The obsession with capital accumulation and the resulting idolatry of money have created an impersonal economy and competitive workplace that aims at getting the most out of people, while lacking a truly humanistic purpose. However, past crises have nudged a mindset shift towards an emphasis on compassion with respect to organizational purpose. As a result, organizational practices are expanding to encompass concerns about spirituality and purposeful jobs that create ‘the greater good’. Nowadays, multiple stakeholders demand that organizations serve as communities that produce positive outcomes for the individual, the community, and society. It is time to rethink work practices and to let the concepts of ‘work’ and ‘labour’ contribute to making societies more sustainable and inclusive, by elevating humanity through spiritually-driven individuals and organizations.
Workplace spirituality and why it matters
The emergence of the spiritual perspective in organizations, referring to a shifting of business ethics towards business spirituality, is connected to the idea that there has to be something more to work beyond a pay check: a desire to thrive rather than just survive. Spiritual leaders are described as individuals who do not create businesses for mere material gains, instead their concerns transcend self-centredness and involve a people-society-environment perspective.
The spiritual tradition teaches that achieving happiness through an infinite desire for accumulating material wealth is an illusion1, challenging traditional business concepts and seeking desirable outcomes for society that benefit humanity. The focus is on creating more ‘relational goods’, rather than ‘positional goods’, which comes down to helping one another instead of competing with each other. The spiritual journey of the individual, as well as the organization, progresses from focusing on the benefits for the self, towards creating benefits for others. Empowering the spiritual side means going beyond self-preservation, beyond short-term material gains, and learning that life is about own transformation and serving a higher purpose. In other words, doing good for the sake of good, even when it does not seem profitable or convenient. According to the spiritual perspective, people achieve personal growth when they nurture quality relationships with and contribute to helping others, which is possible if one goes beyond egocentrism. It is about seeing human beings as interconnected instead of separate from each other.
‘My life is my argument’
Having worked for a highly-unethical company, I have discovered the importance of spirituality in the workplace; I quit my high-paid job for a lower-paid one with a purpose. When I started working as a human resource specialist, I thought I had enough knowledge and expertise to rise up to the tasks that were expected of me. I had all I thought I wanted: a good salary, fringe benefits, and an opportunity to work for a foreign company with employees from different backgrounds. However, after one year with the company, I realized I had to ‘sell my soul’ in order to climb the corporate ladder. During this moral dilemma, I decided it was time to break the familiar in order to create the new, thereby adopting an interconnectedness perspective to work.
What caused the shift? When the company became middle-sized, some changes were implemented in the name of control and efficiency. As a result, an atmosphere of fear, high staff turnover, and employee dissatisfaction surfaced. The managing director pushed for rigorous policies, whereas the employees sought better working conditions. People were treated disrespectfully, since the foreign owner was sceptical about trusting ‘the locals to do a good job’, evoking overall dissatisfaction among the employees – and I was part of that system. This led me to question myself and my purpose in the company. Not being able to overlook injustices, I handed in my resignation.
During the process of my personal transformation resulting from these events, I embraced a spiritually-driven approach to work. What once seemed important, became less appealing to me. This shifted my interest towards contributing to the improvement of society, with the hope of creating a positive change in the world. I have ‘become the change I want to see in the world’ and I am much happier and productive doing work that matters.
Workplace spirituality is about purpose beyond one’s self – being visionary and energized by the power of the soul. According to this perspective, the work we do and how we act at work cannot, and should not, be separated from who we are and what we do relative to the rest of our life. The problem is that employees’ behaviour at work is often inconsistent due to ambiguous or conflicting demands. This is why it is important to encourage open dialogue, self-awareness, and self-questioning and to question the organization’s purpose in order to create and sustain caring, altruistic, and purposeful workspaces.
Talking about the need for workplace spirituality and spiritual leadership, I suggest empowering a leader-to-leader relationship among all organizational members, rather than a traditional top-down approach. This calls for self-leadership and assumes high self-awareness and morality across all individuals in the organization. One of the critical stakeholders for supporting spiritual work practices and organizations are the employees themselves. Employees are not passive victims, but active agents who can influence organizational practices by following their own agenda in choosing where to work and by choosing work that is purposeful.
Shouldn’t we all contemplate the necessity of systems and processes that no longer serve a good purpose? Essentially, this is about what we can reinvent and improve to include what we have rejected or overlooked. In the end, it will not matter how much we had, but how much we shared, what we have built, and what our significance was. The know-how is not enough without the know-why. Having a purpose beyond myself and doing work that furthers humanity makes my life worth living. I can do it, and so can you.
1. This view is also supported by the proponents of positive psychology, who emphasize the importance of a spiritual perspective in life, e.g. see: Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). If we are so rich, why aren't we happy?. American psychologist, 54(10), 821