'Cult or culture?': What is workplace spirituality?

Should your HR department invest in a more 'spiritual' mindset?

'Cult or culture?': What is workplace spirituality?

The modern world is obsessed with the latest trends. From TikTok to Avo-Toast, our lives are dominated by what’s in vogue.

Our organizations aren’t immune to this reliance on popular new ideas – with HR being subjected to many weird and wonderful trends throughout our tenure.

The latest is workplace spirituality. A relatively new idea, workplace spirituality is a divisive initiative in which employers reimagine religious acts as workplace activities.

The idea simple enough in theory. By adopting key values and working in certain ways, employees feel connected to each other – much like worshippers would in a religious ceremony. That connectedness manifests as joy, meaning employees are more productive, happier and, ultimately, loyal to the company.

Cult or culture?
It sounds inspired on the surface however the practice has divided the mainstream media.

A recent article in The Guardian[i] declared “you just invented the cult” in reference to companies adopting this new model.

The piece went on to claim that businesses have been acting like “religious institutions for a long time, demanding full obedience with the threat of excommunication”.

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Yet a feature in The New York Times[ii] was a lot more accepting – featuring an interview with the co-founder of Sacred Design Lab, a “research and design consultancy working to create a culture of belonging and becoming”.

Positioning itself as an alternative to archaic corporate away days and mandatory Zoom bonding calls, workplace spirituality intends to foster an authentic culture by embedding itself into the very bones of an organization. By transforming everyday workplace tasks into “sacred rituals” employees elevate their behaviour – giving work a sense of meaning.

So, what does a ‘spiritual’ workplace look like?

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Well, it’s not as unfamiliar as you might think. A spiritually-led organization is one which promotes individual development and training, a focus on creating a healthy work-life blend and fosters an authentically transparent culture. Sound familiar? It should – these are all fairly common ideals in lots of successful companies.

Invested leadership
Spirit-centred leadership is a core component of early workplace spirituality. If an employee feels as if their management team is truly invested in them as a person – not just in regards to their work life but to their personal wellbeing and health – then mutual trust is created.

But does workplace spirituality actually work?

Well, the results are pretty favourable. A report from Springer[1][iii] found that implementing workplace spirituality has the propensity to reduce work-family conflict – adding that older studies have found a correlation between the model and work-family enrichment.

A further research paper from Krishnakumar & Neck[iv] found that workplace spirituality had a positive effect on the organization as a whole, teams and individual employees.

Essentially, if an employee feels respected and connected at work, they will carry this feeling over to their home life. Think of it as a community – much in the same way as a priest, pastor or Imam is involved in many aspects of a worshipper’s life, from their family relationships to their physical wellbeing. By embodying values which are not only relevant to the company structure but also transferable into the personal lives of employees, organizations cross that line between work and home.

Core components
A paper entitled Spirituality and Performance in Organizations: A Literature Review[v] detailed three ways in which workplace spirituality impacts organizational structure;

  1. HR perspective: spirituality enhances employee well-being and quality of life
  2. Philosophical perspective: spirituality provides employees a sense of purpose and meaning at work
  3. Interpersonal perspective: spirituality provides employees a sense of interconnectedness and community

The basis of workplace spirituality is an assumed level of mutual trust between employer and employee. According to Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer, 73% of employees expect to be included in any organizational future-planning, with nine in ten workers expecting their CEO to lead decisively and ethically. The link is there – the correlation of employee involvement and overall satisfaction – but attributing that purely to a workplace spirituality model seems blinkered.

The ROI on any engagement scheme is difficult to prove – the results are hidden in the mindsets of individual employees. The best way of approaching workplace spirituality is to think of it as a type of ethical leadership emanating from the top down.

After all, if an employee feels heard, respected, and cared for then it stands to reason they’ll stick around. Which is something HR’s been preaching about for years.



[i] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/06/office-spiritual-consultants-capitalism?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

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