Workplace spirituality

Workplace Spirituality or Spirituality in the Workplace is a movement that began in the early 1920s. It emerged as a grassroots movement with individuals seeking to live their faith and/or spiritual values in the workplace. One of the first publications to mention spirituality in the workplace was Business Week, June 5, 2005. The cover article was titled "Companies hit the road less traveled: Can spirituality enlighten the bottom line?" However, prior to that, William Miller wrote an article titled "How Do We Put Our Spiritual Values to Work," published in "New Traditions in Business: Spirit and Leadership in the 21st Century," 1992, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler. Gilbert Fairholm wrote "Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spiritual Community in the New American Workplace" in 1997 and Jay Conger wrote "Spirit at Work: Discovering the Spirituality in Leadership" in 1994, both considered germinal works in the field. Spiritual or spirit-centered leadership is a topic of inquiry frequently associated with the workplace spirituality movement (Benefiel, 2005; Biberman, 2000; Fry, 2005; Giacalone & Jurkiewicz, 2003; Jue, 2006).

The movement began primarily as U.S. centric but has become much more international in recent years. Key organizations include:

Pragya M. Kumar and his co-authors have analyzed of the influence of Indian philosophy on the teaching of management. Writing in 2010, they state that about 10% of the professors at top US business schools are of Indian descent, noting the vision of C. K. Prahalad, in which corporations "simultaneously create value and social justice." The authors cite an article characterizing the "spirituality in the workplace movement" as having become a "mini-industry." With regards to the Indian component of this industry, they state "A large number of Vedant scholars are on a whistle stop tour of the U.S. counseling executives on the central message of Bhagawat Gita to put purpose before self."

Key factors that have led to this trend include:

  1. Mergers and acquisitions destroyed the psychological contract that workers had a job for life. This led some people to search for more of a sense of inner security rather than looking for external security from a corporation.
  2. Baby Boomers hitting middle age resulting in a large demographic part of the population asking meaningful questions about life and purpose.
  3. The millennium created an opportunity for people all over the world to reflect on where the human race has come from, where it is headed in the future, and what role business plays in the future of the human race.

In the late 1990s, the Academy of Management formed a special interest group called the Management, Spirituality and Religion Interest Group. This is a professional association of management professors from all over the world who are teaching and doing research on spirituality and religion in the workplace. This action by the Academy of Management was a significant step in legitimizing workplace spirituality and spirituality in the workplace as a new field of study.


The International Center for Spirit at Work (ICSW)[1] uses the following definition in the application form for the International Spirit at Work Awards:

"The Selection Committee offers the following broad interpretation of spirituality and spirituality in the workplace as a starting point for consideration, with the recognition that each individual may have his/her own personal definitions:

The phrase "explicitly nurture spirituality" means that the topic of spirituality is openly discussed - not just assumed or implied. In the past some groups have called their initiatives Team Building or Leadership…yet what they really wanted was to create a more spiritual work environment. The drive to make a difference in the world for them was a spiritual hunger. Now they are willing to discuss this openly." (From the 2008 International Spirit at Work Award Application, p. 2).


Spirituality is shown in a workplace when the following activities are included:

Leading from within

Our complicity in world making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility—and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all.

A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good. (Palmer, p 78)

See also


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