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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

On being well: Spirituality in the workplace

by Julia Johnson

The National Quality Institute promotes workplace health by setting aside one week each October when organizations and businesses learn the importance of healthy workplaces. Interest in spirituality, its relationship to personal wellness, and its role in creating a healthy work environment is burgeoning. Practical applications appear in books on "spirituality in the workplace" by Matthew Fox, Deepak Chopra, Stephen Covey, and Thomas Moore. In light of the articles by Amber Harvey in the September and October issues of Teacher entitled "Why teach Spirituality?" I thought I would share some views regarding workplace health, wellness, and spirituality.

In the Financial Post, November 22, 2004, Laura Fowlie wrote that the Frank H. Sobey Faculty of Commerce at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax is going to be "the first business school in Canada to launch a full-fledged centre devoted to the teaching and study of spirituality at work" with the aim of making Atlantic Canada a leader in this field of study. Allan Miciak, dean of Saint Mary’s business school, states, "Spirituality at work is about creating better workplaces and has little to do with religious dogma and theology." The educational goals will be to teach "business in a better, more humane, and more sustainable way."

Martin Rutte, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, suggests that society has a compelling inner longing for spiritual fulfillment brought on by the generation now entering their 50s. Typical of this age group is the exploration of long-term values, legacy, personal fulfillment, and service. As this demographic group is atypically large, their new concern for the bio-environment, with their increased understanding for the need to become involved in its preservation and their emergent spirituality, is making spiritual exploration mainstream.

Michael Stephan, career coach and former chair of the insurance and financial services firm Aetna International, points out that even though "companies for years have created mission statements, credos and codes of conduct to express their corporate ideals, there is a difference between saying it and really meaning it." Stephan believes that "spirituality at work" arises from the ethical concerns resulting from corporate scandals.

At the grassroots, "spirituality in the workplace" or "spirit at work" represents a trend in business, where employees are seeking to find, at work, ways to address the needs of their heart and soul. In an age of uncertainty, where downsizing and having to do more with less is the norm, employees are fearful and insecure. They are looking for an atmosphere of trust, where everything a business does is grounded in sustainable values, where the beliefs and values of the employees are aligned with the work they do, where work is creative and meaningful, where employees feel supported, and where a sense of community enables employees to integrate their personal growth into their daily work life thus enabling them to live lives with greater congruity.

In 1999, I completed a masters thesis on teacher wellness in the context of spirituality in the workplace. I asked, "Do teachers think their spiritual well being is important in the work they do?" I was interested in teacher wellness because I found myself among colleagues who looked as if they wanted to be somewhere else.

When SMU established the Centre for Work and Spirituality, Cathy Driscoll, associate professor, stated, "Work, for many people, has no connection to what they love. It’s a job, a paycheque, or it’s all about getting to the next level, the next job. It has little to do with family or friends, nothing to do with making the world a better place, and does not allow people to express themselves or their deepest beliefs. No wonder millions of Canadians would rather be anywhere but at work."

For my study, I defined wellness as "the integration and harmony of the physical, intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of our lives and is affected by the degree to which one is able to progress forward and upward toward a higher potential of functioning," and spirituality as "Spirituality in the workplace is not religious, but a spiritual discipline that is experiential and humanistic, where each individual is viewed as having a responsibility to develop to their highest potential in order to serve the needs of the world."

In the workplace where my study was conducted, spiritual wellness was given little regard. Only 56% of the teachers agreed or strongly agreed that spiritual wellness is important in the work they do. When teachers were asked to rate their spiritual well being, less than half, 44%, rated their wellness in this domain as good or excellent. According to Brian Luke Seaward (1991), "spiritual well being transcends all other components of the wellness paradigm, and is the very core of wellness." If we believe this to be true, then clearly, for teachers in this study, spiritual wellness needs attention.

Harvey believes that we are already teaching spirituality in many ways and all we need to do is acknowledge these teaching practices. However, even though I concur with this point of view, I also think teaching spirituality is more complex when viewed in the context of personal wellness, workplace health, and social responsibility.

I believe that each of us is a spiritual being on a path of self-discovery. Every situation, relationship, and problem we encounter on the road to maturity offers lessons about ourselves. As we journey on this earth, we must bring our spiritual beings into balance, for only when we experience wellness in all of our domains will the gifts with which we have been blessed flourish, enabling us to bring balance to the world.

When we commit to making personal wellness a priority in our lives, we become healthier. In doing so, we become instruments of healing, for ourselves, for others, and for our planet. That is our reason for being, and that is what we must teach.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School in Quesnel, is a BCTF-PD wellness associate. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca.



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