What is the meaning of work in my life? Does my work contribute something meaningful to society? Is it reasonable to expect to have a job in which I really love what I am doing? Am I willing to sacrifice to have this kind of job? Do these questions sound familiar to you? More and more people are asking such questions while searching for meaning in their work life.

In a recent study, Mitroff and Denton asked people what gave them the most meaning and purpose in their job. They found that most people do not list money as the most important thing; rather, the first choice was the opportunity to realize one’s full potential as a person. Contrary to expectations, the interviews revealed that people are able to express their intelligence and their creativity significantly more than their feelings and soul. Recognizing these facts, modern organizations have started to find ways to better reflect human being as a whole and to use the benefits of full and deep engagement of their employees.

Conventional Attitudes toward Work

People have embraced materialism, thinking that possessions will make them happy; they have turned to utilitarian individualism and no longer feel connected to one another.1 This disconnectedness gave rise to a business culture in which organizations respond to spiritual matters and concerns by declaring them inappropriate or out of bounds. Conventional wisdom holds that these issues are far too personal and private to be brought up directly in the workplace. It also declares that spiritual matters have virtually nothing to do with the day-to-day demands of work, and even less with corporate affairs. Hence they are to be dealt with outside of work, on employee’s own time, and as the employee sees fit.

Although corporate America declares spiritual issues out of bounds, it draws upon them with calls for employee energy and enthusiasm. This is a contradiction, for enthusiasm is fundamentally a spiritual concept. There is a mutually supportive relation between an individual’s actions and inner life. Attitudes like determination, perseverance, and resolution illuminate one’s inner conscience; the brightness of one’s inner conscience strengthens one’s willpower and resolve, and stimulates one to attain higher horizons.

Organizations create a wall between their employees’ private concerns and their businesses’ public demands. This is both an external and internal division, for it separates the organization from its members’ deepest sources of creativity and productivity, and also produces a fundamental split in its employees’ souls.

Here is a typical concern, as noted by Covey in his best selling, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “I’ve set and met my career goals and I’m having tremendous professional success. But it’s cost to me my personal and family life. I don’t know my wife and children any more. I’m not even sure I know myself and what’s really important to me. I’ve had to ask myself-is it worth it?’

Religion or Spirituality?

Today, people demand more than mere professional success in their work lives. They want to attach a deeper meaning to what they are doing, and they ask for a greater spiritual satisfaction. Mitroff and Denton’s A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America is a celebration and analysis of this spiritual revival. Their book seeks to identify how people conceive of spirituality and religion, and which ways these concepts can be reflected in the workplace.

The authors report that 60 percent of those interviewed had a positive view of spirituality and a negative view of religion. These respondents viewed spirituality as relating to creation, meaning, spirit, soul, and essence of life. On the other hand, they described religion as dogmatic, restrictive, narrow, and exclusive. The authors point out that only 30 percent had a positive view of both religion and spirituality. We find these results indicative of the division in the souls of people between their inherent spirituality and the Divine message. Yet, these are two inseparable concepts.

Since the beginning of time, people have found true peace and happiness in religion, the collection of Divine principles that guide people to good, not by force but by appealing to their free will. All principles that secure human spiritual and material progress, and thus happiness in this world and the next, are found in religion. Morality and virtue cannot be talked about in the absence of true religion, for they originate in a good, clear conscience. And religion, the connection between humanity and God, makes one’s conscience good and clear.

Spirituality in the Workplace

The idea that the body and soul are mutually antagonistic and can develop only at the other's expense has influenced philosophical and religious thought. For the soul, the body is a prison, and the activities of daily life are the shackles that keep it in bondage and arrest its growth. This has led inevitably to the universe being divided into the spiritual and the secular.

This body-soul conflict resulted in two different ideals of human perfection. One was that we should surround ourselves with all possible material comforts, while depriving all spheres of worldly activity (i.e., social, political, economic, or cultural) of spirituality. The other was that the senses should be subdued and conquered, extrasensory powers should be awakened, and the sensory world’s limitations should be vanquished. According to this view, physical self-denial, mortification of the flesh, and withdrawal from the world were necessary for spiritual development and perfection.

Islam’s understanding of spirituality transcends this dualism by functioning as the nucleus of its integrated and unified concept of life. The body was created so that the soul could exercise its authority and fulfill its duties and responsibilities as a human being. Thus the body is the soul’s workshop or factory. If the soul is to grow and develop, it can do so only through this workshop. Consequently, this world is not a place of punishment, but a field in which God has sent it to work and perform its duty toward Him. Spiritual development does not consist of turning away from this workshop and retreating into a corner; rather, we should live and work in it, and give the best account of ourselves as we can.

Islam rejects and condemns asceticism and proposes a set of methods and processes for human spiritual development while living in the world, for it states that such growth can occur only in the midst of life. Religious and secular people work in the same sphere of activity. However, religious people will work with greater enthusiasm than their secular counterparts. Religious people also will be more likely active than secular people, in their domestic and social lives, which extend from the household to the market and even to international conferences.

What distinguishes their actions is the nature of their relationship with God and the goals behind their actions. Religious people act in awareness that they must answer to God for what they do. Thus, they try to secure Divine pleasure and ensure that their actions are in accord with God’s laws. Secular people are indifferent toward God and thus are guided only by personal motives. This difference makes a religious person’s whole life a totally spiritual venture, while the life of a secular person is devoid of the spark of spirituality.

Benefits of Recognizing Spirituality

Today, a spiritual revival is sweeping across corporate America. Executives of all lines are mixing mysticism into their management, importing the lessons usually given in churches, temples, and mosques into office corridors. Since the only thing that really motivates people is that which gives them deep meaning and purpose in their jobs and lives, the only organizations that will survive are those that have a deep value base.

There is mounting evidence that spiritually minded programs in the workplace soothe workers’ psyches and engender greater productivity. A recent research project by McKinsey & Co. Australia shows that when companies engage in programs that use spiritual techniques, productivity improves and turnover is greatly reduced. Mitroff and Denton report similar results: Employees who work for organizations they consider to be spiritual are less fearful, less likely to compromise their values, and more job-focused. People do not want to compartmentalize their lives; they want to have their souls acknowledged as whole persons in the workplace. On nearly every dimension in which they make comparison, researchers find that organizations and individuals who perceive themselves as more spiritual score better than those who perceive themselves as less spiritual.

How Does Religion Affect Conduct at Work?

Morals, which originate in high spirituality, are a set of noble principles governing human conduct. People who neglect spirituality, and so are lacking in spiritual values, cannot sustain conduct in accordance with these principles. All religions encourage good conduct and warn against misdeeds. A sincerely religious person cannot continue unethical behavior in good conscience.

People with strong faith consider themselves and their possessions as belonging to God. They bow their ego, ideas, passions, and thinking to God. They do not dodge responsibility for their actions, and always emphasize doing good deeds, for they believe in their ultimate accountability for those deeds.

The Qur’an states: Work righteously: soon will God observe your work, and His Messenger, and the Believers: soon will you be brought back to the Knower of what is hidden and what is open; then will He show you the truth of all that you did (9:105). The meaning is clear: Be honest and proficient at work, for your actions are being watched and recorded. The concept of honesty and trust can be extended to other dimensions of one’s work as a manager or as an employer. For instance, they cannot mislead their boss or their clients or waste time or organizational resources in performing one’s task, for this would be violating an employer’s trust.2

A similar approach is observed in both Christianity and Judaism. In his Letter to the Ephesians (6:6) Paul says: To those who serve; serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men. In Judaism, the Talmud, which is the body of Jewish civil and religious law, says that the first question people are held accountable after death is: Did you conduct your business affairs with honesty and with probity? All other questions about religious duties come after that question. There is a constant juxtaposition in the Torah between Judaism’s ritual commands and ethical obligations toward other people.

The Ten Commandments, which give the guidelines of good ethical conduct, are observed by both Jews and Christians. The Eighth Commandment is: Thou shall not steal [Exodus 20:15). Stealing also can mean to steal the employee’s or employer’s time, money, or other people’s ideas, and so on. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians [4:28) reads: To those who have been thieves; He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

The Islamic term ihsan means to worship God as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then remember that He sees you. The knowledge that God is watching is likely to prompt any leader or employer to behave appropriately. In contrast to the fear of God and feeling His presence, the love of God motivates the individual to work toward attaining His pleasure. Employees with ihsan push themselves beyond the call of duty; they are energized and willing to make sacrifices. The same concept is also stated in the Bible: Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (Colossians 3:23).

What about the Misuse of Religion in the Workplace?

As the workplace becomes more open to religion and spirituality, differences in perceptions become more pronounced. This may cause conflict among employees and between management and an employee. The potential danger of the latter conflict is seen in the results of The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports: a 29 percent increase in the number of religious-based discrimination charges since 1992. It is the third fastest growing claim, after sexual harassment and disability.

Companies have to focus on the pluralistic, moral messages common to all religions to resolve such issues. People have the right to believe that their religious choice is the best: however, they cannot claim that their religion is the “only right one.” Companies must foster this kind of mutual respect and tolerance among employees and between employees and management.

Footnotes:

1 According to utilitarian individualism, the center of life is the autonomous individual who can choose his or her roles and commitments, not on the basis of higher truths but according to the criterion of life effectiveness as he or she judges it.

2 Islam is very sensitive on this issue. If an employee works on an hourly basis, he or she can perform the non-obligatory prayers on the job only with the employer’s permission. But if he or she works on a product basis, he can perform the non-obligatory prayers freely as long as the work is finished on time. On the other hand, employers are obliged to pay their workers fairly.

References:

Beekun, Rafik. Islamic Business Ethics. Brentwood, MD: Amana Publications, 1997.
Conlin, Michelle. “Religion in the Workplace: The Growing Presence of Spirituality in Corporate America,” Business Week (1 Nov 1999].
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, Fireside: 1990.
Dalai Larna. Ethics for the New Millennium. New York, Riverhead Books: 1999.
Gulen, M. Fethullah. The Infinite Light. London:Truestar (London] Ltd., 1995.
Jones, Laurie B. Jesus CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership. New York: Hyperion, 1995.
Mitroff, Ian I. and Elizabeth A. Denton. A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America: A Hard Look at Spintuality, Religion and Values in the Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. The Book of Jewish Values. New York: Belltower, 2000.
Nash, Laura. Believers in Business. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.

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