Personal Growth - Spirituality at work
by Nandini Sarkar
The past few months have been quite disruptive on the work front. Business losses, strained relations with certain customers, frayed tempers, employee exits, delayed contracts, and ceaseless travelling for damage control, the list of woes was threatening to become overwhelming. Nevertheless, years of spiritual training rarely fail the seeker. Adversity prods the seeker to pause and contemplate, much like the archer who steps back to pull the string on his bow, before he shoots the arrow. It was perhaps in the synchronicity of things, that a corporate seminar I attended in the midst of this turmoil had Spirituality in the Workplace as the keynote address. I had known values and ethics to be important in the workplace, but spirit in the workplace as an antidote to business problems? That was new.
The speaker, Dr Mahendra Raju, Provident Fund Commissioner, said that spirituality in the workplace is not an oxymoron. No longer content to tolerate the wide chasm between their deeply held values and the unfair business practices they encounter, people long for harmony between their values and their work. A workplace driven only by target achievement will soon become stressful, and become a place where egos will rule. I was impressed and decided to do some research of my own. Slowly, a sense of blessing crept in, as my quest for answers to my business problems, led me to the wisdom of experts. A startling fact is that the maximum number of books on spirituality at the workplace, have not been written in ‘spiritual’ India, but in ‘materialistic’ America. In the last 10 years, hundreds of books published on spiritual management, reflect the yearning for spirituality in the workplace, as work becomes the predominant factor in the lives of people.
Breaking the Chinese wall
In their path-breaking book, A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America, Ian Mitroff and Elizabeth Denton quote employees. “I’m tired of constantly having to park my soul at the door before I go into my organisation.” "Organisations take up 40 to 60 hours of our time. Then they put the burden entirely on us to repair ourselves on our own time so that we can come back for more,” he adds. According to the authors, on the one hand, corporate culture declares spirituality strictly out of bounds, while on the other hand, it tries to sneak it in through the backdoor by asking its workers to demonstrate unbridled enthusiasm and energy. Ironically, the word ‘enthusiasm’ is derived from the conjunction of two Latin roots, ‘ens,’ which means within, and ‘spiritus,’ which means God or spirit. So literally speaking, the word ‘enthusiasm’ means, the spirit within. Hence, not acknowledging spirit at the workplace is like creating a Chinese wall. It is external in the sense that it walls off employees from the deepest sources of creativity and productivity. It is internal in that it creates a split in the souls of its members.
Love and Truth
Another eminent researcher, Dr Lance Secretan, PhD, rues the fact that his first book on management secrets ran into nearly 700 pages of surveys, charts, and case studies. “What a waste,” he says. Years of experience finally taught him that management could be summed up in two words, love and truth. Says Lance, “I believe that inspired leadership boils down to two things. The world would be a better place if we loved each other, and if we told the truth. If I express love, will people think I am weak, flaky, without resolve? A leader who has the courage to be humble, forgiving, loving, and therefore authentic, is much more effective, and inspiring than one who works using fear psychosis. I define love as the place where my heart touches your heart, and adds to who you are as a person.” Many corporate leaders have told Lance that one of their parents never told them they loved them. He says such people build their leadership style around the only life lessons they have known, aggression, ambition, and goal achievement.
Work as punishment
Gregory Pierce, author of 10 Ways to Balance your Life on the Job, says most people are disdainful about work, seeing it as a necessary evil. This concept, he feels, is at the root of stress. We all want to be valued as persons, and work is a major part of who we are. Therefore, when we look down on our work, we are actually not valuing ourselves. If we do not value ourselves, we do not value co-workers, customers, and employees, treating them all with a subconscious or underlying contempt.
“We are called,” says Gregory, “To communicate God’s love in the world, and we do so through our actions, including the work we do. We allow work to lose its sacredness when we devalue it and the people who do it."
There is no getting away from the fact that the workplace is a complex, crowded, noisy, frustrating, and dangerous place. To find God or spirituality at work, there needs to be a heightened awareness. Work leaves its mark on us, and those around us; children see either their mothers leave for work wearily or happily. Teenagers hear parents discuss unemployment or office politics. Wherever we are, we need courage and a deep awareness that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. We deeply believe that people in our workspace and work are sacred, and re-imagine those around us and ourselves.
God at work
‘Bidden or Unbidden, God is Present,’ read a sign over the famous psychoanalyst, Carl Jung’s home in Switzerland. Dr Mahendra Raju, Provident Fund Commissioner, was credited with injecting new energy and work ethics in the laggard Kolkata Regional PF office. Earlier, the public would be greatly harassed, because their provident fund and pension claims would not be processed on time. During Dr Raju’s tenure, there was a quiet revolution, as claims were systematically tracked, and disposed within a monthly time frame, and employee absenteeism decreased significantly. After taking over, Dr Raju started conducting a morning meditation session with the entire staff. When asked about the seeming incongruity, he said managers must play a visible role in elevating the consciousness of their team members. The soul connection, he suggested, can be experienced through a meditation session before the day is started. Employees get the powerful message that:
• the management sees a higher purpose in its work
• the management is close to its employees and is not egotistical
• the management is participative
• the management will support the employees in achieving targets without creating stress
“An extraordinary thing,” said Dr Raju, “Is that it isn’t really the amount of work we do that wears us out.” Burnout has more to do with the absence of enthusiasm and dedication. Blake called this sense of dedication a firm persuasion. To have a firm persuasion is to make a pilgrimage of our labours, to understand that the consummation of work lies in not only what we have done, but who we have become while accomplishing the task. To have a firm persuasion in our work and to motivate our co-workers along these lines is one of the great triumphs of human activity at the workplace. Researchers across the board say that it is the dharma of managers to create a sense of family among its team members. The ‘home spirit’ encourages creativity and interconnectedness, pro-activity and responsibility among members of the ‘family’ at work.
From a personal standpoint, I take great comfort in having research validated by the principles of Sanatan Dharma. Hence, it was a morale booster to find the enlightened teachings of Swami Ishwarananda of the Chinmaya Mission on ‘Spirituality in the Workplace.’ According to Swamiji, it is important to focus on people more than on tasks, if the right atmosphere is to be achieved at work. Swamiji says that managers may be categorised as either task-oriented, or person-oriented. The task-oriented manager tends to focus on competition, efficiency, comparison, and conformity. His message to his team thus becomes a litany of the need to prove themselves, strive, strain and accomplish. A person-oriented manager, on the other hand, is a secure, sattvic leader. He understands that people have diverse natures and have to be treated as individuals. Such a leader is creative, innovative, a solution finder, and encourages expression in team members. He exudes love, co-operation, connectedness, and compassion to team members, and uses these attributes to motivate and accomplish targets. Interestingly, Swami Ishwarananda further qualifies the sattvic worker as one who is assertive while a rajasic leader is aggressive. (See chart below). Wise or otherwise
Swami Ishwarananda says that peace at work is not at all rare if we can:
• work with detachment
• focus on the accomplishment rather than what is accomplished
• demonstrate willingness to learn
• display courage of conviction
• be respectful of authority
• be respectful of others
• discuss rather than condemn or criticise
• seek solitude from time to time
• be confident
• know the limits
• talk about ideas rather than talk about people
• learn to manage worries
Characteristics of spiritual organisations
Therefore, if we summarise both the wisdom of Sanatan Dharma and the findings of modern research, the following are the hallmarks of a spiritual organisation:
• Strong sense of purpose: Organisational members know why the organisation exists and what it values.
• Focus on individual development: Employees are valuable and need to be nurtured to help them grow. This also includes a sense of job security.
• Trust and openness: Organisational member relationships are characterised by mutual trust, honesty and openness.
• Employee empowerment: Employees are allowed to make work-related decisions highlighting a strong sense of delegation of authority.
• Toleration of employee expression: The organisation culture encourages employees to be themselves and to express their moods and feelings without guilt or fear of reprimand. The mantra, according to Joan Marques, one of the pioneering researchers in spirituality in the workplace is:
Do all the good you can
In all the ways you can
With all the means you can
To all the people you can
For as long as you can.
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