Spirituality in the Workplace
© 1996, by Martin Rutte
President, Livelihood, Santa Fe, New Mexico (505) 466-1510
(This is an updated version of an article
that first appeared in the popular business book, Heart at Work,
by Jack Canfield & Jacqueline Miller.)
The nature and meaning of work are undergoing
a profound evolution. Two forces are helping to catalyze the momentum
of this process fear and the emergence of both a more personal
and widespread spirituality.
The fear is about losing our job and having
to do more with less. And the emergence of spirituality in the workplace
points to the desire that there be more to work than just survival.
We yearn for work to be a place in which we both experience and express
our deep soul and spirit.
Fear in the Workplace
There are several factors causing an increase
of fear in the workplace.
The first is massive corporate downsizing.
The benefit of downsizing is that it does increase profits. Moreover,
it cuts the fat and the excess while streamlining the organization.
But downsizing also has a downside. It causes pain and suffering. In
addition to the pain felt by those people who have been let go, those
who are still left are asked to increase production with less resources,
in the same amount of time, and for the same pay.
They feel stressed out and bone-tired.
They are anxious about the security of their job and often are resentful.
And most painful of all, they don't see any light at the end of the
Downsizing works in the short-term; in
the long-term, what's lost is loyalty, engagement, experience, creativity
and the full expression of spirit.
A second factor is that more work is moving
offshore. Years ago, it was just manufacturing work. Now it's also service
jobs. India and Israel, for example, are becoming key sites for the
development of computer software. We thought that there were certain
types of work that would always remain in the developed world
that these were "our jobs," like service and new technology
development it's just no longer so.
And what about successful companies
laying people off? That's never happened before. The understanding used
to be that when a company was in fiscal trouble it would lay off people
and when the company was successful, it would keep and even hire people.
But with re-engineering and new advanced technology, there is a need
for less people, so successful companies are downsizing.
When you put all these factors together,
you're taking the work contract the implicit agreement that I
would come to work for you for life, the belief in security of employment
and smashing it. The message is crystal clear, "You don't
have a secure job anymore." And that causes insecurity, it causes
anxiety, and it causes fear.
There is a growing sense of "dis-spiritedness"
in individuals and in the overall workplace. The spirit has been shut
down. It can't fully express itself. There is a sense of dis-engagement.
It may not be completely quantifiable, but people can and do feel the
lack of spirit in their workplace.
All of this doesn't need to paint a completely
bleak picture. We can look at these very same factors from another,
more useful perspective the spiritual. The security we thought
we got from the corporation is a myth. Real security comes from a connection
to that which is truly secure the spirit. We are in the process
of moving from "dependent children" at work, with the parental
company looking after us, to really coming into our full, adult Selfhood.
From this new reality we can begin exploring and expressing more of
our true spiritual selves.
The Emergence of Spirituality
In addition to fear, there is a compelling
inner longing for spiritual fulfillment. There are several factors present
in society reflecting the emerging desire for personal and collective
The baby boomer generation is now entering
its 50's. People are reaching mid-life and looking at those issues that
are characteristic for this age issues such as: "What is
my legacy?"; "What are the long-term values that I want to
leave behind?"; "In what other arenas of life do I want to
invest my energies now that I've reached the peak of my career?";
"What is really important to me as I begin to see my parents, aunts
and uncles start to die?" These kinds of thoughts are usual for
people in mid-life. What is unusual, however, is that the baby boomer
generation is so large. When it begins to think about these issues,
then society follows. As spirituality emerges for baby boomers, the
whole of society is affected.
Concern and involvement with the bio-environment
also reflect an emerging sense of the spiritual. The environment is
both life supporting and gives us an awareness and consciousness of
the whole. It reveals to us how we are interconnected and interdependent.
And when you think about that, that's a very spiritual metaphor.
"When the concept of human
spirit is understood as the mode of consciousness in which the individual
feels connected to the Cosmos as a whole, it becomes clear that ecological
awareness is spiritual in its deepest sense." Fritjof Capra
Yet another factor is the maturing of
the scientific paradigm. We thought we could solve all the world's problems
with science. We thought we could eventually understand everything through
science. But the more we know, the more we find out we don't know. Science
has been divorcing itself from the spiritual for several hundred years.
However, science without spirituality is like a wave without the ocean.
A growing number of scientists realize this and are moving more into
These three factors are indicative of
the overall emergence of spirituality in our time. Popular culture also
reflects this in the growing number of books, movies, and TV programs
about spirituality. And spirituality in the workplace is part of this
What Is Spirituality?
I've found that when people ask me the
question, "What is spirituality?", what they're really concerned
about is, Will I have 'the Answer'? or some other dogmatic
response. They're afraid that I've already got spirituality defined
and that they will disagree with my definition, which will then cause
separation. People are afraid that I (or anyone else speaking about
spirituality) will shove a particular point of view down their throats.
This approach offers the listener no opportunity to search for his/her
The journey is not about spirituality
as "the answer," but about spirituality as "the question."
A question allows you to look more deeply. It allows you to search for
what's true for you, and in so doing, deepen your own experience. But
ultimately, what moving from answer to question does is make it safe
and permissible to explore this territory in a way that is useful.
What is spirituality for you? Where is
spirit or spirituality not showing up in your workplace? Where
is it flourishing? Explore these kinds of questions, at work, for yourself,
your relationships, your division and your company. And in this questioning,
in this exploration, notice the deepening of your own experience of
spirituality at work.
Spirituality in the
What would a more spiritual workplace
mean for people? It would mean that work would move from merely being
a place to get enough money to survive from just earning our
daily bread to being a place of livelihood. By
livelihood I mean a place where we both survive and are fully alive.
We are alive in that our spirit fully expresses itself. And through
our contribution, we allow other people's spirits to be nourished and
to flourish. Livelihood has, at its core, three meanings for
work: survival (you're alive), enlivening of the individual Self (you're
aliveness), and enlivening of the collective Self (their aliveness).
What are the benefits of a more spiritual
workplace? One of the primary benefits is that people are more in touch
with the Source of creativity. As business people, we realize the value
of creativity and innovation. Creativity is a cornerstone of business.
It allows us to come out with new products and services that really
are of service. It allows us to do more with less. In essence, creativity
leads to more efficient contribution.
As we move more into a service and technological
economy, we want to continually expand innovation and creativity. But
you can't demand that of people. "Human capital" has to be
treated differently than "financial capital." You have to
create an atmosphere in which creativity and innovation flourish; and
that is accomplished through the bountiful expression of spirit. When
we are more in touch with the Source of creativity, there is also revitalization,
renewal and resilience.
Another benefit is increased authenticity
in communication. A lot of the work I do as a consultant is to create
a "safe space" in which people feel permission to talk about
their truth without fear of reprisal. Businesses aren't accustomed to
doing this as a matter of normal everyday practice. However, when the
truth is allowed to be safely and respectfully spoken, old problems
clear up, new possibilities emerge, and people feel more aligned. They
work together in a trusting team.
Increased ethical and moral behavior is
yet another benefit. But who cares if a company is ethical? Isn't business
just a place where you see how much you can get ahead? In a word, no.
An important value of ethical behavior for a business is the development
of trust. We trust people who operate in an ethical framework. Employees
trust employers. Employers trust employees. And customers who trust
a company stay customers longer.
Spirituality in the workplace also promotes
the expression of talent, brilliance and genius talent in the
sense of our Divine gifts; brilliance in terms of our intellect and
the intensity of the light we have to shine; and genius not as a scarce
commodity, but as something that everyone has. Our true job is to connect
with that genius. And moreover, spirituality in the workplace also leads
to increased self-fulfillment, contentment and a deep sense of belonging.
In most businesses today, spirit and spirituality
aren't talked about. The first thing that needs to happen is to make
it safe and permissible to talk about it, as normally and as naturally
as the many other conversations we have at work, such as: profitability,
innovations and personnel issues.
We start this simply by beginning. Talk
to those you trust, talk to others in business, talk to your colleagues,
but begin to talk about it. There may be an initial fear, but after
a while, the momentum will be unstoppable.
Managing in the New
Today, we live in the transition period
between the old definition of work as survival and the new definition
of work as livelihood. New management techniques and new organizational
structures are needed to handle this emerging context.
Management in the survival mode has been
based on command and control. The way you get people to produce is by
telling them what to do and making sure it gets done. But in a spiritual
workplace, productivity is achieved through nurturing the expression
of the self and the spirit. Our job, as leaders, is to facilitate the
discovery of spirit, to esteem it, to celebrate it, and to hold others
accountable for their expression of it. Support your employees and colleagues
in being clear that part of their job responsibility is to fully express
their spirit, their life purpose, and their gifts.
A senior vice-president of a large utility
company told me that one of the roles of companies in the future will
be to help employees discover their life purpose and to make sure that
their work is consistent with and demanding of that purpose. Imagine
what would happen," he said, "if you had a company in which
all the people were doing their life's work. You would have more loyalty,
more resilience, more creativity, more innovation, and a deeper sense
of self-reliance, self-renewal and self-generation."
Another new management function will be
helping people unleash and express their full, creative spirit. One
of the ways to do this is to reconnect people with their artistry, whether
that's music, painting, dancing, poetry or cooking. Poet, David Whyte,
author of The Heart Aroused, goes into companies and reads poetry.
Boeing Aircraft is one of his ongoing clients. The managers he works
with begin to realize other aspects of themselves. Poetry helps them
delve more deeply into their creative self, and it helps contribute
to new insights, both personal and corporate. (Another great way for
you and your employees to reconnect with your creativity is to read
and do the exercises in The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron.)
The next phase of the evolution of work
has begun. Spirituality is becoming more openly recognized as an integral
part of work. If this is something that speaks to you, that you want
more of in your workplace, I invite you to jump in!