Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Feeding Souls: Interest in Spirituality Grows in the Workplace

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Feeding Souls: Interest in Spirituality Grows in the Workplace

Article excerpt

From small businesses to the boardrooms of America, there's a hot new player making a big splash these days -- God.

Growing numbers of workers are organizing workplace activities -- from prayer groups to Torah studies to Buddhist meditation breaks -- embracing spiritual values as a way to find harmony at work, where the promise of fat paychecks or big promotions still leaves many people with an empty feeling at the end of the day.

Employers are responding, as more and more companies try to create humane, compassionate, and fulfilling work environments by tending to their employees' souls. Although the size of this nascent movement is hard to gauge, its growth is reflected, in part, in the number of conferences on spirituality and work that have begun popping up with regularity across the country. The gatherings draw on an expanding list of consultants, business people, and academicians, and the consensus among those involved is that businesses are genuinely interested in how spirituality can improve the work culture. Jeffrey B. Swartz, the president and chief executive officer of the New Hampshire-based Timberland, for example, makes a direct connection between the Torah and running a multimillion dollar company. That's a key reason why Timberland employees are so heavily involved in community service. Bringing healing to the world is a fundamental requirement of faithful Jews. Swartz not only brings his religious values to work, but by doing so makes his employees feel they are working for a company whose priorites go beyond the bottom line. Tom Gegax is the founder of Tires Plus in Minnesota, a Midwest chain with more than 130 stores and 1,500 employees. Rather than bringing specialists to talk to his workers about the latest research on tread wear, Gegax invites such people as Deepak Chopra, the best- selling author and spiritual leader, to talk to workers about how they might find meaning in their lives. "There really is a yearning for spiritual wellness in the workplace," says Gegax, whose new book, Winning in the Game of Life: Self-Coaching Secrets for Success, is scheduled to be published this summer. An increasing number of management consultants, theologians and clergy argue that too many workplaces have become sterile, dispiriting, and meaningless, leaving workers wondering: What exactly am I doing here? "If work is the creative expression of the human spirit, then obviously it makes sense for anyone in business interested in unleashing their creativity to raise issues of spirituality," said Ellen Hayakawa, president and CEO of the Centre for Spirituality and Sustainability in Vancouver, Canada, and a frequent lecturer on spirituality in the workplace. The interest in spirituality and the workplace is largely a confluence of two trends. The first is a deep spiritual yearning that is fueling the popularity of retreats, spiritual meditation, and books on faith. The second is a concern that technology is "dehumanizing" American workplaces. "There is beginning to be a shift in our definition of work as merely a place of survival, where we go to earn our bread, to much more profound questions," says Martin Rutte, president of Livelihood, a management consulting firm in Santa Fe. "There's now concern about aliveness -- work that not only feeds your wallet, but feeds your soul. And also, somehow through our work, there is an increasing interest in having an affect on other's people lives." As he travels the country, Rutte notes that the idea of injecting spirituality into the workplace is not regarded as oddly as it was when he first started broaching the subject 15 years ago. "We've been able to talk about spirituality in the home," said Rutte, who was a speaker at a symposium on spirituality and business recently hosted by Andover Newton Theological School in Boston. "We've been able to talk about it in our houses of worship. But we have not been able to talk about it in the workplace out of fear of what that would mean. …

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