The spiritual workplace 2.0
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post called “The spiritual workplace: It’s about connection.” I’ve gotten some replies asking if I could expand on the topic, and so for this post, I will review and then provide a continuation of the concepts about fostering the human spirit and a spiritual workplace.
What is it to be spiritual?
In the original post, I defined spiritual by first suggesting a definition or concept that we can consider of the term “spirit.” I provided the idea of each of us as being a body, mind, and spirit, and I suggested that we could view our spirit then as:
- Witness: The part of us that witnesses ourselves and life.
- Awe: The part of us that is touched by love, peace, and beauty.
- Essence: The energy of who we are (that others can sense, feel, and experience).
- Meaning: The part of us that seeks meaning and purpose.
- Liveliness: The will to live and desire to thrive.
- Connection: The part of us that feels connected to each other, life, and nature.
Other spiritual practitioners have also been asked to define spirit or spirituality, and they have done so differently. In an article, “Integrating spirituality at work: An interview with Ken Wilber,” the author asked Wilber how he defined spirituality, and he provided four ways:
- A transrational state: a state of the “upper reaches” of cognition or consciousness.
- A peak experience: a moment of feelings of oneness or transcendence.
- A stage of development: a development process akin to other forms of development.
- A type of attitude: an attitude of openness, compassion, caring, or loving.
Another author, Brian Luke Seaward, defines spirituality in the book, The road to wellness: finding your path to health & well-being, as: “the maturation of higher consciousness as expressed through three facets: relationships, values, and a meaningful purpose in life.” Again, those components are:
- Higher consciousness through:
- Relationships: insightful and nurturing relationship with oneself and others.
- Values: the development of a strong personal value system.
- Meaning/purpose: the cultivation and fulfillment of meaning/purpose.
What is the true definition?
There isn’t one. I speculate that if you asked 100 people what spirit or spiritual or spirituality is, you might get 100 different answers. The “spirit” is not something that we can objectively observe and measure. So, in order to put words to this, we have to go with conceptions — even if they are abstract. However, I do encourage each of us to have our own description. We don’t have to believe what others believe, but we do need to figure out how we want to conceive of our own spirit.
What if the spirit is just parts of the mind?
In hearing these spiritual definitions, someone replied to me that they believe “the spirit” is just a part of the mind. They believe that we are only body-mind, and not body-mind-spirit. My response is, “That is OK!” My intention with presenting the concept of “the spirit” or being “spiritual” (especially for the workplace) is not for the conviction of the states of being, but rather that we focus our attention on the concepts we are using to define it, no matter what we call it.
Why don’t you equate spirit with god?
I choose not to for this post because of the diversity of beliefs in the workplace. Our society tends to equate being “spiritual” with believing in a god or higher power, and/or a religious affiliation. The consequence of that association is that when people choose not to believe in those things, then we falsely assume that they are not spiritual. However, we all have a “spirit,” and we are all “spiritual,” no matter our beliefs. My intention is to provide us with a secular definition.
Why have we denied the human spirit at work?
I’m neither a historian nor social anthropologist, but I wonder if we have strayed due to:
- Separating church (mind/spirit) and state (government and daily operations);
- Separating medicine (the body) and psychology (the mind);
- Separating western medicine (the body) and eastern or indigenous medicines (body-mind-spirit);
- Industrial revolution (and seeing people as means of production);
- Mass production (focusing on quantity of production);
- Science (focusing on objective measurement and quantitative data);
- Technology (focusing on information, communication, machines, and computers); or
- The shift away from religious practice, and/or religious affiliation.*
[*There has been a shift over the years of those either labeling themselves with a religion, but not practicing, and/or choosing not to affiliate, identifying as: atheist, agnostic, non-religious, non-denominational, trans-religious, or as Facebook has labeled it, “spiritual but not religious.” In 2017, a Gallup report revealed Americans are 37 percent highly religious, 30 percent moderately religious, and 33 percent not religious. Additionally, a Pew Research Center report says that those under 40 are more likely not to affiliate.]
Questions to ponder
With all these shifts, what have been the spiritual consequences? Have we lost “our spirit”? Have we lost a way to cultivate not only our spirit but human values, long associated with religious practices? Human values such as, but not limited to:
- Acts of service
[*Faith often connotes a belief in a higher power or religious order, but for this post, I mean it as having faith in ourselves, in others, in life, and that we can overcome challenges and figure things out together.]
Workplace as possible forum
Other than through religious practice, where can we dedicate ourselves to discussing and developing human values? Many would say school, and yes, that is an ideal start. However, what about after school? With most of us employed for most of our lives, could we use the workplace as a forum for cultivating these things?
The human spirit at work
Professionally, fostering spirituality in the workplace has been researched and written about for a while, but it has not yet been widely discussed and disseminated as a leading idea. In 2006, Val Kingerski and Berna Skrypnek of the University of Alberta proposed a human ecological model of spirit at work. They write:
“Spirit at work is a distinct state characterized by profound feelings of well-being, a belief that one is engaged in meaningful work, a connection to others and common purpose, a connection to something larger than self, and it has a transcendent nature.”
To itemize this for us, spirit at work is characterized by a sense of:
- Being a part of something larger than ourselves and is transcendent (beyond the physical)
Individual and organizational factors
In their model, Kingerski and Skrypnek explain that spirit at work is influenced by both individual and organizational factors. Individual factors include inner harmony, positive energy, conscientiousness, openness to possibilities, compassion, seeking deeper meaning and purpose, and seeing work as an act of service.
What I found more interesting for employers, though, were the organizational factors, which include:
- Inspiring leadership
- Strong foundation
- Organizational integrity
- Positive workplace culture and space
- Sense of community
- Professional and personal growth
- Recognition of contribution
I found these organizational factors more interesting because they give employers tangible things that they can focus on to create a spiritual workplace, even if they don’t use the term spiritual.
The key: Inspiring leadership
Out of all the organizational factors, Kingerski and Skrypnek found that inspiring leadership is the key to fostering spirit at work.
The late Dr. Wayne Dyer would say that inspiration or being inspiring is being “in-spirit” (or being connected to our spirit). When someone is inspiring or is an inspiration to us, it means that they (their spirit) touched us in such a way that we (our spirit) felt guided or pulled or directed toward something that they represent. That could be a personal or company vision or mission, or a way of doing things, seeing things, or even just a way of being in the world. A person’s whole essence can be inspiring. We can meet someone and say, “I want to be like her!”
What would spiritual leadership be then? In addition to “inspiring,” we could combine the various definitions of spirit/spiritual/spirituality from this entire post, and say that spiritual leadership is:
- Witness: being aware, practicing mindfulness, pausing for reflection.
- Awe: being able to feel and express awe or gratitude for positive things.
- Essence: having an “in-spirit” energy that people feel and want to be with.
- Meaning: having a sense of meaning and purpose driven by values.
- Liveliness: having a will to live and desire to thrive; even through challenges.
- Connection: feeling and developing connection to others (and other living things).
- Faith: having belief in the fortitude and resilience of themselves and others.
- Hope: having an optimistic attitude, with hope for the future.
- Love: noticing, feeling and communicating appreciation with others.
- Trust: having and developing trust in their teams.
- Kindness: being kind to others.
- Compassion: being compassionate and having empathy for others.
- Forgiveness: being forgiving to themselves and others for mistakes or failures.
- Acts of service: doing things to help others (especially in times of need).
We’ve considered a lot in this post about being “spiritual,” and what we could do to cultivate spiritual workplaces. In the last post, I ended with the section “Want to foster the spirit of your company? Here are some tips to start.” If you haven’t read that yet, I would go back and do so, as those tips are still relevant.
To conclude our expansion of ideas today, there are many ways we can conceive of the “spirit.” No matter what we choose to call it, it is the essence of who we are as humans. We are not just our bodies or our minds (although I know some would argue that). I believe we are spiritual beings who gravitate toward creating meaning. We feel inspired by human values like faith, hope, and love. We also feel compelled to do work that aligns with values, connects us to others on the same mission, and where we feel that what we do and how we contribute matters. We crave to be inspired, to be led by vision, and be part of something larger than ourselves. Employers can help by bringing spiritual concepts into the workplace and making inspiring/spiritual leadership a priority. Through focus and integrity, employers can promote human values, and provide a sense of meaning and purpose to all who work for them.
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