Corporate Spirituality in South Africa
by Katharine Lee

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With company’s struggling to survive, could spirituality in the workplace be the answer?

With Company’s Struggling To Survive, Could Spirituality In The Workplace Be The Answer?
With today’s socio-economic climate being a major contributor to the negative impact of stress experienced by corporate executives as well as employees across the board, could the answer be to introduce ‘Corporate Spirituality’ into the workplace?

But what is meant by spirituality? Is there a religious connotation to this or is it simply the practice of basic ethical values such as truth, accountability, quality, co-operation, service, intuition, dependability, respect, justice and service?

In generic terms, however, the word ‘spirituality’, means the transformation of consciousness outside of the structures of existing institutionalised religions, rather than the word ‘religion’, which might invoke fears of dogmatism, exclusivity and fanaticism in the workplace. 

Times have changed and people are working the equivalent of over a month more each year than they did a year ago. The office is where more and more people eat, exercise, date, and drop off their kids. Although many large corporations do have wellness programmes, with fully equipped gymnasiums on the premises, and support from fitness professionals, in-house medical facilities and relaxation spaces, there just is no time left for spiritual and religious activities. With limited free time; people are now hungry for ways in which to practice their spirituality in the workplace without offending their co-workers or causing acrimony.

Many companies, however, are very nervous about introducing the sacred into the secular business world, as they run the potential risk of offending workforces comprised of different cultures and belief systems.

Controlling absenteeism

The cost of absenteeism to a company can have a major impact on many facets of its business. They appreciate at some level the importance of a healthy workforce, because healthy employees take less time off work, are more enthusiastic and motivated, and generally more productive. So, in addition to Corporate Wellness Programmes, company managers and owners are now investigating ways in which to meet their employees’ spiritual needs, so as to raise the standard of all aspects of their business, not least their profit margin.

Advantages

Although the business community has revealed understandable scepticism regarding the appropriateness of spirituality in the workplace, a growing body of research, reveals that bringing ethics and spiritual values into the workplace can reduce stress levels, lead to increased productivity, improved turnover, profitability, good employee retention, customer loyalty, and improved brand reputation.

The first empirical study of the issue ‘A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America,’ published in October by Jossey-Bass, found that employees who work for organisations they consider to be spiritual, are less fearful, less likely to compromise their values, and more able to throw themselves into their jobs,

Disadvantages

With spirituality gradually seeping through the doors of large corporations as part of wellness programmes, if encouraged in all its forms, it could get out of hand. Spiritual conflicts could erupt when people from different denominations clash.

Perhaps it should become company policy that the spiritual and religious belief systems of staff must remain confidential and that they may not bully-pulpit the promotion of their religion onto other staff members. In addition, spiritual activities may only be performed at pre-determined times during the day, and these may not overflow or interfere with the normal running of the business.

Methods

Many companies are finding that the most effective way to bring spiritual values into the workplace is to clarify the company’s vision and mission; to align itself with a higher purpose and deeper commitment to staff and service to both customers and community. Most companies and executives are careful to stick to a cross-denominational message that’s often referred to as secular spirituality, that focuses on the plurality messages common to all great religions, such as connecting with a power greater than oneself, respecting the interconnectedness of all actions and things, and practising principals like these, also puts a premium on free expression and eschews cramming beliefs down people’s throats.

Prayer and Meditation

Many people use prayer at work for several reasons: for guidance in decision making, to prepare for difficult situations, when they are going through a tough time, or to give thanks for something good. Apple Computer’s offices in California have a meditation room and employees are given a half hour day on company time to meditate or pray, as they find it improves productivity and creativity. A room set aside for prayer or meditation is especially appreciated by Muslims, as they must pray five times a day.

In addition to prayer and spiritual study groups, other spiritual practices include, centring exercises such as deep breathing to reduce stress; positive thinking and visioning exercises; inner self exploration; active, deep listening, Shamanic Vision Quests, and using intuition and inner guidance in decision making. 

People Are the Most Important Resource

Increasing numbers of business people find that the key area for applying spirituality is in how employees are treated, because people are a company’s most important resource.

“When people come to work, they bring their problems with them,” says Alison Johnson, the Ottawa director for corporate chaplaincy for Outreach Canada, the evangelical group that’s looking to bring spiritual care onto the job. “That is why we encourage companies to enlist the aid of corporate chaplains to help their employees deal with all the messy stuff they are supposed to leave at home – depression, grief, marriage breakdown and other personal crises.”

Benefits

Having a chaplain on call means that managers have more time, because they no longer have to deal with employee’s personal problems. Through professional counselling, families become reconciled, marriages rebuilt and suicidal staff and family members are able to receive help.

Meeting the spiritual needs of a workforce in this manner makes good business sense, because it cuts down on absenteeism, burnout and turnover.

In the African context, however, although many black South Africans have embraced the Christian Faith, there are still many who pursue their cultural beliefs. When it comes to personal problems they may respond more favourably to an African Diviner who can put them in touch with their ancestors, to give them the invisible support that they need.

Conclusion

Despite the controversy and questions posed around spirituality in the workplace, it is an activity that companies and executives simply cannot afford to neglect. Renewing the spiritual dimension provides leadership in life. The spiritual dimension is our core, our centre, our commitment to our value system. It’s a very private area of our lives and a supremely important one. It draws upon the sources that inspire and uplift people and ties them to the timeless truths of all humanity.

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