That’s the spirit: the value of workplace spirituality

Why spirituality should be top of the agenda in our workplace conversations

Encouraging the exploration of workplace spirituality is shown to reap benefits for organisations. We can be too quick to jump to conclusions about such a subject, tossing it away as little more than a fad. Why is it common to treat it with cynicism, and how can we bring it to the forefront of our conversations? 

I read an article recently that took a novel approach to organisational learning culture in the context of its relationship with workplace spirituality. It suggested the two share strong links. I was initially sceptical. How is an unscientific subject such as spirituality connected with organisational learning?  

On closer inspection, workplace spirituality is a relatively robust and straightforward concept. It refers to the purpose and meaning employees give to their lives and how this connects them to their work community and others around them.  

What is workplace spirituality? 

The article identified four dimensions that comprise workplace spirituality: (i) an inner life (or self-respect), which nourishes and is nourished by (ii) meaningful work that (iii) takes place in the context of how we relate to others in our community and (iv) encourages close alignment between personal values and organisational values. 

Though they are similar, spirituality and religion differ because religion relates closer to beliefs and rituals, while spirituality is more personal. The two concepts share a sense of desire to search for the sacred or a higher power and connect to the meaning and purpose of life

The importance of workplace spirituality 

Why should we move spirituality from the periphery of the workplace and embrace it as a critical element of modern organisations? Employees who are encouraged to access their spirituality are likely to feel more content with their life. It allows them to maintain balance and control of their domains, particularly at work. These individual-level changes have a positive effect at the organisational level too. By creating an environment in which committed and satisfied employees can thrive and embrace their spirituality, businesses can make a greater contribution to society and raise the consciousness of the organisation.  

The positive outcomes of engaging with spirituality at work are clear, so why is it overlooked in most organisations? A lack of focus on spirituality in the workplace has been linked to higher levels of stress and absenteeism. This may speak to spirituality’s place not just at work but beyond – its absence may be felt in the workplace, but, more importantly, work itself and we as workers lose connection with the world and with purpose when lacking spirituality. 

Talking about spirituality needs to become as natural as the many other conversations we have at work, including those around innovation, well-being and engagement.  

The critical role of leadership 

Research suggests that supportive leadership is essential to help employees understand their spirituality and undergo a process of self-discovery to reach their potential. It is argued that a leader who values spirituality motivates others by creating and developing a shared vision of a desirable future. They own the values and behaviours that enable those working with them to experience a ‘sense of calling’ and purpose. Their work has meaning and makes a difference. This leadership creates an environment that allows employees to bring their whole selves and values into everyday work. 

Workplace spirituality offers organisations great potential, yet the subject remains relatively untapped and warrants further research. Spirituality can develop a thriving workforce environment that leads to positive organisational change. By embracing spirituality in the workplace, we can help employees gain a sense of connectedness and meaning in their work.  

Jake Young

Jake Young

Jake is Research Associate at the CIPD. Jake's research interests cover a number of workplace topics, particularly looking at organisational culture and its role in key research agendas such as diversity and inclusion. Outside of work, Jake has a keen interest in film, loves baking and enjoys running to keep fit.