Can Reina, a long-tailed and very colourful female Macaw parrot, a few cups of warm organic cocoa, and long hikes in the deep tropical forests of Costa Rica hold the answer to some of the world’s most pressing business challenges?
A recent case study of a startup company struggling with employee turnover, engagement, and low morale shows the effectiveness of a different approach to addressing these issues. The company implemented several strategies to promote workplace spirituality, including organising a spiritual retreat in June 2022 for all its employees, focusing on redefining the company’s values and purpose.
Employees participated in various activities during the retreat, such as mindfulness and meditation practices, yoga, a cacao ceremony, and nature walks in the tropical forest. They had the opportunity to connect and discuss the company and its values. The management team also took the time to listen to the feedback and ideas of the employees and involve them in defining the company’s purpose.
The retreat was a turning point for the company; its employees returned to their workplaces with renewed energy, motivation and commitment. They also developed a shared understanding of the company’s purpose and direction, which helped them to align their values with the company’s goals. They felt that they were working towards something more meaningful.
Back in the office, the company also implemented a series of new practices, such as regular meditation sessions during work hours, a focus on open communication and ethical behaviour, opportunities for community service and volunteer work and providing support for personal and professional development. A few months later, the company noticed a significant improvement in employee engagement and performance, increased customer satisfaction and, most notably, improved resilience during the intense period of a new product launch.
This story illustrates how workplace spirituality can have a positive impact on both employee well-being and business outcomes. “Workplace spirituality” refers to recognising and promoting the spiritual dimension of an organisation’s culture and the individuals who work within it. It can include practices for the body, mind, heart, and soul such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, meditation, prayer, and mindfulness, as well as values such as compassion, honesty, authenticity, and respect. It is important to note that while many perceive spirituality and religion as related concepts, they can also be distinct. Religion refers to a set of beliefs, practices, and rituals related to the worship of a higher power or deity while spirituality refers to the search for meaning and purpose in life and may not necessarily involve the worship of a higher power or the acceptance of specific beliefs.
The concept of workplace spirituality has a long history, with roots dating back to the early 20th century and the work of management theorist Mary Parker Follett. She argued that organisations should strive for a balance between efficiency and humanity by recognising the spiritual dimension of work and the inherent value of the individual. Follett, along with Lillian Moller Gilbreth, was one of two great women management experts in the early days of classical management theory and was also called the “Mother of Modern Management”. Instead of emphasising industrial and mechanical components, she advocated for what she saw as the far more important human element, regarding people as the most valuable commodity present within any business.
In the decades that followed, the concept of workplace spirituality has been embraced by some and criticised by others. Proponents of workplace spirituality argue that it can have several benefits for employees, including increased job satisfaction, lower levels of stress and burnout, and improved well-being. These benefits may lead to improved performance, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and other business outcomes.
However, some critics argue that workplace spirituality may be at odds with pursuing profits and that it may be difficult to reconcile the two. Others argue that spirituality in the workplace can be a tool to manipulate employees or to justify unethical behaviour.
Despite these criticisms, there is evidence to suggest that organisations which adopt a more holistic approach to business success, including a focus on workplace spirituality, may be better able to achieve long-term financial success. For example, a study by Den Hartog et al. (2004) found that a measure of spiritual leadership was positively related to organisational financial performance. Another study by Wong-MingJi and Chen (2010) found that organisations with high spiritual intelligence had higher financial performance.
There are many ways in which workplace spirituality can contribute to Workplace Excellence. Improved employee engagement and retention, enhanced team performance, increased customer satisfaction, increased ethical behaviour, and improved financial performance are all potential outcomes of focusing on workplace spirituality.
So, what can organisations do to promote workplace spirituality? Here are a few strategies:
- Encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work: Create a culture that values and recognises the spiritual dimensions of employees’ lives rather than treating work as purely transactional. Provide opportunities for employees to practice Tai Chi, yoga and mindfulness, meditation or prayer during working hours and open spaces where they can seek moments of silence and introspection.
- Communicate the organisation’s values and purpose: Ensure employees, customers, and other stakeholders are aware of the values and purpose of the organisation and how they align with spiritual values. It is helpful when employees understand the bigger picture and align their work with the organisation’s higher purpose, creating a sense of purpose for employees and fostering a sense of belonging.
- Encourage ethical and compassionate leadership: Foster a leadership approach that emphasises ethical behaviour and compassion, which can create a positive culture where employees feel valued and respected. Managers who role-model these values, provide opportunities for employees to make ethical decisions and create an environment of trust and respect are more likely to foster a culture of spirituality in their workplace.
- Provide opportunities for community and service: Encourage employees to work together to achieve common goals and participate in volunteer opportunities in the community. Community work can foster a sense of connection and community among employees and align the organisation’s work with higher ideals and values.
- Provide employee support and development: Create opportunities for employees to grow professionally and personally. Offer training programs that align with the organisation’s values and the employees’ spiritual dimension. These can be programs on emotional intelligence, stress management, communication, teamwork or leadership development.
In conclusion, workplace spirituality can play a significant role in promoting Workplace Excellence. By prioritising the spiritual dimension of work, organisations can improve employee engagement and retention, enhance team performance, increase customer satisfaction, foster ethical behaviour, and achieve financial success. However, it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to promoting workplace spirituality, and organisations should approach it in a way that aligns with their values and goals.
- Chua, R. Y. (2017). Spirituality and leadership: An examination of conceptual and empirical developments. Journal of management, spirituality & religion, 14(3), 167-197.
- Follett, M. P. (1940/2013). Dynamic Administration: The Collected Papers of Mary Parker Follett. Martino Publishing.
- George, J. M., & Park, J. (2019). The meaning and measurement of spirituality in organisations: A review and research agenda. Journal of management, spirituality & religion, 16(1), 1-39.
- Luthans, F., & Avolio, B. J. (2003). Authentic leadership development. In The handbook of leadership development (pp. 421-438). John Wiley & Sons.
- Milliman, J., Czaplewski, A. J., & Ferguson, J. J. (2003). Workplace spirituality and employee work attitudes. Journal of organisational change management, 16(4), 426-447.
- “The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations”; Talcott Parsons, transl., 1947; distilled from Weber’s multi-volume work, “Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft” (Economy and Society).
- Barbara B. Moran, Library and Information Center Management, 9th ed. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited, 2018, 36.
- Wong-MingJi, D. J., & Chen, Z. X. (2010). Spiritual intelligence and its relationship to transformational leadership. Journal of management, spirituality & religion, 7(4), 307-338.
About the Author
Yiannis Lagos is a respected business professional and accomplished Business Excellence Fellow (FBEI) with extensive experience in Workplace Excellence. With a deep understanding of the importance of Excellence, Yiannis has made it a core focus in his consulting and coaching, helping organisations improve continuously and create a more harmonious and fulfilling work environment for all.
Yiannis holds advanced degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science and has recently added an international best-selling book to the list of accomplishments with The Book of Harmony – Awakening, which reached bestseller status in its first days of release. The book delves into the power of spirituality and shows how each person can harness it to drive more harmony and fulfilment.