Spirit at Work

by Sue Howard

Common questions

  1. What does spirit at work mean?
  2. What is spirituality?
  3. How do religion and spirituality differ?
  4. Why is spirit at work important?
  5. What difference does spirituality make to individual employees?
  6. What is organisational spirituality?
  7. How can I introduce or improve ‘spirit at work’ in my own work environment?

1. What does spirit at work mean?

Spirit at work is about creating a culture in the workplace that draws on a mix of spiritual traditions and gives people within that business the permission to explore their personal and collective inner needs and aspirations as part of their work. It’s about creating an organisational culture that is open, trusting and encouraging; that recognises the desires, passion and huge potential of its people, and that cultivates people and grows from within.

Organisations which support such cultural ideals can put mechanisms in place to create an atmosphere of sharing and inspire a sense of common purpose – ultimately, such cultures help people to explore meaning. By acknowledging people as assets and seeing their potential beyond their current role, people are freed up, a sense of community is nurtured and this releases more energy and fun. Spirit at work is essentially ‘a giving culture’, where people are encouraged and rewarded to be creative.

Everyone has a role to play, and is valued, within the organisational community and, wherever possible, the wider community.

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2. What is spirituality?

When people try to describe spirituality they come up with things like

  • Application of deeply-held beliefs
  • Living a life that has meaning and purpose
  • Using my gifts and creativity
  • Valuing human life
  • Expanding awareness of my relationships with others
  • Embracing the uniqueness of everyone
  • Sensing God’s presence in my life
  • Being in nature and looking after the planet.

Definitions seem to centre around three areas:

  1. The basic feeling of being self-aware and in relationship with others, nature & God (or faith)
  2. Underlying principles such as values, morals, ethics, virtues, emotions, wisdom, intuition
  3. Relationship between inner experience and outer manifestations in practices and behaviours – a journey of personal development and growth.

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3. How do religion and spirituality differ?

Religion offers more discrete or identifiable sets of beliefs and values and is associated with particular institutions or denominations. Religious belief often involves assenting to concepts or propositions as set forth in doctrines or creeds (or even dogma). Spirituality is seen as a personal journey which is broader and more inclusive than religion, based on a wide variety of traditions. Similar to faith, it is a quality expressed by an individual, not the system; an orientation of the whole person, which gives purpose to individual hopes and strivings.

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4. Why is spirit at work important?

Spirit at work is not first and foremost about achieving goals, making more money, becoming better managers, finding ways to get others to do what we want, or even about becoming happier, although any and all of these may and do happen when it is taken seriously. What it is about is abundant life: living fully in each moment, paying attention to what’s happening within us and around us, understanding what our lives are about and how we’re meant to make a difference within the larger communities of which we are a part.

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5. What difference does spirituality make to individual employees?

Spirituality in the workplace includes the sense that one’s work makes a contribution to a common purpose; through it a person can be in connected with others and to something larger than self. Individually, spirit at work refers to:

  • Encouraging a sense of meaning and purpose – having clarity about spiritual values
  • Developing and using a person’s full capabilities (intelligence, passion, skills) – the ability to demonstrate and communicate one’s potential fully through work
  • Serving others, making a difference– contributing to the common good
  • Connectedness with others – a sense of belonging and being in community
  • Authenticity and integrity: alignment of spiritual, moral and ethical values with actions and behaviours – character

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6. What is organisational spirituality?

The great ‘difference’ that spirituality offers is its capacity for radical transformation. When you look into any spiritual practice, you will find it yields insights into personal change or transformation, self-knowledge and inner learning. Since people and organisations are continually facing change, both planned and unanticipated, it makes sense to gain some understanding from spiritual wisdom, which has been supporting deep change for centuries!

Organisations that have taken spirituality into account might have the following internal and external characteristics:

External:

  • Strong commitment to social responsibility
  • Employees and management actively involved in the community, especially in charitable activities
  • Aesthetically pleasing and spiritually nurturing buildings and grounds
  • Communication of spiritual values in its relationships with customers and vendors
  • Use of spiritual imagery and terms in marketing and public relations
  • Active involvement in the spirituality in workplace movement.

Internal:

  • Employees see their work as vocational, a calling; an opportunity to grow and make a difference, and contribute to something that matters
  • Leaders are enlightened and compassionate and have a commitment to their own spiritual values and practices
  • Teams are spirited, passionate and committed
  • The organisation is values driven
  • The organisation is willing to hold itself accountable for its values as well as for the bottom line.
  • The organisation is creative, flexible and adaptive
  • There is a sense community and even, at times, of family
  • Strong commitment to being of service to each other, to customers, and to the world
  • Long-term orientation; willingness to make business decisions based on the common good rather than a short-term emphasis on maximising profit.

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7. How can I introduce or improve ‘spirit at work’ in my own work environment?

By simply asking the question you have already begun to bring more spirituality to light at work! It is important that you are congruent about living in alignment with your own beliefs and values. It is worth taking some time to be clear about your own personal values.

Organisational transformation is often begun by inspirational leaders using a variety of tools, including spiritual ones, to redirect the organisation’s vision and mission or its purpose and meaning. It is this transformational idea that often inspires the followers and frees them up to contribute and participate more going forward.

If you are able to, you might encourage an environment that can be seen as a ‘safe space’ for sharing deeper thoughts, ideas and questions. This could be as simple as convening a monthly lunchtime conversation group or supporting the idea of a ‘quiet room’ that provides a place to reflect. You might also like to cast a fresh eye over your work environment – does it help you to orient your day well? You might add things to your desk that help you remind yourself of your spiritual values throughout the day.

As your awareness of spiritual values grows, you may wish to prioritise and develop your own engagement with spiritual practices such as times of stillness, reflection, meditation, prayer and so on. You may find this leads you to make insightful connections at work or with other people in your workplace.

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