Spirit at Work

by Sue Howard

Why now?

Many factors have combined to give rise to the growing interest in spirituality at work.

  • Financial and political scandals have raised questions about business ethics and morality, and human ones too.
  • A new paradigm in science connected with the growing awareness of the relevance of complexity theory – how systems are inter-related and part of a ‘whole’: flaws have been recognised in the ‘mechanistic’ scientific worldview, which has typically specialised and overlooked the ‘holistic’ nature’ of life. We now see that there are complex links amongst problems, amongst parts of the world and amongst aspects of our lives. Climate change is a recognisable symptom of this. With the perceived threat to the planet and the future of humanity, people are now searching for a way of living that is not harmful, but rather life-giving.
  • Corporate social responsibility – the recognition by companies that wider stakeholder concerns must be considered; there has been a subsequent emphasis on the impact businesses have in the communities in which they operate.
  • Technological advances, both good and bad – technological developments are limited in the ways they can contribute to a sense of human well-being and may have unintended consequences. Technology is not the answer to human problems and some say it may even create them.
  • Global communication – the internet has enabled interest groups to form which can challenge the status quo and share people’s values, knowledge and perspectives, enabling them to share meanings that are important to them. This knowledge sharing is empowering individuals.
  • Baby boomers in the boardroom – an influential group in the West who have now reached mid-life are questioning the meaning of work and searching for work that will enable them to integrate their personal values with their organisational roles.
  • Disenchantment with the material and the consequent search for meaning – ‘having it all’ still leaves people with a sense that something is missing. Inner restlessness is part of the human condition and spiritual inquiry and development helps people to feel less disconnected.
  • Globalisation and work-life imbalance – capitalism, economic survival, cost-cutting, re-engineering, down-sizing and so on send a message that economic values are more important than human values. Work has become harder and more stressful as people devote more of their lives to it. Often, employees feel devalued, drained and psychologically empty. The quality of people’s working lives leads to a feeling that there must be a better way.
  • Societal insecurity – the rapid rate of change, information overload, loss of family life and community, threat of terrorism and world problems all lead to a sense of uncertainty and alienation. This is creating a hunger for a deeper meaning to life – a need to find an anchor for the soul.

Overall, the interest in spirituality is driven by our sense of inner longing, feelings of emptiness and a sense of unhappiness in the ‘soul’. People describe the world as ‘messed up’; they feel insecure. The exploration of spirituality takes us on a route that helps to makes sense of some of these difficulties, both personally and collectively.