Spirituality in the Workplace

When these three Ps — people, purpose and profits — are said in the same sentence, management walks a wary path. Even more so when words such as "love" or "soul" or "spirit" are used in association with the career world. These are not words we commonly hear in a boardroom. They are words we associate more with morals, religion and relationships.

Yet that’s exactly what you hear more and more in the management world as companies seek to be sustainable, not just profitable. Intangibles are staging a comeback.

Are you tired of trying, and failing, to divide yourself between work and home? Do you no longer want to leave your heart and your fuller self at the door and take only your hands and your head into work, your body a mere vehicle to ferry you between the two?

There is a growing wave of information and examples of people like you who are attempting to change this stereotype, who are trying to lead integrated lives while retaining their viability as managers, leaders, workers and makers of profits. Many are succeeding. The successful ones are being noticed, especially when they are influential, powerful and well known.

Increasingly, you hear successful leaders are having to draw on their own values and ethical base to demonstrate the credibility that has been so threatened by the last decade, and more, when many businesses have put profit before people.

Our respect for businesses that trade customer service for short-term monetary gain is waning at a rapid rate. "Profit before people" has increasingly become ‘profit before service’. Customers want more than just the product or rhetoric. Politicians increasingly listen to the concerns of disgruntled constituents in their search for another term of office. The development of the Australian Ethical Investment tells us how many people agree they want something more than a quick return attached to their sharemarket dollar.

Qualities such as trust, integrity, loyalty and even authenticity are no longer uncommon words in leadership literature, management journals and business books.

When people like Michael Rennie of McKinseys say “values, spirit, cultural capital and meaning are as important as the bottom line, cost-containment and corporate strategy”, you know there’s change afoot.

People like Ricardo Semler, of Semco in Brazil, Richard Barrett and Michael Rennie of McKinseys, are talking about the intangible things that used to be the stuff of everyday conversations. They speak of trust and integrity, care and social responsibility. They use words like ‘cultural and social capital’, and they don’t mean buildings. The St James Ethics Centre is a well-established organisation educating business on the importance of mixing work and ethics to succeed.

Semler recognised that his people were more than the selves they brought to work, and implemented changes to Semco, a Brazilian manufacturing industry, to treat employees like the responsible adults they were in their community life. He developed a transparent and self-responsible working environment where as much power as possible was devolved to employees through a participative process, in contrast to the company’s previous distrustful authoritarian approach.

Michael Rennie, as a Director of McKinseys, one of the world’s largest and most respected consultancy firms, bases much of his work on the writings and experience of Richard Barrett, a psychologist who has built on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow plotted human development as a move through:

  • security
  • relationship
  • self-esteem
  • self-actualisation

Rennie, based on Barrett’s work, has initiated an intervention with Woodside that has now run over a couple of years. Its purpose has been the development of ‘intangible assets’, such as values, as a basis for creating and sustaining a high-performing corporate environment. From an employee focus, the initiative has spread to include families of employees, as the cultural and relational support systems became apparent and valued.

Others, like Bob Lutz of DaimlerChrysler, and Ralph Larsen, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, are talking of the role of intuition, hunches and gut feeling as a valid and valuable basis for decision making for managers, especially higher managers and leaders. “…when I have a tremendous amount of quantitative information that’s already been analysed by very smart people I earn what I get paid because I will look at that information and I will know, intuitively, whether it’s a good or bad deal”2, says Ralph Larsen.

Bob Lutz turned his company from a fading icon in 1988 into a regenerated giant by following his gut instinct to develop the Dodge Viper, a powerful, expensive, sexy sports car that almost singlehandedly changed the public’s perception of the company.


Beyond IQ

A growing wave of conferences, magazines (such as the Journal of Business Ethics), seminars and degrees are focusing on intangibles like these. If you look at many management degrees, you’ll find topics such as Self-Management and Ethics in Business. Things like emotional intelligence (EQ) and spiritual intelligence (SQ) are now commonly accepted as concepts providing information too important to be ignored.

EQ was pioneered by Daniel Goleman, who was not convinced that IQ (intelligence quotient) was enough to help you in the complex networking world of the new millennium. He developed ideas and strategies that focus on your abilities to handle emotional states and capitalise on relating skills. He realised they were essential skills to maintain relationships in career as well as in personal life. In the age of networking, relational skills reached a premium.

Following EQ, Zohar and Marshall developed the idea of SQ to try to explain why we’re just not satisfied with more and more money or more and more goods. They decided to bring into the business and corporate world ideas we previously associated only with religion or dogma but now no longer limit to these.

Their definition of SQ is “an intelligence with which we address and solve problems of meaning and value; the intelligence with which we place our actions and our lives in a wider, richer, meaning-giving context; the intelligence with which we can assess that one course of action or one life-path is more meaningful than another.” It’s no longer enough to be big or powerful or profitable. Business and government are realising that sustainable profits depend on factors even more intangible than e-business! They depend on people bringing their passions and their creativity to work; on thinking outside the square and outside the expectations of business; they depend on holding full-spectrum thinking and co-operative interrelationships, not only within the company, but between companies, society and the natural world.

A more mature set of skills and sensitivities is needed than those required of us in the workplace even 30 years ago. Developing those skills and commitments is now being seen as essential for workplace wellbeing — some even say, social and planetary wellbeing.

What you can do

Michael Rennie found after tackling a bout of cancer, “There were two people within me — one was the person who loved the excitement and the stimulation of the material world. I love the world and life. I love business, and I don’t have much fear about it, I just enjoy the game. And there was another part of me that was increasingly reflective… There was a struggle between the two me’s… After the cancer I came to realise that it wasn’t a choice — it was about integration — and I came to know that if I didn’t integrate the two, I would get sick again.”

For all the marvellous initiatives around, the business world can also be very sceptical of the need for a focus on intangibles relating to people rather than technologies or finance. So if you’re interested in making changes in your workplace there are many options. The first is to do the work on yourself, which gives you the deep certainty and confidence that makes these concepts contagious. Other ways to implement change include:

  • Work on ‘and’ solutions at work, not either/or. How can the sales and the finance areas be satisfied? What gets a good profit and keeps customers’ loyalty and respect? How can you have a life which richly includes work and all the other things you are interested in? How can creativity and passion and work and profits coexist for mutual benefit?
  • Develop relationships based on trust and respect — find where you can trust and respect your colleagues and your work. Build on that.
  • Be clear why you are doing the job you do. What added value does it give you? What added value do you give it?
  • Be clear what is ‘fair trade’ (agreed exchange) and what is ‘extra’. Don’t be a martyr. Find a way where you keep your ethics. Accept you are choosing the whole package, or change it, or change yourself.
  • Resentment does not build harmony. Speak your truth. Don’t expect it to be the only truth. Find the higher truth that accommodates and incorporates all the truths.
  • Change can be externally focused, internally focused or both. What is possible for you in your situation? Do the possible and build on it. Change what you can and know what can be changed. Know the difference.
  • State your values in your work by your deeds and your words — but to yourself first! Is your love of beauty reflected there; your sources of inspiration; your favourite colours; something living to remind you of the patterns of life? Is the future you are creating represented there? Are the values you are seeking to keep alive represented at work?
  • Nurture your own serenity and vision so it’s strong enough to affect your work, rather than work affect it. Devise practices at work that let you drop into your centre — daydream, look out a window, catch a glimpse of a favourite scene or cartoon, take in a favourite object; clear rubbish.
  • Challenge division, exclusion, abuse and disregard by being inclusive, supportive of what you value, and respectful of others and yourself. Cut out the complaining. If you catch yourself, take one more step and say what you would like instead. Then take another step and consider how you would work toward that. Then do it, or stop complaining, since you are not willing to change yourself.
  • Associate with others with like values — at work and out of work.
  • Acknowledge we all have the same deep core values of seeking safety, security and a place where we feel free to expand. Our work and business is one way we do this. Acknowledge it is only the way we go about reaching our goals that may need changing. Some ways are clumsy; others create enormous ‘fallout’; others are no longer relevant or supportive of the issues they were first created to enhance. Some are difficult and uncomfortable as people feel threatened or unsafe. All are paths people hope will take them ‘home’. All are paths that worked sometime. In business, personally, or interpersonally.
  • Aim for sustainable work practices. These are good practices. Include rest and review, fluctuating pressures and the capacity to tolerate the process of creation, creativity and change.
  • Know how you fit. Be willing to be part of a larger whole, whether it’s your team, your industry or society. Be clear what your commitments are in supporting the larger whole and the future. Keep them.

The self awareness phenomenon of self-creating reality and reality as a reflection of mind meet up with business sense and inner beliefs. It’s a powerful combination. The age-old nexus of spirit and money is coming out of the woodwork to be looked at again.


It’s about integration and balance, about finding what values you cannot operate without, about finding people and work where others share the same ideas and are willing to test them out in the corporate and daily world. It’s actually about not drawing a line between what you believe and what you do, between what your belief system is and how you relate to the world at large.

The people and the literature are out there. I’ve included some reading at the end. Remember, the more people test their beliefs in the corporate world of work, the more we will know if it is possible to mix spirituality, leadership and management, and to integrate purpose, vision and practicality to inspire business and community in our practical authenticity.


The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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