A Growing Movement

A proliferation of book titles (currently over 500) reflects a growing national movement to bring spiritual values into the workplace: The Soul of Business, Liberating the Corporate Soul, Working from the Heart, The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace, Jesus CEO, What Would the Buddha Do At Work?, Spirit at Work, Redefining the Corporate Soul, The Corporate Mystic, Leading with Soul, etc. Some books on this theme, such as Stephen Covey’s pioneering The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, have sold millions of copies.

There are several national newsletters and associations based on spirituality at work, as well as dozens of national conferences on this theme, including one I organized in Washington in 1998 with over 50 leaders, including many from local businesses such as Marriott International and Riggs Bank. The prestigious American Management Association held a conference on “Profiting from a Values-Based Corporate Culture”-on how to tap into the 4th dimension of spirituality and ethics as crucial components for success.

To the surprise of many, this movement is beginning to transform corporate America from the inside out. Growing numbers of business people want their spirituality to be more than just faith and belief-they want it to be practical and applied. They want to bring their whole selves to work-body, mind and spirit. Many business people are finding that the bottom line can be strengthened by embodying their values. They can “do well by doing good.”

People at all levels in the corporate hierarchy increasingly want to nourish their spirit and creativity. When employees are encouraged to express their creativity, the result is a more fulfilled and sustained workforce. Happy people work harder and are more likely to stay at their jobs. A study of business performance by the highly respected Wilson Learning Company found that 39% of the variability in corporate performance is attributable to the personal satisfaction of the staff. Spirituality was cited as the second most important factor in personal happiness (after health) by the majority of Americans questioned in a USA Weekend poll, with 47% saying that spirituality was the most important element of their happiness.

Across the country, people increasingly want to bring a greater sense of meaning and purpose into their work life. They want their work to reflect their personal mission in life. Many companies are finding the most effective way to bring spiritual values into the workplace is to clarify the company’s vision and mission, and to align it with a higher purpose and deeper commitment to service to both customers and community.

Leadership Development Prayer and Meditation in the Workplace

Many people use prayer at work for several reasons: for guidance in decision-making, to prepare for difficult situations, when they are going through a tough time, or to give thanks for something good. Timberland Shoes CEO Jeffrey B. Swartz uses his prayer book and religious beliefs to guide business decisions and company policy, often consulting his rabbi. Kris Kalra, CEO of BioGenex uses the Hindu holy text, The Bhagavad Gita, to steer his business out of trouble.

The ABC Evening News reported that The American Stock Exchange has a Torah study group; Boeing has Christian, Jewish and Muslim prayer groups; Microsoft has an on-line prayer service. There is a “Lunch and Learn” Torah class in the banking firm of Sutro and Company in Woodland Hills, CA. New York law firm Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hays and Haroller features Tallmud studies. Koran classes, as well as other religious classes, are featured at defense giant Northrop Gumnan. Wheat Internatonal Communications in Reston, Virginia has morning prayers open to all employees, but not required. Spiritual study groups at noon are sometimes called “Higher Power Lunches” – instead of the usual “power lunches.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that Marketplace Ministries of Dallas placed freelance chaplains at 132 companies in 38 states. Fellowship of Companies for Christ International based in Atlanta has 1500 member companies around the world. They promote “The importance and practice of prayer in company decisions; a commitment to excellence; following Jesus’ example of focusing on people, not things. “Do unto others in the workplace as you would have them do unto you,” is what they strive for. Fast food companies such as Taco Bell and Pizza Hut hire chaplains from many faiths to minister to employees with problems, and credit them with reducing turnover rates by one half.

In addition to prayer and study groups, other spiritual practices at companies include meditation; centering exercises such as deep breathing to reduce stress; visioning exercises; building shared values; active, deep listening; making action and intention congruent; and using intuition and inner guidance in decision-making. According to a study at Harvard Business School published in The Harvard Business Review, business owners credit 80% of their success to acting on their intuition.

Apple Computer’s offices in California have a meditation room and employees are actually given a half hour a day on company time to meditate or pray, as they find it improves productivity and creativity. A former manager who is now a Buddhist monk leads regular meditations there. Aetna International Chairman Michael A. Stephen praises the benefits of meditation and talks with Aetna employees about using spirituality in their careers. Avaya, a global communications firm that is a spin-off of Lucent/AT& T, has a room set aside for prayer and meditation that is especially appreciated by Muslims, as they must pray five times a day.

Medtronic, which sells medical equipment, pioneered a meditation center at headquarters 20 years ago, and it remains open to all employees today. Prentice-Hall publishing company created a meditation room at their headquarters which they call the “Quiet Room, where employees can sit quietly and take a mental retreat when they feel too much stress on the job. Sounds True in Colorado, which produces audio and video tapes, has a meditation room, meditation classes and begins meetings with a moment of silence. Employees can take Personal Days to attend retreats or pursue other spiritual interests. Greystone Bakery in upstate New York has a period silence before meetings begin so people can get in touch with their inner state and focus on the issues to be discussed.

Lotus founder and CEO Mitch Kapor practices Transcendental Meditation and named his company after a word for enlightenment. A research project by Prof. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin at Pomega, a biotechnology company that had a very high-stress workplace, found a mindfulness meditation training produced astonishing results in reducing stress and generating positive feelings.

Paula Madison at WNBC TV in New York City prays before each show and says she became the number one news show in the area when she increased coverage of spiritual stories. Apparel manufacturer Patagonia provides yoga classes for employees on their breaks, as does Avaya telecommunications. A Spiritual Unfoldment Society has been meeting regularly at The World Bank for years, with lectures on topics such as meditation and reincarnation.

Executives of Xerox have gone on week-long retreats led by Marlowe Hotchkiss of the Ojai Foundation to learn a Native American model of council meetings and experience vision quests. The vision quests inspired one manager with the idea to create Xerox’s hottest seller, a 97% recyclable machine.

The CEO of Rockport Shoes, Angel Martinez, talks openly of the spiritual mission of his company and encourages employees to spend work time envisioning ways to express their deepest selves in their work. Companies such as Evian spring water have successfully used spirituality in their advertizing, as for example.: “Your body is the temple of your spirit.”

The Service-Master Company, with six million customers world-wide, provides cleaning, maintenance, lawncare and food services, and puts its spiritual values upfront in its annual report. It begins with a biblical quote, “Each of us should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”