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March 24, 2017

Spirituality in the Workplace

Christopher Anne Robinson-Easley, Ph.D

Christopher Anne Robinson-Easley, Ph.D
CEO/Enlightening Management Consultants, Inc.

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Note:  This article is in its entirety excerpted from  Beyond Diversity and Intercultural Management, Christopher Anne Robinson-Easley, 2014, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pgs. 22-24.   

When we simply look at the topic of spirituality in the workplace and its connection to valuing humanity, we see a literature that continues to grow.  Moving beyond the academic literature and expanding into the trade literature as well, people are suggesting that the concept of spirituality and optimal human development have a direct impact upon organizational performance, productivity and profitability.

What really is this connection to spirituality and its relationship in embracing humanity?  Why is this connection a better perspective than “managing diversity”?  Why should organizational leaders even care enough to go to this level of paradigmatic change towards their workforce?  After all, in today’s economic environment where jobs are steadily being cut, is not it enough that an individual has a job?

Spirituality and its connection to humanity includes the basic feeling of being connected with one's self, others, the transcendental—the universe.  It is a feeling that energizes action.  This connection moves an organization toward ultimate values, which if achieved will make the global ethical travesties previously mentioned unthinkable.  And, this connection fosters the recognition of an inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work in the context of community.  Lastly, this connection helps to move people towards personal envisioned growth (Mohamed, Wisnieski, Askar and Syed, 2004). 

When workers are encouraged in their workplace to self-actualize; thereby realizing his or her highest “self”, (e.g. linking issues of transcendence towards ultimate values via privileging one’s personal context, history, cultural values and lens—ergo their micro cultures) they become far more valuable to their organization.  The organization does not have to work through the many disconnects between an organization and their workforce because of broken trust, psychological contracts, and feelings of being undervalued.  For example, in the United States, for far too long the perceived breaking of psychological contracts, exacerbated by increased layoffs have continued to negatively impact organizational productivity and profitability.  Many people feel devalued in their organizations—a feeling that can and will manifest itself into the workforce’s output, thereby directly impacting productivity and profitability. 

Years ago, my human resource colleagues and I were working with a diversity consultant at a time when diversity training was just becoming “popular.”  Upon completing her employee interviews and debriefing us, she asked if we had a problem with our product becoming rusted (this incident occurred at one of the major steel manufacturers).  We responded “Yes” and the manufacturing department could not figure out why.  She responded that the employees were so angry with the organization that they were urinating on the product to “get back at us”.  I never forgot that incident and others that I encountered in my years consulting where organizations would face significant backlash when people felt devalued.

At some point, we have to continue reiterating a need for a “healing” between workers and their respective employers—which I believe begins with the organization recognizing the individualities of their respective workforce.  This healing is particularly important due to the demographic shift in the makeup of today’s workforce.

Similar to Dr. Drucker’s propositions on the demographic change that was coming, just seven years after his treatise on the topic, Johnston and Packer (1987) who worked with the Hudson Institute, a major think tank organization, suggested changing demographics of our U.S. workforce that would statistically equalize the playing field for women.  Yet, over a quarter of a century later, women still make (in the same jobs) less than men.  Their projections also identified the rapid growth of Hispanics in our workforce and other ethnic immigrants—projected outcomes which I began to see actualize while recruiting in the 1990s.

Globalization is expanding recruiting boundaries without requiring individuals to relocate.  And, the literature on how to manage intercultural relationships continues to grow.  Therefore, as we invoke diversity strategies from multiple contexts, be it the lens of diversity, multi-culturalism or any other socially appropriate term we wish to apply, we should simultaneously question our ability to understand the respective actors from their many layered social and cultural perspectives—their lens. 

Our willingness to engage in also understanding their hearts and souls will help answer the question as to whether we should intentionally use more culturally appropriate points of reference for developing strategies of change that help people feel liberated in multiple environmental contexts while also empowering them to reach their fullest potential (Hopkins, 2005).  Our ability to provide a transcendent view of difference is the only way I believe we will effectively grow as a global society.  Equally important, as we work to provide a transcendent view of difference, it should be an authentic effort and not one ensconced in programmatic initiatives.  Our failure to engage in an authentic transcendent view of difference can only result in a shallow understanding of people and equally shallow change oriented strategies, or as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”[i]

[i] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/annotated_letter_from_birmingham/, downloaded 5/6/2013" 

Robinson-Easley, C. (2014) Beyond Diversity and Intercultural Management, New York:  Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 22-24.

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