Can spirituality provide us with a competitive advantage?
Yes it can, says Ian Mitroff, co-author of A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America.
Indeed spiritual intelligence courses and their ilk are gaining popularity with many companies, like Orange, the World Bank and McKinsey. And, where America leads, Britain has often followed, so be prepared for yoga to kick off your day, meditation breaks, and even meetings to discuss esoterica like reincarnation.
“The burden created by not acknowledging the souls of employees has created a deep ambivalence with corporate America.” (Spirituality in the Workplace) The same could be said to be true for British business, so there is definitely room for inner improvement.
Yet, with much of the modern world in turmoil due to religious differences, could it really be possible to bring spirituality into the workplace? Indeed is it advisable?
Many people would find religious expression in the workplace highly inappropriate. However, spirituality is generally seen as more inclusive. It is viewed as embracing diversity of expression while underlining the interconnectedness of all life. Within that frame of reference are elements such ethics, vision, values, meaning and mission.
Spirituality should not be mistaken for religious belief. They are not one and the same. With the former, there is more emphasis on personal experience. In my opinion, it is a metaphysical expression for a subjective relationship with a higher, more complex aspect of ourselves and others. It is, as Mitroff and Denton define in A Study of Spirituality in the Workplace, “the basic feeling of being connected with one’s complete self, others and the entire universe“.
The Mayo Spirituality in Healthcare Committee class spirituality as “a process by which one discovers inner wisdom and vitality that give meaning and purpose to all life events.” While Danah Zohar in The Quantum Self believes that we are all part of everyone and everything.
If we then follow that logic, it might make sense to incorporate moments of spiritual time into the work schedule, if only to maximise the collective energy to mutual advantage. Unless the office is peopled entirely with nihilists (in which case a review of recruitment profiling might be in order), spirituality should be accommodated.
Strip away outer dogma, and the mysticism inherent in all faiths is the same. Belief in an intelligence of some sort exists even for atheists, and pragmatic spirituality simply means expanding the limitations of our conscious mind, and tuning into this other type of intelligence. Intuition, higher power, God, whatever we choose to call this unlimited intelligence, it can, and should, be tapped to corporate advantage.
One school of thought is that an ageing workforce feels more need for ‘divine reconciliation’ in its daily life. While I concur with the spiritual sentiment, I dispute the view that age is making us more aware of our mortality. Today, more pressing issues – like terrorism, natural disasters and war—affect everyone. Our beliefs are being questioned, and in some cases, pushed to the limits.
Mitroff and Denton conclude that corporates today are ‘spiritually impoverished’, suggesting that meaningful change can only occur when ‘companies find ways to integrate personal beliefs with organisational values’. However, inspirational emails and group ‘Morning Mantras’ may not go down too well with the traditional Brit, no matter much inner confusion they may feel. Indeed, some ideas may raise cynical hackles, often with reason, having a reverse effect on the corporate unconscious!
But that is not a reason to deny the enhanced creativity and proven stress reduction from moments of focused silence. Meditation works.
In the battle for shareholder value, too often corporates forget social value – the infrastructure, of people, on which profits are fleshed. It takes an exceptional soul to sell their shares portfolio because of environmental reasons or because a board member is a warmonger. However, an employee’s thoughts and actions do have positive or negative repercussions on revenue growth. The fact that one in four fakes a sickie bears this out.
Needing to find meaning and purpose in our lives is nothing new. What could be viewed as revolutionary in our secular world is that people ‘who are more spiritually involved achieve better results’.
One of the major challenges with bringing spiritual awareness into corporate life, is that most people are too embarrassed to even discuss their religious preferences let alone practise them in the perceived materialistic confines of an office environment. Yet as this earlier study shows, attention to one’s spiritual life can increase creativity, competitiveness, and even profitability.
Factor in costs of employee burnout, turnover and absenteeism, then the value of focusing attention on our inner lives should not to be dismissed.
If spiritual awareness can be brought within commercial paradigms, then reactions may skip the hostile, and move from open-minded indifference to acceptance—to the benefit of all.