success stories

Posted February 13, 2003

Spirituality in the Workplace

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Today's workplace often not only consists of offices activated by the hustle-bustle of daily business, but also exhibits an aura of spirituality. A Muslim attorney prays on his office rug. Early in the morning, members of Congress meet for a prayer breakfast. A company-hired chaplain counsels and prays with a Taco Bell cashier, whose husband is in prison, and a large corporation complex houses meditation rooms.

Such scenarios are increasing in number. But what exactly is triggering this heightened interest in spirituality in the workplace?

In a story in Business Week (Nov. 1, 1999), one business professor says: "Spirituality could be the competitive edge."

Implied in this statement is the principle that we produce best when we are one with ourselves and when our resting heart rate is brought low through spiritual centering.

The truth in this principle is undeniable. The Muslim who stops his business activities to kneel and pray goes from frantic activity to restive meditation. By changing his posture from sitting behind a desk to kneeling, he now sees life from a humble position rather than from on high.

Members of Congress who start their morning together as praying men and women enter into a collective, meditative, tranquil atmosphere that enables them to meet a chaotic day with the calm needed to think more clearly and to produce more effectively.

But is spirituality in the workplace really all about centering and soothing people so that they can produce better? Is it primarily pragmatic -- a spirituality that "pays," so to speak?

No doubt this is a motivating force in workplace spirituality, but I believe the reasons for the growth of this phenomenon reach much deeper and find roots in a search for deeper meaning in life.

One immediate reason for the increase of spirituality in the workplace is the daily talk of war, be it with Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan rebels, or terrorists. We are in a new age of fear that is bringing us to our knees.

Perhaps many of us have ample access to many of the things that symbolize "the good life." A problem remains nonetheless. As desirable as it may be to own a home filled with luxuries, to have a job that pays well and to achieve recognition for one's efforts, finding peace of mind remains a challenge. Unless we find ways to employ the "perks" of our life for the good of others, we end up feeling empty and restless.

More than this, I believe that the increase of workplace spirituality reflects a holy restlessness -- a dissatisfaction with the icons society holds up as signs of the good life. There is a growing sense that excellence, lasting values, sounder principles and higher standards are missing.

The harmony that comes with the truly good life is absent. This may translate into a need for stronger ethics, greater loyalties, truthfulness, honesty and community in the workplace. In life in general, it may mean there is a need to be more generous, self- sacrificing and concerned for those who have less than we have or more caring toward those we love.

When we boil these needs down to one, what we discover is a need for deeper spirituality; a need that more and more people in the business world are recognizing and trying to meet.