In early 2007, the Howard government introduced the National School Chaplaincy program – federal funding for chaplains to work in schools, with the proviso they were not to evangelise or proselytise, but to provide support and guidance to students and staff alike. Now, offering the services of a chaplain to employees is on the rise.
According to one chaplaincy service provider, Chaplains without Borders, the main reasons why companies engage the services of chaplains for the workplace include:
HR isn’t a ‘cone of silence’, and employees appreciate the option of talking to a third party in times of stress, whether the need stems from their professional or personal lives
To assist in crisis management – chaplains can provide support to employees who have undergone a work-related or personal trauma
To provide seminars – covering topical religious issues such as inter-faith understanding and ethics, promoting workplace tolerance and multiculturalism
All good points, but is it really possible for chaplains to provide these services without promoting religion? Some HR professionals say 'yes.' Several organisations that offer chaplains to employees include Crown Casino, Bendigo Bank, The Wilson Group, Southern Cross Station and Silcar Human Resources Management.
While workplace chaplains often can be found in emergency services departments, schools and hospitals, other employers have tended to avoid sponsoring chaplains. However employers that use chaplains say these individuals can act as employee sounding boards, provide counselling, guide employees to other counsellors and help in a range of stressful and possibly life-altering situations. What's more, these employers believe, chaplains can help the bottom line by improving morale and retention.
Some employers are likely to balk at the idea of using a corporate chaplain. "There are still a lot of skeptics in the workplace," says Gil Stricklin, founder and president of Marketplace Ministries, a not-for-profit organisation that provides chaplaincy services to businesses. “If you mention chaplains or religion or faith they say: 'How can you take religion to the workplace? We don't mix religion and work. We don't mix church and state.”
A tenet of chaplaincy is to not overtly push religion but to act as a confidential counselor and life coach. The chaplain can act as the designated person for employees to turn to at the workplace for support and advice about personal matters, as a value-added alternative to the standard employee assistance program.
Religion and the personal struggles of employees are delicate areas to negotiate in the secular corporate workspace; HR may investigate the chaplain/counsellor model to see if it can make for a less stressed (and therefore more productive) workforce.