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Several years ago staffing firm franchisee Bruce Brinkley woke up in his home in Waxahachie, Texas, and jumped on a plane to visit fellow franchisees Ernest and Wendy Mayo in North Carolina. He didn’t know them personally but had heard through their company’s internal network that the couple’s 12-year-old son was dying from cancer.
“Bruce said, ‘The Lord has told me that I need to go see these folks and provide them emotional support,’ ” said Bob Funk, CEO of Express Employment Professionals, a Christian staffing firm in Oklahoma that counts Brinkley and the Mayos as franchisees. “He spent two weeks with the family, and when he returned home, word spread throughout our company that he was available, and hundreds of people wanted his counseling.”
Because Brinkley’s schedule ultimately couldn’t keep up with employee demands for spiritual assistance, Funk hired Debbie Christian last year as the company’s first full-time corporate chaplain to serve its 6,000 nationwide employees.
'People have a void in their life, and they’re looking for that void to be filled.'
—Ewa Antonowicz, ComPsych Corp.
Express is among a number of companies that believe using an internal chaplain or providing spiritual counseling through an employee assistance program is a crucial benefit for workers. Ewa Antonowicz, clinical director for ComPsych Corp., a Chicago-based EAP, has seen an increase in requests for religious counseling.
“People have a void in their life, and they’re looking for that void to be filled,” she said. “Counseling allows for a connection, and when there’s a common bond, like religion, that connection is usually maintained, whereas sometimes with more traditional therapy, individuals drop out of treatment more quickly.”
While EAPs help connect employees with spiritual counselors, some companies like Express see value in a corporate chaplain. According to counseling consultancy Company Care Associates, a corporate chaplain can cost less than $10 per employee per month, depending on the organization’s size.
“It’s completely voluntary to engage with the chaplain, and it’s not necessarily about religion,” Funk said. “People have needs every day, whether they’re social, spiritual, financial or health-based. We give them guidance when they want it. It makes for a satisfied employee, a happy employee, a productive employee. They know they have a harbor somewhere they can rely on that cares for them and appreciates them.”
Christian, who had worked for Express for 15 years in the company’s franchise assistance center, had spent nearly 10 years working as the women’s ministry leader at her church, attended Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, where she earned her pastoral care certificate, and participated in chaplaincy training programs in Dallas.
“My heart is to serve others,” Christian said. “It fulfills me, but it’s also a benefit to employees.” Having a chaplain can help people with spiritual, physical or emotional issues, and “it helps them be a healthier employee, a better employee, which, as a result, helps the business.”