Spirituality should not be neglected
as a legitimate organizational topic of study,
and more research on the impact of spirituality
in the workplace should be conducted.
– Arnaldo Oliveira
In this post, I want to continue exploring the implications for spirituality in the workplace, with a few reflections on how I see a renewed approach to spirituality impacting how we view certain aspects of the organizations in which we work.
First, let me say that when I speak about “new approaches to spirituality,” what is “new” in that for me is looking at spirituality from within the context of the emerging story of our unfolding Universe. From this perspective, I am coming to view spirituality as fundamentally about the interconnectedness we all experience as members of our Universe community. This interconnectedness may be something we know only unconsciously or subconsciously. However, there may be times in our lives, perhaps only brief moments, we when intuit this interconnectedness. We also may have the kind of “awakening” through which we “know” this interconnectedness in a profound if mysterious way.
Whether or not we have such a “breakthrough” experience, it is still possible to know intellectually that we all are interconnected through coming to know the epic of evolution – “The New Cosmology,” as Thomas Berry called it – which presents our common story of origins in the birth of our Universe. Once we know ourselves as fundamentally interrelated, placing our attention on how we relate to one another becomes exceedingly more important.
The workplace is one arena in which we live out this interrelatedness on a very real level, nearly every day of our adult lives. It becomes important, then, to know if these people with whom I am working, and the work itself, is what I choose. This thought leads me to suggest the importance of having a clearly stated vision and mission for ourselves and our workplace.
First, a few words about a personal vision and mission statement. Do you know what your own vision is – what motivates you about your work? Do you know what you are passionate about? Do you know, as one of my workplace colleagues likes to ask, what you would say if awakened by someone in the middle of the night who asked, “What is your mission in life?” Would you be able on the spot to give an answer?
If you do not know these things, how will you know if the place you are spending 40 or more hours a week is a place with a vision and mission that you want to support with your own efforts?
According to the late Stephen R. Covey, an organizational mission statement reflects the deep, shared vision and values of everyone within an organization. However, before there can be a shared vision, there must be an individual vision. As consults Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellnor-Rogers (1998) suggest: “So much of human behavior is habitual. And behind every habit is a belief – about people, life, the world. We work from the premise that if we can know our beliefs, we can then act with greater consciousness about our behaviors.”
When we know ourselves and our beliefs, we more successfully can seek out others to join with for support in acting on them. As Wheatley and Kellnor-Rogers note, we create organizations “because of our human need to be more, to do more. We notice possibilities, we notice one another, we see a need which calls us to respond, and we organize.”
From a Christian spiritual perspective, this “need to be more, to do more” echoes the call of our Creator, the Divine Presence who invites us to join in the ongoing process of the continued unfolding of our Universe. Our sense of this invitation might also influence our approach to planning and innovation in our organization, particularly with regard to changes in a company or organization that are necessitated by changes in customers’ needs, prompting the call to respond appropriately.
Perhaps what we have previously understood as “spirituality” is that of which Wheatley and Kellnor-Rogers speak when they say,
There is an innate striving in all forms of matter to organize into relationships. There is a great seeking for connections, a desire to organize into more complex systems that include more relationships, more variety. This desire is evident everywhere in the cosmos, at all levels of scale.
It is, in fact, what constitutes “life.”
This “seeking for connections” recalls for me the understanding of spirituality as somehow fundamentally involving “relationality.” Understood in this way, spirituality has implications for our understanding of such organizational issues as the use of power, organizational structure, and decision-making. Its influence will be seen in the development of structure and policies, but also behaviors that are more inclusive and participative. It supports the shift noted by some organizational experts to more healthy inter-relational values in the marketplace, such as openness, integrity, trust, honesty, equality, mutual respect, harmony and compassion.
Peter Senge (1994) argues that at the heart of any new paradigm organization is a shift of mind “from seeing ourselves as separate from the world to connected to the world.”
Finally, all of these elements of spirituality seem to have important implications for the attitude taken toward communication by the organization, both within the organization itself and also between the organization and its clients and competitors. In addition, understanding that we are all interconnected within the system of the organization implies that any one of us can have an impact – for better or worse – on the entire system. Therefore, it behooves those in leadership in an organization to be as open and transparent as possible, when it comes to all information impacting the system.
I refer to all of the implications I have mentioned here as ensuring a healthy spirituality for an organization. I am still exploring ways in which the spirituality of an organization becomes a healthy one, but these are some of the ways in which I try to make a difference in the groups and organizations of which I am a part.
Oliveira, A. (2004). The place of spirituality in organizational theory. In Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies. 9(2) p. 17. http://ejbo. jyu. fi/ The Place of Spirituality in Organizational Theory By: Arnaldo Oliveira.
Senge, Peter. (1994). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday Business.
Wheatley, Margaret J. and Kellnor-Rogers, M. (1998). A simpler way. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.