The Era of Corporate Spirituality: An Introduction

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Here’s an article I wrote over a year ago on mindfulness and the idea of meditation and yoga fitting into the workplace environment. It’s a little different from my other articles, because its reach was meant for a different audience. And by different I simply mean a little more formal. But If you’re working in a busy working environment or feel you don’t have a very potent work-life environment you might find this an interesting read. Enjoy!

The Era of Corporate Spirituality

Corporate Spirituality and mindfulness has recently been making bigger waves in the news. Companies like Google, General Mills, Target Group and First Direct have already embraced the idea and implemented programs in their organisations. Even Steve Jobs and Ex-Singapore Airlines Chairman J.Y.Pillay mentioned it’s influenced in their decision making skills.

But what is Corporate Spirituality or Mindfulness?

Let’s start by visualizing your workday. imagine going to work in the morning at 8 a.m. While, most employees from other companies are drinking coffee and waiting for their computers to fire up, you’re busy getting ready for your morning routine. You’ve got a meeting at 9 a.m but it doesn’t kill your buzz. You sit in comfortable clothes with your colleagues being lead into the soothing morning meditation followed by a few short minutes of asana practice just to get a light stretch in and awaken the mind. While your colleagues are switching between windows on Facebook and checking through their e-mails, you’re starting your day fresh, calm and full of vitality that puts a positive spin on your work-life and relationships.

Corporate spirituality or mindfulness is essentially using techniques of meditation, brain technology and philosophy to allow leaders and employees to create a paradigm shift in the way they think and feel.

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In an article by the Financial Times in August 25/26 2012, “The Mind Business” reported that the world’s largest organizations, are embracing this culture of spirituality as a path to happier more productive employees which have created greater loyalty and bigger profits. The program at General Mills for example has a cross between light Yoga practice, meditation and dialogue to settle the mind. This unique approach has given rise to employees who are calmer, less stressed and more productive.

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But is this critical to organizations?

In an article on Asiaone.com, March 7th 2012 “Singapore the second lowest globally for job satisfaction: Survey” cited Accenture that 76 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with their jobs.

Redeeming the harrowing results slightly was the recent Jobs Central 2012 Work Happiness Indicator Survey which showed a slight improvement in worker happiness to 59.8%. The highest in the history of the 4-year survey.

Are employees really happier? Do their contentment levels lie in the hands of a better working environment, being well-equipped technically for challenges at work, or is there something deeper at stake? Something beyond the sheath of the employee?

Interestingly, the same findings concluded that Work-life balance climbed 7 positions from the previous year to second place just below job salary.

What do these figures mean to employees and employers?

Well for one, we have to come to terms that it’s no longer enough to attract talent, it’s also equally critical to retain and look after talent as well. Work-life balance has become an immensely important subject to many people. The idea of work, not being all about work is captivating, but personally, I feel the idea doesn’t seem to touch the heart of the matter.

 The Conundrum of Work-life balance

Is there really a Work-life balance? Is there even a balance? Most of us spend, at least 8 hours of our day at work. We sleep approximately another 8 hours and we have 8 hours left of the day. Does Work-life balance mean strictly adhering to those time limits? Of course not and don’t think it never has.

Organizations make ways for their employees to better integrate their personal life with their Work- life so that they can squeeze in daily chores during work. But this is a double-edged sword isn’t it? The same methods also have lead to you having to work outside the prescribed working hours to have tasks completed.

Organizations should be complimented on their ability to put in-place schemes and structures for the better living of its employees. But we overlook that no matter how many schemes you place and conveniences you build, people always fall through the cracks. So they keep re-looking, re-surveying and implementing new solutions to meet the surface of the problem.

In the article written by Andrea Ong in The Straits Times on December 22nd 2012,  “Happiness, Singapore Style” reported that Singaporeans had become less materialistic, more family focused but none the happier. The findings were mainly based on a survey of 1500 Singaporeans by two dons of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

One of the professors, Dr Tambyah brought attention the Easterlin paradox where happiness levels stagnate and wealth continues to rise. The question is, then, what would work better? Maybe the answers to our own happiness at work as in life, lie within?

Mindfulness and Spirituality

Corporate Spirituality is essentially the nurturing of people to grow their mindfulness and to be more resilient even in the face of surmounting challenges from work. It is an understanding that employees well-being accounts for their attitude and quality relationships. The strength of an organization lies in its ability to essentially shift its employees from lower level energies to higher energies like peace, joy, compassion, engagement and connectedness in recognition that it is a family that needs to take care of its own.

The effects have been more than comforting. Mikisha Nation, an employee who helped pioneer the meditation program at Target group had this to say about the benefits of their program, “Happy, healthy, engaged team members create an environment that is a great place to work”. Could this be the answer to lagging Employee Engagement surveys that has long plagued organizations?

Among the superstars of companies, Steve Jobs once himself spoke of how meditation had moulded him and eventually influenced his contributions at Apple.

Closer to home, this Eastern philosophy has influenced other influential leaders. Mr J.Y.Pillay (Then the chairman of Singapore Airlines and Permanent Secretary of the National Development Ministry) in a Straits Times interview dated November 5th, 1994 explained how he uses the Bhagavad Gita the foremost text on Yoga philosophy as a management guide in his making tough decisions.

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One may understand the initial skepticism about applying philosophy and spirituality to corporate situations but on another level, why wouldn’t you? Man has always used storytelling to share values from generation to generation. Why would philosophy and spirituality be any different?

A New Paradigm?

Leaders have to come into alignment with the kind of attitudes they want to project to their organization.  Then the communication will be clearer, then the listening will be heightened and then the inter-personal relationships will blossom. We tend to unconsciously take guidance from those we spend much of time around like parents, friends etc. In this same way, shouldn’t we also be discerning about the kind of attitudes we absorb in our place of work where we spend much of our day?

To conclude, maybe, we have to look beyond the perceived needs of the organization to nurture its people. Corporate Spirituality then, in its dualistic way, addresses the organization and the individual.

Eventually, employees, will look at work as another place they go, to be joyful. Not necessarily because the work has changed, but because they have changed.