A Study of Spirituality in the Workplace

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In this empirical study of spirituality in the workplace,1 we report on our results from interviews with senior executives and from questionnaires sent to HR executives and managers.2 In general, the participants differentiated strongly between religion and spirituality. They viewed religion as a highly inappropriate form of expression and topic in the workplace. They saw spirituality, on the other hand, as a highly appropriate subject for discussion. This does not mean that they had no fears, reservations, or ambivalence with regard to the potential abuse of spirituality. Nonetheless, they still felt it was essential.

They defined “spirituality” as “the basic feeling of being connected with one’s complete self, others, and the entire universe.” If a single word best captures the meaning of spirituality and the vital role that it plays in people’s lives, that word is “interconnectedness.” Those associated with organizations they perceived as “more spiritual” also saw their organizations as “more profitable.” They reported that they were able to bring more of their “complete selves” to work. They could deploy more of their full creativity, emotions, and intelligence; in short, organizations viewed as more spiritual get more from their participants, and vice versa.

People are hungry for ways in which to practice spirituality in the workplace without offending their coworkers or causing acrimony. They believe strongly that unless organizations learn how to harness the “whole person” and the immense spiritual energy that is at the core of everyone, they will not be able to produce world-class products and services.

In recent years, a large amount of mostly popular literature on spirituality has grown steadily,3 a significant portion of which deals with spirituality in the work-place4 and the benefits of such workplaces. In spite of or perhaps because of this literature, there have been, until now, no serious empirical studies of what managers and executives believe and feel about spirituality or assessments of its purported benefits. If spirituality is a fundamental, important human experience, why has it not received serious attention and systematic treatment?5 Some reasons for this neglect are:

  • Spirituality is generally believed to be a phenomenon that is too soft, too nebulous, and too ill-formed for serious academic study. It is difficult to define, thereby rendering it nearly impossible to examine.
  • U.S.



1. See I.I. Mitroff and E. Denton, A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999), in press.

2. Ibid.

3. See, for instance, J. Hillman, The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling (New York: Random House, 1996);

T. Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life (New York: HarperPerennial, 1994; and

T. Moore, ed., The Education of the Heart: Reading and Sources for Care of the Soul, Soul Mates, and The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).

4. See L. Bolman and T.E. Deal, Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995);

A. Briskin, The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996);

T. Chappell, The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Good (New York: Bantam Books, 1994);

J.A. Conger et al., Spirit at Work: Discovering the Spirituality in Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994);

B. Cohen and J. Greenfield, Ben & Jerry's Double-Dip: Lead with Your Values and Make Money, Too(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997);

B. DeFoore and J. Ronesch, Rediscovering the Soul of Business: A Renaissance of Values (San Francisco: NewLeaders Press, 1995);

M. Novak, Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (New York: Free Press, 1996); and

J.K. Salkin, Being God's Partner: How to Find the Hidden Link Between Spirituality and Your Work (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1994).

5. See W. James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Collier Books, 1961).

6. See Conger et al. (1994).

7. See Mitroff and Denton (in press).

8. P.B. Vail, Spirited Leading and Learning (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998).

9. A.H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: HarperCollins, 1954).

10. It is claimed that such systematic links exist between the actual profitability of organizations and their spiritual beliefs; however, it is probably too early to say at this point that such linkages are definitive. See:

D. Macic, Managing with the Wisdom of Love: Uncovering Virtue in People and Organizations (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997).

11. N. Mjagkij and M. Spratt, Men and Women Adrift: The YMCA and the YWCA in the City (New York: New York University Press, 1997); and

Chappell (1994).

12. Cohen and Greenfield (1997), p. 30.

13. See, for example:

Chappell (1994); and

Cohen and Greenfield (1997).

14. K. Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (Boston: Shambhala, 1996).

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Comment (1)
Owen Cooper
If you talk about spirituality in an abstract way then it should not be a problem in the work place and many people can keep it at this level. But when you start to get personal about spirituality then things get a bit more difficult and it can be hard not to offend someone who has strong beliefs that you disagree with.