Should orgs offer chaplaincy services?

by Stephanie Zillman21 Oct 2013

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.


  • by Kenn Kilah 19/03/2012 3:02:07 PM

    Hi there. I have been working as a chaplain in the workplace for the past ten years. One of the important benefits I have found is to actually relieve department managers from having to deal with personal issues such as; stress over marriage problems, stress of single mums with sick children, counseling men who have child support issues, men who have issues with blended families. My employer woul always support me in communicate the benefit of managers recommending their staff to me.

  • by John Attwater 19/03/2012 3:27:23 PM

    This is what Employee Assistance Programs are for, not chaplaincy services. I wonder how receptive a muslim or buddhist employee would be to being referred to a chaplain for support on personal issues....let alone an atheist. It's hardly inclusive or recognising the diversity of our workforce. In fact, it's sending a very clear message to employees about the culture of the organisation, and what 'most of us around here' are like.
    I would also think that chaplaincy advice would be rooted in religious values and beliefs, potentially doing more harm to an employee experiencing a personal issue, than good. I can't imagine employees seeking support on issues such as unwanted pregnancy, divorce or sexuality would get receive balanced and reasoned advice in all circumstances.

  • by Bernie Althofer 20/03/2012 9:28:12 AM

    Organisations can and do have both Chaplains and an EAS/P. Having worked in a police organisation where both services were provided, each service seemed to meet differing needs of individuals. Chaplaincy Programs that offer a range of religious backgrounds may find that employees 'accept' the diversity of beliefs.

    I suspect that if there are clearly defined policies and procedures, and understandings about who provides which service and the limitations, then the Chaplains and the EAS/P can work together when required, and as individuals offer services or support as required by the employees. Kenn and John both offer good points. Having been a Peer Support Officer who has liased with both Chaplains and EAS/P staff, employees seem to head towards those who can best help them when required. Sometimes, it will be the Chaplain, sometimes EAS/P and sometimes both.
    I believe that establishing a relationship is a key determinant and when trust has been built, and employees know what can and can't be discussed in confidence, they know who they will go to for support.

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