A few months ago, in the lunchroom of my office, there was a spirited — OK maybe even heated — discussion about religion. While I won’t go into the specifics of what each side was arguing, let’s just say that the various parties who were involved had deeply held beliefs that were in direct opposition to one another. And, after the conversation, both sides left feeling upset and misunderstood.
Due to the potential for run-ins such as this, I think that if you were to ask around, most people in the U.S. would contend that religion and business shouldn’t mix. Based on what I saw, I would probably wholeheartedly agree as well, and caution against getting into discussions such as the unfortunate one I just recounted.
Still, I believe that each of us can benefit from personal reflection about how our spirituality impacts our work lives. Note that I said spirituality, not religion. While religion is associated with a prescribed set of practices and beliefs, I see spirituality as relating to how we answer existential questions regarding why we are here, and the relationships we have with life and a higher power. If we don’t think about our spirituality as we are going about our work, we miss important opportunities for greater self-knowledge and work effectiveness. Here’s why:
1. Spirituality provides you with a sense of purpose.
For those of us who are deeply spiritual, our sense of what we are on earth to do pervades our very being. It simply cannot (and should not) be checked at the door. Research actually shows that people who see their work as a calling are more engaged in their work tasks and exert more effort toward accomplishing their goals. Even if you aren't deeply religious, reflecting on your purpose and how you can fulfill it through your work will give you a boost.
2. A sense of spirituality helps you to be more resilient.
In the work world, as in other arenas in life, disappointments and setbacks arise. Having a spiritual foundation can help you to step back, maintain perspective and bounce back from obstacles more quickly. As a corporate psychologist I have the opportunity to hear about the deep motivations of many of my clients. For many, the belief that the events in their lives (even the disappointments) provide them with important growth opportunities, allows them to benefit, even when they experience failure.
3. A sense of purpose inspires creates an inspirational culture.
Have you ever worked in an environment in which the goals were simply to make money and hit the metric of the day? I've consulted for organizations in which this was the culture, and while I can say that there were a lot of people who worked very hard to hit the numbers set for them, they frequently had a hollow, somewhat unsatisfied feeling as they went about their work. Even when they reached their goals or earned a bonus, the feeling of elation associated with it was often short-lived, as the bar was raised the next time around.
In contrast, organizations I have consulted for in which the employees have a deep sense of mission, whether it's using their gifts to heal patients, help clients achieve their goals, or change the world, have happier employees. While money can be a motivator, for most people, it isn’t the key to happiness. Focusing on purpose in the organizational culture creates a happier and healthier work force. This creates greater alignment and teamwork.
So, while I suggest that you avoid getting baited into a conversation about religion in your office, I encourage you to engage in deep reflection about how your spirituality can help you to enjoy greater fulfillment and achievement in your work. Taking the time and effort to answer life’s deep questions can only benefit you.