Spirituality in HR - better business ethics

Spiritually in the workplace. What? Can you really talk about that at work? There are laws about that, right? Well, first of all, let's examine the law.

Discrimination against people based on their religion is against the law. The Human Resources profession is fully aware of that. I worked at a company, called MetaWare (no longer around) here in Santa Cruz, that crossed that line, and paid for it. (Then they hired me! That was a classic case of closing the barn door after the cow got out.) What most companies have done is avoid the topic at all. Easy solution, right? That way, there is no chance of a law suit.

Also, it is important to distinguish the difference between spirituality and religion, and to maintain clear boundaries in the workplace to protect employee’s who don’t wish to participate in any discussions about either topic (my next blog will discuss this topic in more depth). But for now, I want to be very clear, this blog is simply about the spiritual side, and will avoid discussing religion in the workplace.

It is very important to maintain a clear boundary between what is an appropriate at work, how to bring people into the discussion, without offending anyone. As John Sumser commented on his blog recently:

“At that point, it’s really not about spirituality, even. It’s about principles for successful living. People like Zig Ziglar are good models to consider… spiritual principles with a focus on business outcomes..."

Once that boundary has been clearly marked, it is my contention that spirituality in the workplace will emerge, and become acceptable as a topic of conversation, and even a guiding principle. One reason for that, is that the baby boomers are aging, the first of them turned 60 recently. Not only that, but because of the draining of their retirement savings during the recent economic downturn, they will be forced to continue working.

What typically happens to people facing their own mortality? Often they become more interested in spiritual topics, especially the baby boomers. I am on the cusp of the baby boomer generation, and by some accounts, I am considered to be one of them. We baby boomers have always been leaders in effecting positive change in society. Taking a person's whole authentic self into the workplace would be a very positive change. It is just one more step along the road. "We shall overcome!"

The second reason I see this topic becoming more important to Human Resources professionals is because the Internet, and social networking in particular, is making people much more transparent to their co-workers. If you are on Facebook as a friend with one of your co-workers, you can just open their page up, and see what their religious views are, right under their name! Well, now that is a big secret, isn't it? (...Not!) People aren't shy about stating that information, not one bit. That is transparency. That cat is certainly out of the bag, isn't it?

This topic is already in the news. It is called business ethics. Ever since Enron, people have become aware of the need to shift the focus of business slightly. Maybe, solely pursuing profits at the cost of all else can lead to some horrendous outcomes. It can cause companies to implode, and the employees’ personal life to become unraveled. A more current example is the Madoff scandal. A couple of weeks ago the CFO was taken away in handcuffs, with the prospect of jail time. Perhaps the Human Resource Department could have changed the culture of that organization? All I’m saying is: we (I am wearing my HR Professional hat right now) wanted to have a seat at the table, but what do we want to say to the board members? How about business ethics? Who is the watch dog on that topic?

I say, Human Resources!

Lastly, we spend more time with our co-workers than our family members, for the most part. This is a very engaging topic. Here is the secret that is still in the proverbial closet: Your staff members are already talking about it, they just don't include you in the discussion. You, my dear HR Professionals, are missing out on the fun!

I am guessing that many of you HR Professional would have ideas to offer about this, and would be willing to discuss it. It’s all about getting engaged, and bringing your whole authentic self to work with you. Getting your staff engaged is the first step toward increasing productivity; that alone might be worth it.

Everyone will also have opinions about this topic. Either supportive, or not…it could be a wild ride.

Check out this: Yale Center for Faith and Culture Ethics and Spirituality in the workplace.

Here is another blogger addressing this topic:
Spirituality in Business: The Time Has Come.

I invite your comments.

Posted by Dawn Passaro

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