are a number of disconcerting phenomena that characterize today's
workplace in the United States. One that is particularly troubling is
the depleted energy and degraded spirit of our most important asset—our
Finding causes would be easy, and two plausible
possibilities come to mind immediately. First, although the Bureau of
Labor Statistics says the most recent recession to the U.S. economy
officially ended in June 2009, economists and experience tell us the
impacts and recovery, like the recession itself, are years in the
making. Besides the devastating financial and economic effects, we could
blame the recession for draining the emotional and motivational psyche
of employees across the country. Employee loyalty is down as is loyalty
and satisfaction from customers; passion is hard to find, because it
seems business processes aren't the only thing technology has
“automated,” and connectedness and community have been supplanted by
self-interest and isolation. But, if that isn't enough, another more
subtle, albeit just as demoralizing, culprit can be indicted. We could
blame the slow deterioration of our employees' emotional and mental
wellness in the “profit-first, double-digit returns” (read greed)
that pervades the corporate strategies and policies of some businesses.
In these cases, the push for profits seems to be without consideration
for the impact on people, and can result in job layoffs and
eliminations; but this disregard can certainly have the same deleterious
effects on people who are left in the workplace after others have been
My graduate school preparation in social work and business
gave rise to my teaching philosophy of “management with a heart.” As a
result, I make no apologies for focusing more on the people part of
creating and growing organizations. Consequently, I am less concerned
with assigning blame than finding ways of restoring wellness. I believe
as leaders and managers, you have a tremendous responsibility and
ability to make a difference. Now, more than ever, your followers and
employees need you to be great “servant leaders,” as Robert Greenleaf
described, ones who serve first. I have some ideas about how you can
serve, but first let's look at some of the context for my concern.
is how I see it. Whether it is a direct effect of the recession or the
byproduct of a campaign driven by heightened corporate greed, the
outcome is the same: the loss of existing jobs, the lack of new jobs,
and the extra work for those remaining in their jobs. What follows is a
severe degradation of spirit and depletion of energy among employees in
the workforce. Individuals in the workplace have become automatons,
tools of production and profit, in a fashion not that dissimilar to
Marx's themes of alienation and objectification. People are happy just
to have a job so they either don't care or don't dare complain.
there are serious consequences. In my opinion, the trampled spirit and
zapped energy have left us with employees who have low loyalty to their
company or their company's clients and customers, no longer know or
relate to their passion, and feel no sense of community in their
Loyalty from employees is important. In fact, the
assertion that employee loyalty precedes a company's financial and
market performance was demonstrated by University of Maryland
researcher, Benjamin Schneider and his colleagues in 2009. And, as far
back as 1997, University of Pennsylvania researchers, in a study of
3,000 companies, found productivity more than doubled when a company
invested in developing their employee capital over capital
improvements—which was more than twice as much than when the same
investment was spent on capital improvements.
As for passion, to
me, it is the biggest element “missing” in the workplace and in
individual employees' work life. It is what gets you to get up early,
stay up late, skip meals, and feel excited—that's your passion.
popular business press tells us that failing to connect employees' work
to their passion is likely among the top five reasons companies lose
their top talent.
Workers feel disconnected. “It's work time, not
social hour—toughen up!” you say? The 2013 State of the American
Workplace by the Gallup Organization claims that 70 percent of Americans
either hate work or are completely disengaged, and perks don't help.
The dissatisfaction, anger, and boredom felt by workers hurts the frail
economy in incredible ways. It costs the United States an estimated $450
billion to $550 billion annually in lost productivity, employee theft,
and absenteeism. Also, American workers who report feeling “engaged” in
their organizations is down 2 percent to 28 percent of the total
surveyed (about 150,000 full- and part-time employees).
that's not the end of the bad news. I contend that many of today's
workplace problems—such as bullying, careless communications, avoiding
workplace problems, poor customer service, warped work–family life
balances, high stress, low productivity—have been created or worsened
because spirit and energy are scant. Did you know that more than
one-third of U.S. workers report being bullied, many by their bosses,
according to the Workplace Bullying Institute? Are you aware that a 2013
Pew study found that 50 percent of working fathers and 56 percent of
working mothers found it very or somewhat difficult to balance work and
family? And, is it surprising to you that Convergys, a leading provider
of customer management solutions claims that customer service complaints
have risen by 13% since 2009? Although we may not be able to draw
definitive correlations, the associations are worth our attention.
need to let go of business as usual, and be open to different roles as
leaders and managers. Specifically, I suggest as individuals and
organizations, we embrace and develop competencies in teaching,
mentoring, and spirit-building to better serve our people. The first two
have been addressed quite well previously, so I will focus mostly on
the third—spirit-building. I do believe these roles transcend sectors.
One of the profound lessons Peter Drucker taught us is that what's good
for our companies and employees is good for our not-for-profits and
volunteers, and vice versa. This is no exception.
teaching role makes sense when we view continuous improvement as more
than surviving, but as “generative learning” that enhances our capacity
to create, as defined by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline.
Typically, learning has been achieved by corporate training, which is
the subject of the 2013 Bersin by Deloitte industry report on trends in
U.S. corporate training. Called The Corporate Learning Factbook 2013: Benchmarks, Trends, and Analysis of the U.S. Training Market,
it is based on a study of more than 300 training organizations
representing a broad cross-section of company sizes and industries.
the data presented are two facts relevant to our discussion. First,
corporate training budgets increased by 9.5 percent to $800 per
employee, as companies continue to reverse the deep cuts they made in
2008 and 2009. Filling gaps that diminish a company's competitiveness is
the reason for the reversal. Not a surprise that competitiveness erodes
when learning diminishes. Second, “mature” companies—those that focus
on improving performance through training and other talent
initiatives—spend about 34 percent more on training, and it is typically
instructor-led, customized learning.
The data reinforce for me
the need for managers and leaders to be teachers and advocates of
learning organizations. Even though I am an academic, I have learned a
lot about effective teaching from my work with business and
not-for-profit organizations. To me, effective teaching is built on four
foundational concepts: simplicity, pragmatism, continuous learning, and
fun—all of which are easily transferable to the “teacher” in the
Building on these guiding principles, we can create
ongoing learning opportunities from everyday situations and breakdowns;
we can invest in training and development through workshops and
conferences; we can assess that our training objectives are defined and
met; and we can connect everyone with coaches and mentors (more on this
next). All of this can be achieved in ways that are sensitive to time
and budgetary constraints and that evolve as leaders and managers see
benefits and returns.
I wish to address mentoring. There is a generally held distinction
between coaching and mentoring in a workplace context. Coaching is
typically task oriented, and would correspond to the teaching competency
we referenced previously, whereas mentoring, on the other hand, is more
often considered relationship oriented.
It is evident to me that
only some of the learning takes place in the classroom. A lot of
learning occurs in the student/faculty advisor relationship. I have had
the wonderful pleasure of experiencing how much students value
responsive and dedicated academic advisors and how often my former
students, now alumni, continue to seek my advice in our postgraduation
relationships. Your employees and volunteers deserve to have that same
experience, to come to think of you as their personal advisor for their
work life! Whether it is in challenging economic times or times of
growth, we know that mentoring can be invaluable to the individual being
mentored (mentee), the organization, and of course, the mentor.
the benefits can be summarized in this way. The value of a mentor who
can help cultivate leadership skills one on one in real-time, reduce the
anxiety in taking big steps, and focus leaders on achieving their goals
Management Mentors, founded by Rene D. Petrin in
1989, identifies a number of benefits for both the organization and the
mentor. For the organization: enhancing strategic business initiatives,
encouraging retention, reducing turnover costs, improving productivity,
and creating a mentoring culture that continuously promotes employee
growth and development. And, for the mentor: gaining insights for their
own development from the mentee's background and history, being
reenergized, learning more about unfamiliar areas within their
organization, and feeling satisfaction in sharing expertise with others.
As with volunteerism, I see that mentors can at the same time be
altruistic and self-interested (with no ill effects).
spirit is waning; managers and leaders need to help them get it back.
This is the message about which I care the most.
spirituality has gained visibility and respect in the past 20 years,
even though it was conceptualized during the early part of the last
century. The Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Organizational Performance
provides a comprehensive description of the development of spirituality
at work. It states that work was viewed as having a spiritual
component—leaders were leading not just for the achievement of tasks but
as part of the ‘greater good.’ But as modernization and
industrialization occurred, spirituality was forced to the background.
Its reacceptance was thwarted by the association of spirituality with
religion, according to researchers Badrinarayanan and Madhavaram. They
argued that workplace spirituality, when identified with workplace
religion, implied the belief in a particular god or propagation of a
particular set of beliefs, which was uncomfortable or perceived as
inappropriate for many businesses.
So, why the sudden renewed
interest in spirituality at work? Many of the explanations offered
center around a common theme—a generalized feeling that workplaces in
the United States have become insecure or even scary environments as a
result of pervasive downsizing by numerous companies. A number of
factors, considered contributors to this phenomenon, include the fear of
losing jobs, the emotional impact on those who remain after companies
downsize, and generally the requisite to do more with less—all of which
are consistent with the spirit and energy “drain” I alluded to in my
What exactly is workplace spirituality? Is it religion in the workplace? Job ethics? Morality at work?
the many conceptualizations, I like the way Badrinarayanan and
Madhavaram characterize workplace spirituality: as beliefs and values,
inner longing for meaning and community, a connection between
spirituality and ethics. They frame the concept as three interrelated
components: inner self, meaningful work, and connectedness. Inner self
means bringing one's whole self to work, being able to be the same
person at work as you are at home or in the community. Meaningful work
is subjective and personal to each employee, but what is common for all
employees is that “meaning” has implications beyond the financial
rewards typically associated with workplaces. Work is perceived to have a
higher purpose than profit. Finally, connectedness is about community;
employees committed to being a part of a company's workforce.
is one additional, albeit important “connection”—it's the connection
that spirituality has to positive impacts in the workplace. Researchers
have demonstrated several benefits of workplace spirituality, such as
enhancing a leader's competence in strategic decision making,
maintaining a competitive advantage, and enriching employee attitudes.
Embrace workplace spirituality. Build spirit around these three components.
self. Identify your employees' creative, professional, emotional,
ethical needs that enable them to bring their whole self to work and
create opportunities to fulfill those needs. Employees and volunteers
who thrive on having creative outlets might be great candidates for
problem solving or strategy making.
Meaningful work. I know you
can't change every job and make it “meaningful”—some jobs are mundane
and routine. But I'm sure the value those jobs hold for your company's
success is meaningful, so be sure to let your employees know that, and
often. You'll see the benefit in long-term productivity and performance.
Create and implement ways to help employees connect with one another
and feel like a part of a community at your workplace. Am I asking you
to sit in a circle, hold hands, and sing “Kumbaya”? Well, if that's what
it takes to demonstrate that you're serious about building community,
then, yes! It is possible to create a work environment in which
employees feel valued and committed to the organization and to each
If what I propose “stretches” your comfort zone or business
model, you may be asking yourself if it's worth it. Research by Harvard
Business School, in 2003, suggests the answer is “yes.” Harvard looked
at 10 companies with strong corporate cultures—they consider these
companies to have “spirited workplaces.” They also look at 10 companies
with weak corporate cultures. Both were drawn from a list of 207 leading
corporations. The researchers found a dramatic correlation between the
strength of an organization's corporate culture and its profitability in
an 11-year period.
The costs to develop these competencies are
reasonable, regardless of organization size or sector. The greatest
“cost” is to mindset, culture, and business models. You may have to give
up some aspects of your way of leading and managing. In particular, you
may have to distance yourself from any presumptions that minimize or
ignore the importance of tending to the affective and motivational needs
of the people who do the work in your organization or business.
Resistant leaders and managers will hear me asking you to become your
employees' therapist or social life director. Not at all. I am asking
you to stop ignoring the realities of drained employee spirits and
depleted energy, and the cost your companies and organizations, and your
people, are paying.
summary, I see loyalty, passion, and community or “connectedness”
fading away, at great cost to our employees and companies, our
volunteers, and our organizations. We cannot stand idly as our people
drift away from their self, their passion, their work, and their
companies and organizations. They want to renew their spirit and
recharge their energy so their satisfaction and productivity might
flourish once again. They need you to inspire, challenge complacency,
and provide effective practical strategies to achieve greater personal
achievement. They want to bring their personal ethics to work, to
believe that work challenges are manageable, the interactions they have
with coworkers can be more authentic and productive, and personal
enrichment and contentment is possible. They need you to guide them,
encourage them, and show them all of this is possible.
witnessed this first hand in my recent work leading groups of
established community theatres and emerging filmmakers. My experiences
have underscored the importance of my role as spirit champion. The
volunteers and employees I have worked with have passion, commitment,
and knowledge, but they lose energy and spirit from the many obstacles
that limited resources and rejections in making art present. They look
to me as their spirit champion.
I am calling you to service. As
managers and leaders, serve your people as teachers and mentors, which
many already do well. But, mostly, I am imploring you to become spirit
builders for all of your people. Set the tone, create, or strengthen the
culture and assure the implementation of an institutionalized
philosophy of service to your people in this way. Be their CSO—chief
spirit officer. Be their servant leader in this way!
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