“Spiritual harmony in the workplace? Are you NUTS?”
Well…no, at least as of the last time we got checked. Hmmm…there was that restraining order….
One of our friends and readers, Tamara, asked us recently if we could maybe post something about employer/employee relationships, personal growth and spiritual harmony. Thanks for the request, T. It took us a little more time than we’d anticipated, but here it is.
Writing about this area in a piece as short as a blog post is tough, mostly because there’s a strong temptation to get into “origin” issues. By that, we mean discussion of the economic, philosophical, historical and even theological background and traditions from which modern management models and workplace relationships have evolved. There are plenty of books and resources on each of these areas. If you want to dig and need a place to start, send us a note and we’ll suggest some material for you to consider.
We don’t much like sweeping generalizations; however, this is an area in which it’s probably safe to offer some generalized statements. To be taken with a bit of salt, “your mileage may vary,” etc.
1. Traditional corporate organization and management models reflect a top-down structure for control, information flow, decision-making, accountability and reward.
Prescribed or enforced cooperation within the organization is driven by corporate goals and the bottom line. The corporate mission statement in the traditional model may, in fact, reflect goals that speak to the human concerns of both labor and management. However, if there’s a conflict between those principles on one hand, and corporate direction or profit margins on the other hand, the latter will ultimately win the day in almost every case. Top management wants to view the business as a single entity that’s under its control — workers, and managers themselves, are mere cogs in the machine.
Despite politically correct lip-service to the contrary, successful employees and managers in this model reflect money-driven loyalty to the entity and its business goals. All activities are directed toward corporate or financial goals, and the spiritual harmony, personal growth and happiness of those involved are simply not concerns unless they begin to affect the balance sheet in some way. This tends to be true even in corporate entities that publicly reflect homage to humanistic politics or traditional moral values.
2. The adversarial model — for relationships between corporate competitors — is omnipresent.
The rules of engagement are about winning, gaining control of a sector or increasing market share, and little else. That same model also governs, more often than not, in terms working relationships within even progressive companies. The idea of climbing the ladder to success and power is always there, even when the corporate culture and internal language talk about cooperation, lateral structures, shared decision-making, etc. Competition for advancement and increased reward within the organization can often be both fierce and ugly. When the corporation talks about humanistic or spiritual values as keystones of its approach, the level of internal cynicism often grows because too many of those involved see daily examples that are inconsistent with the stated values.
The business of large corporations and their ongoing adversarial relationships are often likened to a endless war. The parties win or lose on a battlefield littered with the metaphorical remains of nameless “foot-soldiers” (employees at all levels) and collateral victims (us ordinary folk who make up the primary markets). It’s no accident that for decades, both The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings have been regarded as guides to effective corporate management and strategy. Both speak of spiritual harmony — but both do so in the context of military strategy, battle, and violent personal combat.
It’s also no accident that in large corporations especially, labor and management see themselves far too frequently as opponents, rather than as partners in a cooperative economic and social enterprise. Each depicts itself as the good guys in the white hats who are being victimized by the abuses of the other side, or as representing the interests of consumers. Neither side hesitates to tell us what we want, what we should think, and what we’re not getting from the other party. This mentality has made labor disputes far more acrimonious than they need to be. In countries where the political balance has tipped too far in toward the right or the left, the national economy suffers, investment dwindles and unemployment may rise. Sometimes, there are flights of capital. For a current example, you needn’t look much beyond the situation of France under Francois Hollande, who’s actually facing a non-confidence vote this week.
3. Employer behavior is completely goal-driven, as it kind of has to be in the marketplace.
Internal relationships, practices and processes, whatever their nature, exist only to expedite achievement of those goals. After all, “everybody knows” it makes no sense to pump money into programs or benefits that don’t directly or indirectly expedite the doing of the job in some way — and that includes even such things as “wellness” programs. These programs can do a great deal of good, but you shouldn’t be misled about the motivations of management in offering them.Too often, such programs are sops to political correctness and modern academic thinking about good corporate governance. They’re also ways to keep employees happier and therefore (at least in theory) more productive.
It’s therefore not a surprise that employer attitudes and reluctance to address the humanistic and spiritual concerns of employees contribute to the “us-and-them” relationship that usually exists between employers and employees — and certainly between Big Management and Big Labor, both whom have long since lost the ability to see the forest for all the trees.
4. Corporate governance is changing (painfully slowly) to reflect humanistic and spiritual concerns.
This is mostly because of the growing shift in awareness of (and public demand for) corporate social responsibility. This is, obviously, a trend we like. It may be the thin edge of the wedge in terms of developing new models for harmony in the workplace. Unfortunately, we suspect that dramatic and sweeping changes are not yet just around the corner.
Moreover, we neither support nor respect efforts by various corporations (including a couple of very large ones with many employees and high public profiles) to operate from a singular institutional belief system. This polarizes the workforce; it polarizes the community, and fosters the unhealthiest sort of us-and-them mentality in a context that already suffers from too much of that.
We think it particularly sad that in the case of “Christian companies,” there’s some really ugly partisan thinking and language coming from the parties that would, in all likelihood, have made Jesus’ skin crawl. As we’ve said before, when groups attach their beliefs to their egos, they often lose sight of the very teachings they claim they wish to represent in the community. The more off-base they are, the more vehemently (and occasionally, violently) they’ll defend their collective egos and positions.
So, where does all this leave us?
Let’s consider. Most of us work (or have worked) for a living — usually, for a great many years. We may have had more than a single job or career. We may enjoy what we do or we may hate it with a passion, but we do it anyway because we feel we have no choice.
We’ve all got bills to pay, right?
We learned our trades in schools and colleges and universities, and in the workplace itself. We were told that hard work is good for us, builds character and is its own reward. We were told that if we could just keep our collective noses to the grindstone and plug ahead, all would be well and we’d earn our just rewards at some shadowy future time.
We accepted the supposed truth of that lesson, both economically and spiritually. The language of work and reward has been a cornerstone of our economics, our politics, our theology and our spirituality. In fact, the industrialized west is made of up of societies that regard this language — and the adversarial process itself — as foundation principles. We’ve made sweeping historical assumptions about the correctness of these positions, even when we have before us irrefutable evidence that they don’t really function as promised.
To be fair, these notions have worked pretty well in and for the corporate world. They’re no longer working so well for us as individuals and community members, in part because we’ve allowed our energies to be badly misdirected.
We’ve become so focused on work and reward, and on the confusion between “reward” and “happiness,” that most of us no longer live for “now.” Instead, we work “now” so that we can be happy “later.” And as soon as we fix on happiness as a goal to be reached in time, we all but eliminate our chances of knowing present happiness as a state of being. Corporate behavior, even in the most enlightened of corporate entities, can’t help but reinforce our fixation on happiness as reward.
Most of us have also become entangled in the “us and them” thing.
We either find it ready-made in the workplace, or we cart it right on in there with us.
The consequences are disastrous in terms of our feelings about employment, our spiritual health, our ability to plan coherently in the face of corporate and political lunacy, and our willingness to resume control of the directions our lives seem to take. We may even have gone so far as to identify ourselves by our job descriptions, or by our union or management affiliations, with social and economic implications that limit our choices and courses of action even more.
That’s not even remotely healthy in terms of your productivity, your physical health or your spiritual well-being. Too many of us suffer from the disconnections between our personal lives and our employment, even when we don’t recognize the sources of the problem.
To restate the obvious, if you’ve been unable to find or maintain spiritual harmony, growth or peace of mind in your role as an employee or employer, you’re going to have to change your mindset and your vocabulary about the nature and functions of work. You’re going to have free yourself from the traditional assumptions and viewpoints that have governed employer/employee relationships for a very long time.
You’re going to have to rethink your role as a working adult, and the role daily employment should play in your spiritual and social life.
If you’re a regular visitor to our blog, you’ll already know that we don’t think much of the traditional work/reward model as the paradigm for spiritual growth, spiritual harmony, happy living or the sorts of success that enrich your life non-monetarily. You’ll know that we see happiness and peace as ongoing states of being you can learn to cultivate through a state of intentional clarity and a serious reworking of your internal dialogue. You’ll know that we see each moment of your life as a new opportunity to feel happiness and peace.
When it comes to the nature of “work,” you’ll also know that we view your responsibilities as including the clarification of your own highest ideals and true needs. They also include your whole-hearted and ongoing attempt to live those ideals in every moment, irrespective of your faith, your ethnicity, your background — or the nature of your employment. When you make that honest attempt to live your ideals in every moment, whatever you’re doing, you get to stop worrying about spiritual harmony, as it becomes an automatic byproduct of your relationship to others and to your deepest self. Work may be what you must do to live; it should never define your personality, your true heart or your ability to know peace.
It can’t destroy that ability unless you allow it to do so.
If you feel chronic tension in your working life, or you hate your job, or it just doesn’t satisfy needs and desires you don’t even like articulating to others, we have some ideas and suggestions for you:
1. Be curious and persistent in your search to define and live your highest ideals in each moment of your life.
Your understanding of the central nature of this axiom will turn your striving into a moment-by-moment process you’ll quickly come to enjoy, independent of the nature of your work.
We learned this years ago through watching an old friend approach everything she did with energy and enjoyment. She loved artistic expression in any form. She liked doing things well, and she didn’t care whether those things included learning to build the foundations of her own house, painting a still-life or cleaning a toilet in someone else’s house. She was curious about everything and persistent in her approach, as she regarded any task as an opportunity to invest herself in the process and the outcome. Her work, and the other things she did with her time, became exercises in continuous enjoyment. She clearly didn’t give a damn what others thought about her choices.
“Us and them” really didn’t touch her.
She brought the enthusiasm to the task, rather than the task creating her enthusiasm. Her work, whatever it involved, became a mode of expression for her ideals and her self.
These attributes also made her an outstanding employee, as she got the real rewards she was after in every moment. The pay she earned was gravy, and the intrinsic value she place on any activity she undertook enhanced her worth and made her a valued and valuable employee.
She also seemed able to impart what she knew to those under her supervision. She didn’t tell them what to do unless they asked specific questions; she didn’t tell them to watch her and do it her way. She simply led by example, and others wanted what they saw her getting out of the process. They pursued the intrinsic and intangible “rewards,” finding motivation that had little to do with money, position or corporate prestige.
2. Never stop educating yourself; embrace learning experiences, including your own mistakes.
One of the quickest ways to get around boredom and dissatisfaction in your work and your life is to commit to the habit of lifelong learning. When every moment is chance to grow, to stimulate your intellect or emotions or spirit, and to take pleasure from challenging yourself to greater understanding, you WILL find your heart’s desire.
And you won’t care how long it takes. In fact, you won’t pay much attention to the passage of time at all.
You’ll be too busy enjoying the process. So, never mind what anybody else thinks of your ideas or your abilities. Just go do it, and let them find their own validation elsewhere.
3. Your work is yours in a real sense, even if you’re doing it for an employer who pays you money — so keep searching until you can occupy your working hours with something that makes you feel good in the doing, as well as in the result.
If your sole interest in your work is the pay slip, you’re screwed before you start. You’ll end up measuring your working life in pay periods, while waiting for some magical event that will let a future, shadowy version of you escape from the drudgery when you’ve put enough time in.
From an employer’s perspective, this attitude makes you only slightly better than dead weight.
In terms of your satisfaction with life and work, your focus on the interval-based monetary rewards pretty much ensures that at best, your work will be boring and unsatisfying. At worst, it will lead to poor health, intellectual stagnation and spiritual turmoil. Guess what: work is a place where you should be able to engage with the process of your own growth and happiness — not disengage from it while you’re waiting for the next cheque.
4. If you’re an employer, learn this critical lesson: if you really want productivity to increase, quality to soar and market share to grow, try focusing “daily happiness” and “employee life development” as primary products, right along with the goods or services you offer the public.
This isn’t as oddball or counter-intuitive as it sounds. These things don’t just serve your bottom line because they may enhance productivity if handled properly. We’re talking about a little more than a wellness program or the availability of onsite facilitators here. If your employees value every moment of the time they spend “in shop” because their work (both environment, and the work itself) makes them feel consistently satisfied and happy, you’ll have the best labor relations in the history of your industry — and the rest will follow.
What we have in mind requires that you engage with employees in a completely new way, using language, values and approaches that are REALLY different from those that are already familiar to you. You’ll be making a paradigm shift, and it will pay off — but it’s NOT for the faint of heart. Hard work and commitment….
5. The keys to spiritual growth and harmony in the workplace are the same as those that apply elsewhere because they reside within you.
To live your own best ideals, to take satisfaction in every moment, and to find your freedom and passion irrespective of your job description, there are only a few things you need to do.
First, rethink your basic assumptions about what you’re doing and why, even if you must step away from long-held beliefs to find your own way.
Then, learn to remake your own internal dialogue so that your conversation with that inner guide we all carry with us become clear, cogent and uniquely meaningful. Learn to redefine the things that touch your mind, your heart and your spirit, irrespective of the demands of other people or institutions. Your validation and happiness will come from within when you can learn to do these things.
That’s what living — and working — from within a state of intentional clarity actually means.
There’s more to say about this.
Unfortunately, it will have to wait for other posts and other discussions. We note in closing that we’ve come well past traditional organizational and management models in some respects, in part because of changes in national consciousness and the advent of IT and social media. We recognize that the old models either don’t work any more, or don’t work the way they used to. That’s not necessarily bad — but we’ve yet to free ourselves from the old attitudes, beliefs and principles that underpin our work relationships. We’ve now had the benefit of new ideas from generations of academics and theorists, and they’ve offered whole new models and vocabularies to help us take action to improve things in the workplace.
We’re not sure its working out as they’ve envisioned. The proof is in the tensions and stresses so many of us still suffer daily in the workplace.
But for you as an individual, it doesn’t have to be that way. So…decide how you’d like to proceed from here.
Our best to you, always,
David & Kathryn