The Missing Link

    Reprinted from the Los Angeles Times, Monday, April 6, 1998

    The Missing Link

    For many, work lost its spiritual dimension when labor moved out of the field
    and into the factory. Now baby boomers are seeking to bring back soul.


    Twenty years ago, Pat Sullivan worked as a temp secretary in a conservative Washington commercial real estate firm. She was surprised at the reaction of the other employees when they saw her reading Fritjof Capra's "The Tao of Physics" at her desk at lunchtime.

    "Everyone would come and talk to me," said Sullivan, now principal of the Oakland-based Visionary Resources consulting firm. "Every executive except one got me behind closed doors to talk about what mattered to them—their meditation, their dreams and visions for their lives, their spiritual practices." But she was even more surprised when each one said afterward, "Please don't tell anyone what I told you."

    In most companies, it has been fine to come to the office on Monday morning and talk about your Saturday golf game—but not about the meaningful church sermon you heard Sunday morning. The discussion or practice of spirituality in the workplace has been taboo.

    It hasn't always been that way. Ancient religious traditions often combined work with spiritual practice and rituals.

    "In the monastery, work is as much a part of the spiritual practice as prayer, meditation, liturgy," said former monk Thomas Moore in his 1992 best-selling book, "Care of the Soul."

    Rabbi Shawn Zevit, a Philadelphia based organizational consultant and Temple University instructor, sees the association between work and worship in the roots of the Hebrew language. Avodah, the Hebrew word for work, was associated in biblical times with temple service, he said.

    "If we look back in the history of man and woman kind to the agricultural age, there wasn't the separation of the spiritual and the economic. That connection existed naturally," said James Berry, the Santa Fe, N.M. based publisher of BusinesSpirit Journal and organizer of the International Spirituality in Business conference.

    Historians and religious thinkers date the change in attitude to the 17th century, when the writings of philosopher Rene Descartes, physicist Sir Isaac Newton and others revolutionized the way we look at the world, ushering in the Age of Reason and reducing the role of the church in Western society.

    Descartes theorized that the physical universe worked according to mechanical law and could be understood in terms of its parts. In this Cartesian philosophy, the universe is like a giant clock and the human being like a machine. Physical matter and mind, or spirit, are entirely separate.

    Newton took Descartes' ideas further with his discoveries of the laws of gravity and motion. His groundbreaking theories were widely embraced and led the way to the Industrial Revolution and numerous technological advances. Workers seeking factory production jobs moved from the country to the city, Berry said, and the spiritual connection with the earth was broken.

    "Our world got separated into the spiritual and the secular, Berry said. "Most organization ended up in the secular segment Then we have other organization that try to meet people's spiritual needs."

    Judith Neal is director of the Center for Spirit at Work at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, where she teaches management theory. The former Honeywell Inc. executive received her doctorate in organizational behavior from Yale.

    At the turn of the century, Neal said, the Newtonian machine model was still dominant in the business world. "The worker was an extension of the machine. We were hiring the body."

    In the 1920s and 1930s, she said studies of the effects of light of workers showed that their productivity improved not because of

    change in the environment, but because management was paying attention to them.

    "It was discovered that human beings are social beings, that people have feelings and that if you pay attention to the emotions of workers, you can increase productivity."

    Then in the 1960s and 1970 companies decided they didn't want workers to check their brain at the door, she said. "The worker is the expert" was the governing philosophy. So businesses incorporated total quality management and team approaches into the workplace.

    In the mid-1990s, Neal said businesses started evolving to the stage where "the worker isn't just body, emotion and mind—there also a sense of spirit. We value the human being not just because they create productivity for us, because all human life is precious.”

    As idealistic as that sounds, Neal said she sees many signs of renaissance in workplace spirituality. Four years ago, when she started listing spirituality business conferences in the center's newsletter, there were just two conferences in North America. This year, she said, there are at least 20. She estimates that about 10% of the management consultants working with corporations today have a spiritual focus in the work. And spirituality in the workplace has become an open topic in the personnel trade journals.

    The interest in spirituality has been building for a long time, so Corinne McLaughlin of the Washington-based Center for Visional Leadership. Now the issue of workplace spirituality "is really on people's screens.

    "We spend more and more of of time at work," she said. "People have less time to spend with outside social groups. They're interested in making spirituality practical and applied, rather than just something you do on the weekend."

    Zevit, the Philadelphia-based rabbi, said he sees people "looking for how to bring more of the fullness of themselves to the workplace and how to do that not at the expense of others."

    Spirituality discussion groups are beginning to pop up in and around workplaces. Episcopal deacon Whitney Roberson leads several Spirituality at Work discussion groups in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

    Roberson's groups, which meet for an hour at lunchtime, are nondenominational and cover such topics as ethics, authenticity in the workplace, the role of emotions in work and holiday workplace practices.

    "We began this project two or three years ago to determine if people felt the need to make connections between who they are, what they do and what they value," Roberson said. "We discovered that yes, indeed, they do."

    She added, "When people feel a sense of meaning and purpose to their work, they're a lot more effective and creative."

    Book publishers—having enjoyed nearly a doubling of religion book sales between 1991 and 1994 when other categories were flat— also have focused on the marriage of work and spirituality in recent years

    Publishers Weekly Religion Editor Lynn Garrett says that baby boomers concerned with ethical issues and their own approaching mortality are driving book sales in the category.

    Martin Rutte, president of Livelihood, a Santa Fe-based consulting firm, concurs on the influence of baby boomers in the trend. "Baby boomers have capped or plateaued in their careers, friends and family start dying, mortality raises its head. You begin to think of what value you leave to your family and the world," Rutte said.

    "When people begin to think of these things, spirituality emerges. And because baby boomers are so large demographically, they begin to influence the way society looks at reality."

    The influx of women into the workplace starting in the 1970s also is an important factor, he said. Women traditionally have been the keepers of the spiritual flame in society, and they typically are more willing to openly discuss spiritual matters.

    Rutte is co-author of "Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work," a book that has seen sales of 650,000 and spawned the creation of "Chicken Soup" workplace discussion groups.

    He says anxiety caused by corporate downsizing is another reason for the growing interest in workplace spirituality.

    "Senior people I've bee talking to have been saying, 'We've been making a lot of money on the cost side—downsizing, replacing people with technology etc. and there's nothing left.' So now they're coming back to the people and saying, 'OK guys, we want you to be innovative, creative and productive.' And the workers- are going 'No, we're tired. We're stressed.'

    "The economy is roaring ahead, but still this thing is going on as an undertone," Rutte said. "It is not good for individuals, for companies or for society to have people go into work and feel this way. It doesn't feed the soul. It feeds the pocketbook, but that's no longer enough."

    Rutte sees the absence of the spiritual in U.S. work life partially as a spillover from the country's separation of church and state. He says that people sometimes become fearful when the subject of religion comes up. "They're afraid they're going to encounter religious dogma, and dogma might lead to a conflict, and they don't know how to deal with conflict," he said. "Conflict is not something that's encouraged in the workplace generally."

    He says that when you approach the topic as an inquiry or question, as opposed to assuming that you have the answer, people relax.

    Some argue that the introduction of spirituality into the workplace could be used as a way to exploit employees and demand more of them without giving anything back. Leaders of the movement respond by saying that companies that want to attract and keep good employees must also begin to incorporate spiritual values into their own management practices.

    "The most successful corporations focus on core values," Neal said. "They have a sense of making a positive difference in the world. They're committed to the growth of their employees."

    "Clicking" author and Fortune 500 consultant Faith Popcorn says consumers, and especially women, also are demanding that corporations use spiritual values to guide their treatment of workers.

    "Consumers are looking for the ethical core running down the middle of the company," she said. "Companies are rated not only by what they make, but by how the: make it. It becomes an additional value to a product.

    "Kathie Lee Gifford learned that the hard way" with her clothing line, she said.

    Moore—whose books on soul and spirituality have sold a combined 2.5 million copies—says that companies can integrate spirituality into the workplace in simple ways. He envisions a spiritually inviting workplace with aesthetically pleasing architecture, furniture and art that address the human need for the sensuous—instead of decor that makes people feel as though they are cogs in a machine.

    Moore said managers also can increase the spirituality quotient in the workplace by emphasizing relationships. "I don't think business takes into account how important this is." People find meaning in the workplace from their friendships and interactions with others, no matter what kind of work they do he said.

    Businesses can enhance the feeling of a spiritual community by creating opportunities for shared Meals. “Most religious rituals incorporate food,” he said.

    Employee fulfillment is becoming a competitive advantage for business, said Richard Barrett, an international management consultant and former values coordinator for the World Bank.

    "Global competition, innovation and creativity are going to be the No.1 issues for corporate America in the next century," Barrett said. "Everybody has latent creativity that is not being tapped. We have to create a culture that invites that creativity back into the work place."

    Patricia Aburdene, co-author of the "Megatrends" books and author of "Reinventing the Corporation," agrees that companies need to embrace the spirituality trend to stay competitive in the global marketplace.

    "As businesses become more complex—especially in cuttingedge industries like biotechnology, software and advanced engineering — corporations need to be in a period of continuous innovation in order to satisfy a changing marketplace," Aburdene said. "The only way you can do that is if your people bring all their power and potential to the workplace."

    Ironically, leaders of the spirituality movement say that it is science that is leading us back to a greater integration of spirituality and public life.

    The 1920s discovery of quantum mechanics and the more recent scientific investigations into chaos, complexity and living-systems theories are taking us away from the Newtonian view of the world, and human beings, as machines. Instead, these theories point to a vision of a world that is dynamic, self-renewing and interconnected.

    "Science and spirituality have come together," Aburdene said. "Scientists investigated the atom and emerged as mystics."