Workplace spirituality

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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:

  • International Center for Spirit at Work (ICSW)[1]
  • European Baha'i Business Forum (EBBF)[2]
  • World Business Academy (WBA)[3]
  • Spiritual Business Network (SBN)[4]
  • Foundation for Workplace Spirituality (

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 [5] 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)[6] 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 innate human attribute in spirituality. All people bring this as an integral part of themselves to the workplace. Spirituality is a state or experience that can provide individuals with direction or meaning, or provide feelings of understanding, support, inner wholeness or connectedness. Connectedness can be to themselves, other people, nature, the universe, a god, or some other supernatural power.
  • The “vertical” component in spirituality – a desire to transcend the individual ego or personality self. The name you put on the vertical component might be God, Spirit, Universe, Higher Power or something else. There are a great many names for this vertical dimension. This dimension is experienced as a conscious sense of profound connection to the Universe/God/Spirit. This might be experienced internally as moments of awe or peak experiences. A strong, sustained vertical component reflects in outer behaviors as a person (or group) who is centered and able to tap into deep inner strength and wisdom. Generally quiet time, time in nature, or other reflective activities or practices are required to access the “vertical” component of our spirituality. Examples of the vertical component of spirituality might be meditation rooms, time for shared reflection, silence before meetings, ecumenical prayer, and support for employees to take time off for spiritual development.
  • The “horizontal” component in spirituality – a desire to be of service to other humans and the planet. In the horizontal we seek to make a difference through our actions. This dimension is manifested externally. A person with a strong “vertical connection” who is also able to demonstrate the “horizontal dimension” has a clear grasp on his/her mission, ethics, values. A strong “horizontal” component is demonstrated by a service orientation, compassion, and well-aligned vision/mission and values that are carried out in productive effective services and products.
  • Spirituality in the workplace means that employees find nourishment for both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of their spirituality at work. Spirituality in the Workplace is about individuals and organisations seeing work as a spiritual path, as an opportunity to grow and to contribute to society in a meaningful way. It is about care, compassion and support of others; about integrity and people being true to themselves and others. It means individuals and organisations attempting to live their values more fully in the work they do. Examples of vertical organizational spirituality include: meditation time at the beginning of meetings, retreat or spiritual training time set aside for employees, appropriate accommodation of employee prayer practices, and openly asking questions to test if company actions are aligned with higher meaning and purpose. Companies with a strong sense of the horizontal will generally demonstrate some or all of the following: caring behaviors among co-workers; a social responsibility orientation; strong service commitments to customers; environmental sensitivity; and a significant volume of community service activities. The vertical and horizontal dimensions should be well integrated – so that motivations (sourced from the vertical) and actions (horizontal manifestations) are explicitly linked. We will be honoring organizations that are financially sound, sustainable, and effective, as well as focused on greater meaning and purpose. We believe that when done properly, Spirit at Work enhances the overall value of the organization.

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:[citation needed]

  • Bereavement programs.
  • Wellness information displayed and distributed.
  • Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Programs that integrate work/family.
  • Management systems that encourage personal and spiritual transformation.
  • Servant leadership – the desire to serve others first in preference to self.
  • Stewardship – leadership practices that support growth and well-being of others.
  • Diversity programs that create inclusive cultures.
  • Integration of core values and core business decisions and practices.
  • Leadership practices that support the growth and development of all employees.

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


  • Benefiel, M. (2005). Soul at work: Spiritual leadership in organizations. New York: Seabury Books. [ISBN #1596270136]
  • Biberman, J. (Ed.).(2000). Work and spirit: A reader of new spiritual paradigms for organizations. Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press. [ISBN #0940866897]
  • Bowman, T.J. (2004). Spirituality at Work: An Exploratory Sociological Investigation of the Ford Motor Company. London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Fairholm, G.W. (1997). Capturing the heart of leadership: Spirituality and community in the new American workplace. Westport, CT: Praeger. [ISBN #0275957438]
  • Fry, L.W. (2005). Toward a paradigm of spiritual leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(5), 619-722.
  • Giacalone, R.A., & Jurkiewicz, C.L. (2003). Handbook of workplace spirituality and organizational performance. New York: M.E. Sharpe. [ISBN #0765608448]
  • Jue, A.L. (2006). Practicing spirit-centered leadership: Lessons from a corporate layoff. In Gerus, C. (Ed.). Leadership Moments: Turning points that changed lives and organizations. Victoria, BC: Trafford. [ISBN #1412099641]
  • Miller, D.W. (2006). God at work: The history and promise of the faith at work movement. New York: Oxford University Press. [ISBN #0195314808]
  • Palmer, Parker J. (2000) Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Ch 5 "Leading from Within." ISBN 978-0-7879-4735-4.
  • Russell, Mark L., ed. (2010). Our Souls at Work: How Great Leaders Live Their Faith in the Global Marketplace. Boise: Russell Media. [ISBN #9780578039893]
  • Marques, Joan, Dhiman, Satinder, and King, Richard, ed. (2009) "The Workplace and Spirituality: New Perspectives on Research and Practice" SkyLight Paths, Woodstock, VT.
  • N.T., Sree Raj. (2011). Spirituality in Business and Other Synonyms: A Fresh Look at Different Perspectives for its Application, 'Purushartha' A Journal of Management Ethics and Spirituality Vol.IV, No.II, pp 71–85
  • Mitroff, I.I, and Denton, E.A. (1999) A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America, A Hard Look at Spirituality, Religion, and Values. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

External links