Spiritual Cleansing: A Case Study on How Spirituality Can Be Mis/used by a Company**

By Groß, Claudia | Management Revue, January 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

Spiritual Cleansing: A Case Study on How Spirituality Can Be Mis/used by a Company**


Groß, Claudia, Management Revue


Organisational spirituality has gained popularity. While some authors see a spiritually fulfilling workplace as a benefit for employees and organisations alike, critical authors point out the potentially totalising effects of organisations that try to colonise employees' minds, hearts and souls. Whereas most existing critical studies are based on literature analyses and mainly refer to societal developments and how organisations are affected by them, the paper at hand provides a single case study on the organisational level. The case study allows a more detailed examination of how organisations can employ spirituality to serve organisational goals. The article identifies three aspects in which workplace spirituality can be misused: to mislead members about the nature of their work, about what an organisation can offer to its members and about the societal value of an organisation.

Key words: Spirituality, critical management studies, normative control, direct selling, multi-level-marketing

Amway is "simply a just, a just system!" (Manager)1

Amway "is the most unfair thing that exists! ... I hate it" (Former distributor)

Introduction

For-profit organisations in the United States increasingly use spirituality and commonly shared values such as happiness or freedom as a means of motivating employees and creating employee loyalty (Nadesan 1999). Within academic (Gull/Doh 2004; Marques 2005; Mitroff/Denton 1999) as well as non-academic literature (http://www.spiritatwork.org/), organisations and organisational research have been asked to focus on and to take better care of the spiritual needs of employees. Such claims are based on the idea that individual spirituality and organisational profit form a win-win-situation for organisations and employees alike. In contrast, critical research (partly from outside the US) has pointed out that the increased interest in organisational spirituality is a problematic development in society as companies can also misuse individual spirituality for organisational profit (Bell/Taylor 2003). Within critical research, the relationship between spirituality and organisations is regarded as a problematic one: organisations that try to win the hearts, and minds of their employees may propagate group think (Polley et al. 2005) and colonise every aspect of employees' private lives via an almost totalitarian organisational culture (Nadesan 1999).

Current critical assessments mainly analyse on the societal level why there is an increased interest in organisational spirituality (Heelas 1992). The empirical bases are mosdy studies of literature, such as newspaper articles, weekly magazines and management books (Nadesan 1999), or additionally accounts of organisational practices (Bell/Taylor 2003). In contrast, this article provides a case study on the organisational level. It shows how spirituality is used and misused to "spiritualise" and extol work tasks such as recruiting new employees; organisational structures such as payment systems, and organisational goals such as higher turnover via product purchases. Based on the analysis, the article identifies three aspects in which workplace spirituality can be misused: to mislead members about the nature of their work, about what an organisation can offer to its members, and about the societal value of an organisation.

The empirical basis of the paper is a case study of the Amway Corporation in Germany. Amway is a so-called direct-selling organisation where legally independent distributors sell products such as nutritional supplements or cosmetics on a person-toperson basis. As the members are self-employed, a formal authority structure is missing. Instead, distributors are controlled via a particular organisational identity and ideology (Groß 2008; Pratt 2000a; Pratt 2000b). In the US, Amway has been categorised as a "quasi-religious corporation" (Bromley 1998) because it offers its members its own world- view and a strong community of believers (see also Biggart 1989; Pratt 2000b). …

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