Although the desire to experience and express spirituality in one’s work appears to be on the increase, there are two difficulties encountered as soon as one tries to discuss spirituality. The first is the fear that spirituality is inextricably linked to organized religions so that a particular religious focus will try to be imposed. The second is the sense that spirituality is so personal that no one can define it in a way that makes sense for another. This entry therefore begins by tackling those two big issues: the definition of spirituality and the relationship of spirituality to religion. Following those sections, research and observations on the relationship between spirituality, work, and career are explored.
A Definition Of Spirituality
There have been a number of studies in which people have been asked to define what spirituality means to them. Although these studies have ranged from large-scale explorations of many people’s ideas to small, targeted studies, the answers have a remarkable similarity. They include the following ideas: a sense of connection to other people, a relationship to the environment or universe, feelings of guidance or purpose from within, connection to a transcendent power, a sense of harmony, and a sense of calling. These phrases have a common core of meaning: the self, the self in relationship, and a resulting sense of what to do or how to be. Therefore, the definition of spirituality that is used throughout this article has two parts. It is as follows: Spirituality is a sense of connection to something beyond oneself and deep within oneself, a connection that informs the search for meaning, purpose, and integration in life.
Relationship Of Spirituality And Religion
Much of the research that served to define spirituality also explored the relationship between spirituality and religion. This research has been based primarily in the United States, although studies have also been conducted in Australia and New Zealand. The results of this research can generally be viewed on a continuum. On one end of the continuum are people who identify spirituality and religion as one and the same. At the other end of the continuum are people who see themselves as “individual seekers” involved in a highly personal journey, whose spirituality is not necessarily tied to religion. This personal journey might include practices such as prayer or meditation, activities that some would associate with religion. Research in the 1990s and into the twenty-first century suggests that Americans are moving more toward the latter end of the continuum. However, organized religion, personal spiritual searches, and what might be described as practices drawn from religion are intertwined for many people.
In A Generation of Seekers, Wade Roof described the many aspects of spiritual seeking, including career implications, particularly among the baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964.
The difference between religion and spirituality in the workplace is particularly important to Americans. In their research, Ian Mitroff and Elizabeth Denton found that employees in companies that they consider to be spiritual are more productive and less likely to leave. They also found that people wanted companies to honor spirituality and act in accord with the values of relationship and connection embodied in spirituality, but they did not want companies to be linked to particular religions. This observation supports the findings of other research that attempts to introduce spirituality into the workplace require a gentle touch that is imbued with both an understanding of and respect for diversity and differences.
Spirituality And Work
There are limited studies on the relationship of spirituality to work. However, those studies show outcomes for both the individual and the organization. Leaders describe their spirituality as keeping them focused on the values and needs of others. Furthermore, individuals who have explored their spirituality benefit their organizations through increased creativity, more ethical behavior, and team building.
Because spirituality is about both relationships with others and about a sense of purpose and meaning, it is strongly linked to the individual’s value systems. Individuals may find that their values are more or less congruent with those of the organization for which they are working. Some research shows that individuals disengage from aspects of the work or leave the jobs completely when their spiritual values are no longer aligned with those of the organization. On the other hand, a recent study showed that congruence in spiritual values between individuals and organizations is positively associated with commitment to the organization.
Spirituality And Career Decision Making
Since spiritual congruence can lead either to commitment or to disengagement, it is clearly a factor in career decision making. Career purposes that have been linked to spirituality include developing oneself, developing unity with others, and expressing oneself. The
search to fulfill each of these purposes affects individual career decision making. In seeking to develop oneself, career decisions regarding integrity and growth affect career choices. In seeking to develop unity with others, career decisions around shared values or a sense of belonging are associated with career choices. The search to express oneself may be seen in career choices around issues of creativity, achievement, or influencing others to express themselves.
Perhaps the most familiar concept associated with spirituality and career decision making is the concept of calling. Sometimes calling, or vocation, is seen as being limited to religious occupations, but calling could be defined as recognizing one’s gifts and using them in productive work. People who recognize and respond to their calling describe their work as fulfilling, even at times blissful. They express a sense of connection between themselves and their work. Identification of one’s calling is often part of the spiritual journey, that is, calling is not necessarily evident early in life, nor is it static.
In sum, the essence of spirituality is the sense of oneness experienced with the self, with others, with work, and with the transcendent. Recognizing the difficulty of holding on to this transitory sense of unity, Deborah Bloch and Lee Richmond identified seven connectors uniting spirituality and career.
- Change: Being open to change in yourself and the world around you
- Balance: Achieving balance among the activities of your life such as work, leisure, learning, and family relationships as well as balance between the old and new
- Energy: Feeling that you always have enough energy to do what you want to do
- Community: Working as a member of a team or community of workers
- Calling: Believing that you are called to the work you do by your particular mix of talents, interests, and values
- Harmony: Working in a setting that harmonizes with your talents, interests, and values
- Unity: Believing that the work you do has a purpose beyond earning money and in some way serves others
The seven ideas above can be seen as attempts to connect to the ineffable sought in the mysteries of the trinity, the One of Judaism, the Om of Buddhism, the Oneness of Allah and the Hindu Vedas. In addition, for some the connections are evident in what appears to be a grand design emerging from discoveries in quantum mechanics and chaos and complexity science.
There is limited research at this time on the links between spirituality and career, the methods for incorporating spirituality in career counseling, and the outcomes of doing so. However, spirituality often incorporates knowing by intuition, and intuition is leading respected members of the field to recommend the incorporation of spirituality into counseling practice.
- Ethics and careers
- Family background and careers
- Multicultural organization
- Religious discrimination
- Bloch, D. P. and Richmond, L. J., eds. 1997. Connections between Spirit and Work in Career Development: New Approaches and Practical Perspectives. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
- Bloch, D. P. and Richmond, L. J., eds. 1998. SoulWork: Finding the Work You Love, Loving the Work You Have. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
- Fox, M. 1994. The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time. New York: HarperCollins.
- Lips-Weirsma, M. 2002. “Analysing the Career Concerns of Spiritually Oriented People: Lessons for Contemporary Organizations.” Career Development International 7: 385-397.
- Mitroff, I. I. and Denton, E. A. 1999. A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America: A Hard Look at Spirituality, Religion and Values in the Workplace. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Roof, W. C. 1993. A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation. San Francisco, CA: Harper.