Spirituality in the Workplace: Bolting or Bolted?

According to the Pew-Templeton Global Futures Project c85% of the global population is formally affiliated to a spiritual worldview. On top of that, a proportion of those not formally affiliated would still, nevertheless, describe themselves as spiritual.

Yet despite this reality, the modern corporation has (mostly) sought a highly "aspiritual" approach to its strategic and operational thinking. Which means people have been attempting to leave it at the door. But people can no more leave their worldview at the door than they can their lungs. Eventually, something was bound to give.

So, as the noise around corporate behaviour has grown, it is without surprise that in the past 24 months I’ve heard a significant increase in references to spirituality in a secular, working context. Something is definitely afoot.

In 1999, Ian Mitroff wrote a seminal work called "A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America". This book was perhaps the first major empirical work on people's attitude to, and approach towards, spirituality in the workplace. This was not a religious book. It was not exploring whether people pray at their desks. It was a serious, methodical examination of value systems and how people expressed those in the context of their jobs.

Mitroff argued that no longer can "organisational science avoid analysing, understanding, and treating organisations as spiritual entities." He called for an awakening of the recognition of spirituality both at the personal level however an individual defined it (although his team was surprised to find a much narrower definition than conventional wisdom dictated), and at that of the body corporate.

The definition of spirituality that his team were led towards was a basic desire for meaning and purpose, one that did not want to compartmentalise life. His data suggested that organisations which identified more strongly with spirituality had employees who:

  1. were less fearful of their organisations
  2. were far less likely to compromise their beliefs and values in the workplace
  3. perceived their organisations as significantly more profitable
  4. reported that they could bring significantly more of their complete selves to work, specifically their creativity and intelligence.

All of those characteristics are desired by the forward thinking corporate; they're enormously valuable in generating purposeful, profitable enterprises, especially when the values of the organisation are aligned with those of the individuals within it.

Mitroff's research, now 15 years old, was carried out when the worldview of organisations was not nearly as fired up about delivering social and environmental change. Today the question is not whether Mitroff's statistics have grown in strength and scale, but by how much.  Patricia Aburdene (one of the authors behind the Megatrend series of books) argues that the rise of spirituality in the workplace is a trend that's about to become a megatrend, one that will dramatically change the way we do what we do.

So be bold and explore the concept. It will be a journey of challenge and enlightenment, one that would catch a rising wave at just the right time.