What stops you behaving spiritually at work?

By November 30, 2009Business, Theology

I have just been reviewing an article on spirituality in management for a management journal. In many ways it was a useful contribution to the growing corpus in this field, but I was struck by the author’s easy commitment to the orthodoxy that spirituality naturally leads to ‘spiritual behaviour,’ which in turn can be measured in order to decide whether or not facilitating spirituality at work makes good sense.

Elsewhere I have discussed the notion of the ‘business case’ for spirituality, but this served to remind me again of the cart-before-the-horse problem that surrounds this debate. Consider those organisations that are officially ‘spiritual,’ permitting and in some cases requiring affiliation to a specific faith as a condition of employment. I have worked in a number of such institutions, and I cannot say I have seen any evidence to suggest that such places are characterised by manifestly ‘faithful’ behaviour of the type that seems to be assumed here, beyond embedded policies and rituals and the fact that staff may be willing to work voluntarily or for less pay. I don’t buy the standard response that this is because they are invariably ‘religious’ organisations, although there may be an institutional point to be made here. But if the lurking assumption is that spiritual workplaces are happier and more productive than non-spiritual ones, more clearly needs to be done to understand what prevents even officially spiritual people enacting their spirituality in the workplace. If, rather than being an activity, spirituality is understood as an orientation or an existential construct, the question rather becomes: does this lead to the logically assumptive behaviours (e.g., being peaceful and lovely, etc., etc.)? What helps and hinders this transfer from thought to action? What implications does this have in a workplace context, and why is that important (legal/diversity reasons as well as humanistic reasons)? This would at least generate a useful stream of potential topics for future academic attention.

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