RSS icon

Top Stories

Is There Room for the Soul at Work

January 28, 2001
Related Topics: Diversity, Ethics, Featured Article
Martin Rutte is a speaker and a leader in the emerging management field ofspirituality at work. He is the president of Livelihood, a management consultingfirm in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Rutte was the keynote speaker at the firstInternational Conference on Spirituality in Business, held in Mazatlan, Mexico.He has spoken on this topic in Brazil, Canada, and South Africa. Rutte also isco-author of the New York Times business best-seller Chicken Soup for the Soulat Work.

So, get up on your soapbox and tell us how you'd define spirituality.
I normally refuse to answer that question at the beginning of aconversation because I've found that people are trying to see if mydefinition of spirituality, if my answer, fits with theirs. If it does fitwith theirs, then they'll be getting more of the same. If my definitiondoesn't fit with theirs, then they'll shut me out.

In both cases, I don'tfeel they've engaged or deepened their own appreciation of spirituality,they've just reacted to mine. To get around this, I've found it best tothink of spirituality not as a definition/answer but rather as a question.It's really an ongoing life question, an inquiry.

As business people, we arealways engaged in inquiries. For example, a typical business inquiry is"How do I make my business more successful?" No matter what answerwe get to that question, we continue to ask the same question over and overand over again. Because by doing this, we deepen and broaden ourappreciation, our insight, and our clarity of the arena.

If we think ofspirituality in the same way, as an ongoing inquiry, we can experience whatbenefits lie within this arena at work. When you and your work colleaguesask such questions as "What is spirituality in the workplace?" or"How do I have a more fulfilling spiritual experience at work?," Ibelieve you have a significantly deeper sense of the spiritual.

Suchquestions in your organization could lead to a conversation about ethics,integrity, how to better feed people's spirits, the state of relationshipsbetween people, and so on.

A crass question: does the soul matter? Isn't the workplace just there tofill our pocketbooks?
In the Soviet Union, where the spirit was shut down for some 70 years, anexplosion of spirit did occur when communism fell. I think in the same wayin Corporate America today the spirit has been ground down and assaulted.It's come to a point now where employees are no longer willing to have thatoccur. They don't want to leave their souls at the door when they go towork.

What people want is to have their basic survival needs met. But theywant more than simply this. They want a place where their spirit soars,where their soul is nourished. And they want a place where they cancontribute to the aliveness of their colleagues, customers, and clients.

Can you talk more about spirituality and religion?
Some people access their spirituality through their religion. Others meettheir spiritual needs through alternative exploration. Sometimes they seeeach other as being in different camps. The "spiritual" peoplethink religion is dogmatic, old-fashioned, more concerned with arcanerituals. The religionists see the spiritualists as crystal lovers, as flaky.What they both don't see is that they're both after and from the same place- the divine.

Many of us disconnect from religion because of childhoodmemories: "Religion did this and it shouldn't have," or"Religion didn't do this and it should have."

Go and be completewith your own religion. Do what you need to do to heal your separation. Becomplete with it in a way that enlivens and enriches you and it. Andreligions have to open their doors and their hearts to different needs andvoices. What good is it if you have a religious building but your pews areempty?

I remember a Presbyterian minister who had taken a business marketingcourse. What he discovered in the course is that he had two kinds of clientsattending his church. One was the regular Sunday observer: sermon, prayer,song, collection. The other was the seeker. The seeker came with questions,with doubts, with deep concerns. The seekers did not want the traditionalservice. They wanted deep, authentic dialogue. And so the minister createdtwo different forms of Sunday service. He truly bridged the spiritual/religion gap.

Many in HR are concerned about potential legal liability that could comefrom allowing religion into their businesses. What would you say to addressthis concern?
There is a difference here between religion and spirituality. In the legalsense, an imposition of religion is something to worry about. However, weare speaking here of "allowing" a discussion on spiritual issues.This is more about exploration than imposition.

I do not agree with imposinga religious point of view, but at the same time we don't need to throw thebaby out with the bath water. I believe you can have an exploration, adeepening of the spiritual experience at work without having people becomeupset with someone trying to shove a particular point of view down theirthroat. Nobody likes having points of view imposed, whether it's aboutreligion or any other topic.

Martin, you've talked about the do's of a spirituality program at work.What are the don'ts?
The don'ts have to do with trying to shove a particular form ofspirituality down other people's throats. This isn't about shovingspirituality; it's not about shoving anything. People don't like it when youtry to force them to think in a certain way. So be light and easy about it.

Offer it. If they accept, fine. If they don't accept, fine. The power isin the offering. Another don't that emerges is fear of the company having aparticular party line. Peter Vail calls it "corporate fascism."This takes the form of "We're all into spirituality and you have to be,too."

People don't have to engage in the spiritual. They really don't. Only whenpeople know they are free to say no do they then know they are free to sayyes. As a friend of mine, Ace Remas, says, "The purpose of spiritualityis not to serve work. The purpose of work is to serve spirituality."

What can an HR director do to better address spirituality at work?
Here is a simple four-step action plan.

  1. Make it safe, permissible, and comfortable to have theconversation about spirituality in the workplace, if people choose. Begintalking, writing, and communicating in a gentle, non-threatening,non-dogmatic manner. Respect others' points of view and the degree to whichthey wish to participate.

  2. Seek help from the many resources available. There are myriadsources filled with ideas, conferences, books, speakers, discussion groups,etc. My Web site offers lots of these.

  3. Allow a form to evolve to help expand spirituality in yourworkplace. This can be anything from a regular discussion group to a sharedproject or activity to a speaker series. Agree on a method and time.

  4. Evaluate what is working and what is not working. Then correctwhat is not working and nurture what is. And don't forget to celebrate.

Most children see their future work as exciting and contributing toothers. They can't wait to get at it. None talk about work that dulls theirspirit, or makes them tired and ill. Now is the time to renew our dreams toallow our spirit to lead us in creating work and workplaces that speak tothe best in us. Now is the time to have the institution of work take itsrightful place in humanity

Workforce, February 2001, Vol 80, No 2, pp.82-83  Subscribe Now!

Recent Articles by Bob Rosner

Comments powered by Disqus

Hr Jobs

View All Job Listings