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IIBMS – Spirituality in the workplace

CASE 1:    Spirituality in the workplace


IIBMS – Spirituality in the workplace 

    Traditionally, the workplace and spirituality did not mix in America. But things are changing. Andre Delbecq, a Professor in Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution, said: “There were two things I thought I’d never see in my life, the fall of the Russian empire and God being spoken about in a business school.” Now management books and conferences (including the annual meeting of the Academy of Management) deal with the various aspects of how God can be brought into the organizational environment. To be sure, people who want to integrate spiritual dimensions into the workplace are still considered rebels. But ServiceMaster, a Fortune 500 company with some 75,000 employees, created a spiritual organization culture many years ago. Indeed, Peter Drucker, one of the most prolific writers on management, had high regards for the company that is known for its products such as Terminix (pest control), TruGreen, Merry Maids, and others.

When people in the US were asked if they believe in God, some 95 per cent said yes. It is in a spiritual context that business people under the daily pressure can discuss their inner feelings. As the baby boomers, now in their 50s, are reaching the top in the organizational life, they begin to wonder what life is all about. They lived through the youth culture of the 1960s and the 1980s that was dominated by greed. They are now questioning the real meaning of life and the ethical dimension of work. Jose Zeilstra, an executive at Price WaterhouseCoopers worked around the world, practicing her Christian principles in different cultures. During her assignment in China, she strongly argued against the practice of giving “very expensive gifts.” As a result the business transaction did not work out. Yet, in the long run, while integrating her personal beliefs with her work, resulted in a very successful career. Academic institutions such a the University of St. Thomas, the University of Denver, and the Harvard Divinity School are following and studying the movement of spirituality. Other schools such as Antioch University in Los Angeles, the University of New Haven in Connecticut, the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, Santa Clara University in California as well as institutions abroad such as the University of Bath in England and the Indian Centre for Encouraging Excellence in Bombay, India, are conducting research, conferences, or lecture on spirituality.

       The cover story of Business week (November 1, 1999) discussed how company outlets such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s as well as the Xerox Corporation pay attention to spiritual needs of their employees. Some companies claim an increase in productivity, decrease in turnover, and a reduction in fear. A research study by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in Australia showed that firms with spiritual programmes showed reduced turnover and improved productivity. Professor Ian I Mitroff at the University of Southern California even stated, “Spirituality could be the ultimate competitive advantage.” But there is also the concern that cult members and groups with a radical perspective could use the workplace for their own aims. Still, employees in companies that integrate spirituality in their work place count on the potential benefits of greater respect for individuals, a more humane treatment of their fellow workers, and an environment that permeates their organization with greater trust.


  1. What is spirituality?
  2. Is this topic appropriate for businesses?
  3. What are the arguments for and against its inclusion in business?

IIBMS – Spirituality in the workplace

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