Building your spiritual climate at work

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A recent McKinsey* report showed that around 40% of respondents were at least somewhat likely to change jobs in the next 3-6 months. The numbers are no longer surprising as we have seen it all unfold in what has been called “The Great Attrition”, “The Great Reshuffle” or what could best be described as “The Great Existential Exit”. Clearly, people place a lot more value on their time, family and personal life and demand more from their employers. In response, employers are working on their “employer brand” and trying to offer more flexibility. Job postings offering remote work attract a large number of respondents. But isn’t that closing the door after the horse has run away?

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Employers need to engage at a much earlier stage in an employee’s decision-making timeline — and by “engagement” I mean “listen.” Each of us has a different story to tell, different issues, different life stages, different hopes and dreams for ourselves, and different reasons for thinking about leaving. This is where the “spiritual climate” of an organization comes into play.

Over the last decade or more, the world of work has come a long way in addressing and embracing people’s mental health and psychological lives. In larger organizations, there are quiet rooms, background music spaces, prayer rooms, and walking tours. These developments were a big step in the right direction for those who could afford such changes. But changing the spiritual climate of a workplace requires much deeper work.

In his famous hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow spoke of our need to meet our most basic physiological needs first – or what he called “deficiency needs” – the need for food, water, sleep, then security, a roof or a head, etc. When these are met, he said, we seek out “growth needs” such as love and belonging, esteem, and ultimately self-actualization. Most people think of self-actualization as the pinnacle of personal development – ​​the realization of knowing yourself and living a life true to your strengths and values. But later in life, Maslow wrote about the next level in his hierarchy – “Transcendence”. This level is like the outward eruption of the “Volcano” of the hierarchy. Until now, the satisfaction of needs has been to the advantage of ourselves, the individual. But in “Transcendence” we connect to something outside of ourselves, bigger than ourselves, which may or may not include a deity.

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Very often people who have taken a course in mindfulness ask me if it is bad to have an ego – shouldn’t we just dissolve the ego and “merge” with the cosmos, or the whole of all of us? Certainly, different religious traditions have different answers to this question. But my answer is that we all have the wonderful and exciting challenge over time to become the best versions of ourselves so that we can become pillars supporting the collective good. That greater good, whether it’s a more compassionate workplace, increased diversity, reduced poverty, a focus on peace – all of these lofty goals depend on each of us as individuals and must be built and supported. And that is what we want to get from work and work can give it to us. It’s a great place to get it. This feeling that “I matter”, “what I do matters” and “I have a role in building the greater good”.

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Growing our spiritual capital at work will see “Stress Management” training replaced by “Compassion Education” programs. There will be a new emphasis on responsibility so that alongside the rights of each individual will come a new sense of responsibility. Until now, the responsibility for managing stress has always rested with the individual who is suffering. In a spiritually healthy climate, each of us will become aware of the stress we might impose on others through excessive workloads, meaningless work, causing fear in others, creating a low mood or unfavorable atmosphere, micro-management and a multitude of other ways. This sense of responsibility will add meaning to our lives by showing us the impact we have on others, on the organization as a whole, and on the world at large. Our role in the world will become visible to us and extend far beyond any simple job description. We will become not only citizens of our organizations, but active citizens of the world, playing our part in building the greater good. There’s no better place to start than where we are.

  • McKinsey Quarterly, April 12, 2022

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