Demystify spirituality in the workplace

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Many business leaders are uncomfortable talking about spirituality, but there’s no reason for the discomfort.

By Lana Hindmarch, co-founder and CEO of BREATHE

The wisest employers recognise that creating a culture of health requires a comprehensive, multi-level approach. But many of them are still missing a beat and as a result, they’re not getting to the heart of what matters.

Wellness researchers have long known that a holistic approach to wellbeing must include the spiritual dimension. But the workplace hasn’t been open to talking about it.

Today there’s enough evidence to show that not only is it an essential element of a comprehensive and effective wellbeing programme, but spirituality in the workplace also directly impacts business sustainability.

Many business leaders are uncomfortable talking about spirituality due to a lack of understanding around what it actually means. But there’s no reason for the discomfort. It’s not a contentious conversation.

Spirituality has nothing to do with religion. You don’t have to be religious or from a particular culture to be spiritual.

Spirituality, simply put, is the energy of the human spirit. And it’s the energy that drives our behaviour at all other levels.

While there is no unanimous definition on spiritual wellbeing in the workplace, according to the researcher Jessica Grossmeier, there are three main aspects that are present in organisations that have integrated spirituality into their wellbeing frameworks:
(i) People have a sense of meaning and purpose at work;
(ii) There is a feeling of connection and belonging with co-workers; and
(iii) People have a sense of connection to something bigger than themselves – this can take many forms, depending on an individual’s personal beliefs and values.

While these are not new ideas, they have largely remained siloed and have not been purposefully integrated into the wellbeing frameworks in most organisations.

And currently, the research is showing that people are leaving the workplace because they’re not getting what they need in these three areas.

Common sense
Human beings are meaning makers. That’s what separates us from animals across the spectrum, who are not capable of self-reflection.

The great reflection that’s happened for people over the past few years has triggered an innate human need to find meaning – not only for millennials and Gen Zs, but for everyone. There’s a desire to contribute more to the world and have a sense of deeper purpose and connection in our lives – and this includes in our work. This is what spiritual wellbeing is about.

While the pandemic has created the opportunity and shift in mindset for this conversation to really enter the workplace, it’s actually been bubbling for decades. In the introduction to his 1974 book Working, Studs Terkel wrote, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

The spiritual wellbeing dimension reminds us that work itself can provide connection, joy and fulfilment of one’s purpose.

To get leadership buy-in, there’s no requirement to use spiritual language. Rather the focus should be on making the conversation relevant to the culture of the organisation and helping leaders see why this topic needs to be integrated into work.

Whatever you call it, leaders need to understand that to have a committed, energised and thriving workforce, people need to feel like what they do and who they are matters. This applies to every employee in an organisation, regardless of job function, economic situation or cultural background.

People with passion and purpose bring more energy to what they’re doing. This is not controversial. It’s just common sense.

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