If someone had told me 20 years ago that talking openly about meditation practices with a team of senior execs would be totally acceptable I would have eaten my hat. But while there are still companies that find the idea laughable, it’s increasingly common to meet CEOs, CFOs and other senior leaders who incorporate mindfulness, conscious eating, exercise and yoga into their lives, in part because they believe a healthy mind and body will make them better at their job.
Now some companies are going one step further, hiring ‘spiritual consultants’ who promise to make work more meaningful by bringing ancient wisdom and rituals into the office.
As individuals we may not have the time or resources to check out these rituals, practices and teachings. But if our company does it for us we can benefit from that wisdom too.
There was a time when working with an executive coach was considered a shameful secret so far be it from me to criticise. Anyway, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. I often start workshops with a meditation to ground us all in the present and focus on what we want from the day. I have a selection of crystals I know very little about but enjoy placing around my desk just in case. And when things happen that seem too serendipitous to be coincidence I put it down to the power of the universe.
But while I’m certainly not pushing any boundaries in this area and don’t claim that improved spirituality will be an outcome of one of my interventions, as a leadership and culture specialist I’ve used a wide variety of approaches to try to bring about changes in company culture and have, occasionally, got the tone wrong.
Approaches I’ve thought of as benign have caused uproar and outrage in the past and set us back a step, exposing a company that is nowhere near ready to have the conversations I’ve thought were pretty perfunctory. It’s with that experience behind me that I offer some words of caution.
The pros of spiritual wellbeing
There are some reasons why bringing in spiritual expertise could enhance your business.
1. Creating more purposeful work
Work can be meaningful. Even if you don’t change the world you can enhance the lives of others – your clients, your colleagues, the local community. You can find meaning in doing a job well, in connection with others, in using your skill. When a company looks for ways to value and deepen that meaning the whole experience of work is improved. And a better experience at work is likely to improve your life as a whole.
2. An opportunity to reconnect
Work can disconnect us with ourselves. But when we can bring our whole selves to work we do a better job, particularly when it comes to creativity, relating with others and resilience. If work is disconnecting us maybe it is work’s responsibility to reconnect us with ourselves.
3. A logistical plus
We spend a great deal of time at work. This might mean we neglect our spiritual needs simply because we don’t have time to get them met outside of work. If work can become a more rounded experience we can still tend to our spiritual wellbeing even on weeks when we have to put in long hours.
4. Opening up access to helpful rituals
There is ancient wisdom, forgotten ways of looking at age-old problems and practices that can enhance our wellbeing out there. We aren’t robots. Our needs aren’t that different to the needs of people 1,000 years ago. As individuals we may not have the time or resources to check out these rituals, practices and teachings. But if our company does it for us we can benefit from that wisdom too.
The cons of spiritual wellbeing
There is a bit of me that is concerned about this new trend. I go into this in more depth in my podcast, The Human Revolutionaries Show, but here are the highlights.
1. Spirituality is deeply personal
Some people will have their own beliefs and practices already. And others might be curious but not want to explore these ideas with people they work alongside.
2. Are you bringing in credible experts?
Be wary of practitioners who don’t have deep credibility, which includes walking the talk in their own lives. Seek out deeply spiritual consultants with depth of knowledge and years of practice not someone who has done a weekend course in Watford and now claims to be a master.
3. We’re all different
Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for someone else. What we need and when we need it will differ for each person. Giving access to resources and concepts may be welcomed but imposing a one size fits all could damage engagement rather than enhance it.
4. Spirituality will not fix a toxic culture
A spiritual consultant is no substitute for a healthy, respectful working culture. Even the most Zen practitioner won’t be able to fix people who are broken by your working hours, bullying and distrust. As an organisation you have to commit to treating people right before you claim to be interested in people’s spiritual health.
If you have experience working with a more spiritual approach in your business I’d love to know more. And please comment if you are totally against delving in to people’s spiritual lives in the workplace!
This story is discussed in more depth on the The Human Revolutionaries Show with Blaire Palmer and Natasha Wallace on Apple Podcasts. Each week Blaire and Natasha explore a business story through an HR lens (including this one) and share their opinions about leadership, culture and wellbeing at work.