Spirit at Work

by Sue Howard

Personal spiritual development

There are many different ways to begin to support the advent of more spiritual workplace practices. Various approaches can be employed at the individual, group and organisational level. The interplay between individual and organisational spiritual values is particularly instrumental.

Spirit at work conversations

In 2001, the company QinetiQ began to convene informal weekly lunchtime conversation groups around the theme of spirit at work. The groups followed a conversational process outlined by Whitney Roberson in her book, Life and Livelihood, a Handbook for Spirituality at Work. The simple 45-minute format opened up a reflective space in which people could begin to have important conversations on issues such as ‘what is real wealth?’ and ‘how can we do good work?’

A surprisingly large number of people attended these lunchtime sessions, which over the course of three years became more influential when senior managers started to come along. The conversation groups therefore had some impact on supporting staff to feel more engaged in the organisation and to bridge the gap between the stated values and values-in-use of the organisation, as the former weren’t being consistently lived out.

Personal approaches

You might find it helpful to try some of the following approaches (some of the exercises in this section have been adapted from Lamont Associates workbook, Transform your work life in 21 days).

  • Spend time in solitude and silence – listen to your inner voice, think about who you are and who you are becoming. Even if you take as little as one to five minutes sitting at your desk, this simple activity will bring you rich rewards. Longer periods of contemplation will help to establish the value of this to you.
Stillness exercise

Sit quietly and be aware of your breath. Breathe in... out, deep... slow. Allow your body and mind to become calm and still and be aware of your breathing. Repeat for as much time as you have.

You can do this today, at the outset of your next work meeting. It will only take a few unseen moments as papers are shuffled and latecomers are arriving and will enable you to approach the meeting with a clear and calm mind.

  • Develop practices that help you to be more open to spiritual wisdom, such as prayer, meditation, relaxation and walks in nature.
  • Read relevant spiritual books, according to your beliefs.
  • Use a journal to aid reflection; you might try ‘free writing’ – just writing without stopping to see what is on your mind and heart. You could start straight away by taking a piece of paper and simply writing how you are feeling right now about your job.
Journal exercise

Write down your thoughts and feelings about your workplace and current situation. What is the main issue facing you? What are your feelings about it?

  • Develop self-knowledge, through attendance at workshops on Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram, for example, which can help give insights into your functioning and way of being, and the kind of spiritual practices you may find most helpful.
  • Find the sources of inspiration in your life – write down chronologically the people, books, events and highlights of your life that have affected you and helped you to become the person you are today. What implications does this have for your work? What might you choose to do differently?
  • Talk with others and seek feedback about yourself.
  • Develop your listening skills. A really good listener simply listens with all of themselves: the inner voice which is thinking what to say in reply is silenced, the thoughts flashing back to one’s own life are laid aside.
Listening exercise

At work today, pick just one conversation and really practise listening.

The skill of listening is a core skill and instrumental in creating a fulfilling and rewarding workplace. Listening alone can help to transform your workplace.

Review each day, noticing how you react to situations or people.

Review exercise

Draw a line across a page. In the lower half, recall the moments of irritation, disappointment, unease or annoyance: the negatives. Above the line, add the moments that have bought a smile to your face or a sense of satisfaction. These two half pages make up one whole.

There is no right or wrong to it. This page simply represents the parts of your life where there is a sense of well-being, and also where there are areas of ‘desolation’ and where something needs to be learnt, understood or released. If you take ten minutes a day to do this exercise, you will begin to develop an awareness of where you find peace in your life and where you might need to address some issues.

Summarise ‘What I have learnt’, noting down any insights you have gained.

  • Be thankful. What is there that you can be thankful for? Find a way to thank someone today for the difference they have made to you.
  • Pay attention to significant dreams.
  • Participate in the activities of spiritual communities, perhaps going on a retreat or away day – look in The Good Retreat Guide for inspiration.
  • It is particularly helpful to have a soul-friend or mentor or spiritual director to whom you can talk, revealing some of the deeper aspects of your personal journey.
Jo Edwardes’ story

I was in a transition phase. My job as a data analyst was being made redundant when the company was taken over. I had been wanting for some time to make more of a difference with my life and to do something that was more meaningful. In my spare time I had been putting together a social networking site that would give people a way to support their favourite charitable causes at the same time as maintaining connections with people in their personal and professional lives.

In the most providential way, I met a couple of people who were exploring how to bring more of the spiritual dimension of life into work. They offered to be my ‘spiritual mentors’ and took me through eight sessions that were all about exploring my spirituality and how this linked to my leadership capacity.

Working with the mentors was, for me, a revelation. I remembered who and what I am. I have discovered levels of energy, competence and confidence in myself which I wanted to believe were possible but for whatever reason was never sure of. The mentoring programme helped me start to become the business leader I had always hoped I would become. And the results in what has been achieved are very evident to me. In many ways such an in-depth approach is not for the timid, but the outcomes are very real. I am now CEO of my own business – I genuinely don’t think I would have got here without the support of my spiritual mentors and would highly recommend this approach to personal leadership development to anyone who wants to live more meaningfully.

  • If you have a religious faith, invite God to help you on your spiritual journey.
  • Try the following exercise, taken from Lamont Associate’s reflective process:
Values and visions exercise

What are your core values? What is your highest vision?

To discern answers to these questions, imagine you only have 12 months to live. What is it that you want to do before you die? It may not be possible financially for you to leave work, so think in terms of what you would want to have accomplished at work over that period.

Note down the thoughts that come to you.

Now imagine that you are strong and powerful and have plenty of years of life ahead of you. What would you really love to accomplish, assuming you were free to do whatever you wanted?

Make a note of this.

By addressing the questions in this manner, you may be able to get a clearer sense of what’s important to you. What changes might you consider making now, to achieve what’s really important in your life? What support do you need to make those changes?

Make some more notes.

Tomorrow, read your notes and notice how your thoughts have changed and grown.

What are you going to do as a result of your new thinking?