most powerful institutions in the world, may be transforming from within. What is emerging is a new attitude towards the workplace as a place to fulfil one’s deeper purpose. As Kahlil Gibran reminds us in The Prophet, “Work is love made visible.”

Source: World Goodwill Occasional Paper, April 1999



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