Despite all the furor about religious views being expressed in the workplace, evidence exists that the presence of spirituality in workplaces is actually growing in corporate America.
For the past six years, hundreds of employees of Xerox Corporation have taken part in “vision quests,” spending 24 hours alone in the Catskills in New York or the desert in New Mexico, with only sleeping bags and water jugs. The excursions, part of a massive project designed to revolutionize product development, give workers the chance to commune with nature, seek inspiration, and pray for guidance about how to succeed in designing and building Xerox products. Engineers in New Mexico were startled and inspired when they spotted a Xerox paper carton at the bottom of a pit in the ground, bobbing around in a pool of discarded motor oil. The sight gave them the idea to design a machine that would not be responsible for polluting a dump.
Later, at the company’s design offices in Rochester, NY, workers passed a rock around the room, similar to the Native American “talking circles” where only the person who holds the stone is allowed to speak. Some of the stodgy engineers found the experience amusing. At the end of the discussion most agreed that they felt a genuine spiritual experience while discussing their thoughts. And the vision question proved successful for Xerox – it resulted in the design for the company’s hottest seller, a copier that is 97% recyclable. When word got out about the results of the Xerox spiritual event, senior executives from other large companies including Nike, Ford, and Harley-Davidson went to Rochester to get a personal look at what Xerox had accomplished.
Spiritual happenings such as these are taking place in companies all across America, both large and small. At the Young Presidents’ Organization conference in Rome last year, some of the youngest and most powerful CEOs in the world experienced a most dramatic spiritual sessions led by Richard Whiteley, a management consultant who also wears the hat of an urban shaman. In a room lit by candles and filled with the aroma of incense, the 17 young powerhouses lay on towels, listening to a single tribal drum and focusing on their breathing. Whiteley whispered to them to envision a hole in the earth, like a well. He then instructed them in how they could retrieve “power animals” from their inner depths, who would help them guide their companies to success in the 21st century.
In Minneapolis, there is a monthly meeting of 150 captains of businesses who gather at a private club to seek out business solutions from the Bible. A group of high-powered executives in Silicon Valley – founders of Cirrus Logic, BioGenex, and Cascade Communications – are part of an underground movement to bring spirituality and technology together. Corporate leaders at Aetna International have extolled the benefits to be found in regular meditation, and Aetna employees are encouraged to use spirituality in their careers. In Boston, an invitation-only monthly prayer breakfast brings together heavy hitters of industry to celebrate First Tuesday. Even small consumer-based corporations such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and Walmart are bringing in chaplains on staff as “God squads” to visit employees when they are sick, having emotional troubles and need in of someone to talk to. These chaplains even officiate at workers’ weddings and funerals.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of the growing spirituality in the workplace movement. According to the Fellowship for Companies for Christ International, more than 10,000 prayer and Bible groups meet regularly in workplaces across the country. Five years ago, only one conference met regularly to discuss spirituality in the workplace. Now, there are more than 30 regular conferences every year. The world of academia is jumping on the bandwagon too. Research centers focused on the subject have been opened at several colleges and universities including the University of New Haven, the University of Denver, and the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Books discussing the subject have been hitting bookstore shelves in record numbers, quadrupling in the past decade. According to Laura Nash, author of Believers in Business, spirituality in the workplace is exploding.
If any of these events or discussions had taken place as recently as a decade ago, there would probably have been outraged public outcry and intense media scrutiny. But today, the taboo against speaking of God while you’re at work is slowly slipping away. Instead, a new spirituality is taking its place, and in addition to bringing their laptops and briefcases to work, Americans are bringing their faith.