Encouraging Spiritual Development in the Workplace

by Tom Hinton
The 10,000 Days Foundation

There’s a positive movement taking hold in the workplace. Companies are discovering a new way to motivate, energize and relate to employees by helping them discover and develop their spiritual essence. I refer to this movement as Employee Spiritual Development or ESD.

Not too many years ago, such a movement would have been dismissed as radical or controversial; but, not in today’s self-actualizing work environment. Companies are anxious to find innovative ways to keep good employees and stimulate their creative genius. If companies like Apple, Google and Genentech can thrive in tough economic times by helping their employees develop holistically, certainly progressive programs like ESD merit serious consideration by companies that value their people. In my work with The 10000 Days Foundation, I'm getting more requests from companies and organizations to help them design ESD programs.

What exactly does an Employee Spiritual Development program consist of? First, and most important, ESD should not be confused with endorsing a specific religion, faith practice or any other type of deity worship. Rather, authentic ESD programs focus exclusively on helping employees develop holistically -- that is, creating a balanced life by nurturing one’s mind, body and spirit. ESD courses range from exercise and fitness programs to Yoga and meditation classes that not only stretch one’s muscles, but also stretch the mind. Interestingly, many Asian and Indian companies have been using these techniques successfully for hundred of years. Western culture has only recently awakened to the concept of human potential and this is why more American companies are introducing ESD programs and encouraging employees to enroll.

The most successful ESD programs I am familiar with help employees discover their spiritual essence and develop their mind, body and spirit. At this level, employees are encouraged to focus on their goals, create a life plan and connect with their inner spirit -- that spiritual core within each and every person that drives us to pursue our dreams, achieve our goals and excel in life. Companies realize that if they can tap into those elements that drive employees to achieve their goals and dreams, it’s possible to unleash their creative genius and generate peak performance.

While many companies purposely define spiritualism or ESD in vague terms (so as not to offend non-practitioners), they clearly understand that an employee who is more fulfilled in his/her personal life will be more positive and productive in the workplace. Naturally, employees who are fulfilled and balanced in their personal lives are more likely to contribute favorably to their company’s bottom line.

When introducing an Employee Spiritual Development program in the workplace, I recommend management adhere to several important guidelines. Here they are:

1. An ESD program must be optional. Employees must be free to opt-in or not. It cannot be mandatory.
2. It cannot be aligned with a religion or faith-based initiative. In fact, one executive told me, “It’s best to leave religion outside the classroom altogether. That way, no one is offended or slighted.”
3. While chaplains play an important role in counseling individual employees on personal matters, I discourage the use of clergy in an ESD program. Instead, select professional facilitators, speakers or instructors who have no stated religious affiliation or bias, but understand human psychology and how to tap into human potential. The goal of an ESD program is to help employees explore their spiritual essence and develop their spiritualism. A progressive ESD program should try to link the company’s vision, values and principles to the employee’s spiritual development whenever possible.
4. The types of ESD classes or workshops a company hosts for employees should emphasize traditional values, principles and spiritual topics that most employees already subscribe to. For example, I recently led a company’s ESD workshop on how to transition from one’s Fulfillment Years (ages 30-55) to one’s Legacy Years (ages 55+). It was well attended by Baby Boomers who are getting older. By citing several longstanding values and principles, I was able to tie together the challenges of the workplace with the realities of growing older and maturing through another phase of life.
5. An ESD program should focus on helping employees create a balanced life. In this way, employees can become a positive influence in shaping the values of their company as well as strengthening the company’s commitment to the people and communities it serves. Sometimes, after completing an ESD class, employees will decide to undertake a community work project that channels their energy into positive results. This can be very powerful. Following one ESD workshop I facilitated, a group of employees spent their weekend helping an elderly couple fix-up their home. While it probably wouldn’t rate as an episode of Extreme Makeover -- Home Edition, it was every bit as satisfying!

The intriguing thing about Employee Spiritual Development programs is they really aren’t new. They’ve been around for decades under the guise of other labels including positive thinking, peak performance, transcendental meditation and other titles that have led us to this point. For decades, people have been searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. And, because a person’s job plays such a significant role in their life, it’s important for companies to recognize and accept their responsibility to develop their employees holistically.

It should come as no surprise to any organization that people want to lead meaningful lives. As employees grow older, they become more focused on living a life worth remembering. They want to contribute to a better world and make a difference. When a company can help its employees make that all-important spiritual connection, typically things change for the better in the workplace. Employee attitudes become more positive and employees will often renew their commitment to doing a better job and treating colleagues with dignity and respect. In essence, employees begin to see the workplace through a different set of glasses. Also, when employees see the fruition of their efforts, they will commit themselves to being part of an organization that improves the lives of others. This is part of the spiritual transformation an ESD program can help people make. It is also a very important transformation for most people who have reached that point in their lives where what they do -- and how they do it -- matters.

Sometimes, when I speak to audiences about the untapped power of the human spirit and how to discover one’s higher purpose, I will sense an under-current of discontent. Mostly, it stems from frustrated Baby Boomers who feel cheated by life. For many of them, the American Dream has never materialized.

One gentleman, who holds a management position in a large company, described his discontent to me this way. “I’m 55 years-old, and for all the hype and hoopla about Baby Boomers being a peace-loving, planet-saving generation, we haven’t accomplished much to make this earth a better place. In fact, we’ve been a generation at war. Ethics in government has declined and there is more greed among the wealthy than ever before. It’s almost depressing. So, that’s why I’m taking this workshop. I’m looking for some answers. I’d like to make sense of it all, if that’s even possible.”

This gentleman is not alone in his feelings about the Baby Boomer generation. Certainly, there have been many great accomplishments over the past 50 years, but there have also been many failures and setbacks. This is why so many employees are attempting to seek answers to life’s gnawing questions. They want to lead more fulfilling lives. Employee Spiritual Development programs can help people in their search for meaning and purpose. Businesses have discovered that if their employees live a more meaningful life they will be more committed to their jobs, their companies and their co-workers. They might even become more energized and creative! That alone is worth the investment. Of course, many companies have already figured this out and that is why they’re offering ESD programs.

Author's Bio: 

About the Author. Tom Hinton is the author of the new book 10,000 Days: The Secret to Finding Purpose, Peace and Passion for the Rest of Your Life, which will be released this spring. He is the Chairman of the 10,000 Days Foundation and a popular speaker on Spiritual Development in the Workplace and Living the Life Your Dream. He can be reached at: tom@tomhinton.com