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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Spirituality goes to work
By BBC News Online's Emma Clark
Reports that the Royal Mail has called in a team of love-based spiritual consultants seem, on the face of it, rather bizarre.
The idea that touchy-feely spirituality could reform a disillusioned workforce, prone to wildcat strikes, is bound to delight the cynics.
For its part, the Royal Mail has been quick to play down its involvement with Corptools, a US company that promises to unite employees by helping them find spiritual satisfaction in their work.
Spirituality appears under many guises in the workplace, but it predominantly signifies an emphasis on the well-being of the employee.
It focuses on the softer side of business - managing people, social skills, promoting ethical values and providing a nurturing environment for workers.
A cunning plan?
Jokes aside, bringing spirituality into the workplace could be a cunning ploy by the Royal Mail to wean its rebellious posties off their trade unions.
And, interestingly, spiritual values are seen as a way of reducing workers' dependence on the unions, according to some theories.
Dr Rafael Gomez at the London School of Economics hypothesizes that spirituality aims to align worker and employee interests, so "obviating the route to the unions".
Losing the unions
He also points out that areas in the US where religious belief is prevalent tend to have the lowest density of unions.
The idea is that workers in a spiritual environment don't need to file their grievances through union representation because they are free to sit down with managers instead.
Richard Barrett, head of Corptools and a self-appointed guru on spiritual values in the workplace, agrees.
"If you are in a position where you actively seek opinions from your employees, you don't need unions," he says.
In another echo of Consignia's predicament, a two-year study of spirituality in the workplace found that organisations often adopt spiritual principles to cope with crisis.
Co-authors of the study, Ian Mitroff, a professor at the University of California, and Elizabeth Denton, an organisational consultant, laid out their conclusions in the MIT Sloan Management Review.
"The models [of spirituality] appear to have been precipitated by a critical event that caused intense difficulties for the company founders, heads or entire organisation," they write.
The need to deal with crisis in the workplace also works on a personal level.
Father Dermot Tredget, a Benedictine monk and an associate tutor in the School of Management at Cranfield University, runs retreats for stressed-out executives.
"[The workshops] are really for people who have not been happy at work," he says, explaining that he aims to focus on relationships in the workplace, leadership and organisational structures.
He gives the example of a "high powered chartered accountant" who embarked on a workshop because was "fed-up" with his work.
"As a result of the workshop, he decided to become self-employed and moved to an area with cheaper housing.
"He contacted me the other day and said he is much happier," Father Tredget adds with evident satisfaction.
Father Tredget, himself, is an intriguing case.
Before becoming a monk, he held senior management positions in the hotel and catering industry and higher education.
With masters degrees in business administration and applied theology, he seems well-placed to argue the virtues of spirituality in the workplace.
He believes that it puts greater emphasis on the needs of the individual and can improve profitability because valued employees become more productive.
However, he admits that "hard-nosed high fliers tend to be cynical about the whole thing" and finds it easier to offer workshops to individuals.
Corptools' Mr Barrett, who is a Yorkshire expatriate living in the US, also appreciates that there are barriers in bringing spirituality to the masses.
"That's why we don't talk about spirituality, we talk about values," he says.
"You can recruit one or two mavericks, but you risk losing the broad church - the middle," he adds.
Precisely because of this, Corptools prefers to talk about "involving employees in decision-making" and "connectedness", rather than "love-based values".
Although the company does use seven levels of "consciousness" as a model to help companies achieve the balance between commercial and spiritual success, it also boasts a pucker client list.
Projects for clients such as Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, Siemens and the World Bank demonstrate that Corptools can cut it in the mainstream.
Mr Barrett is also undeterred by the onset of a global economic slowdown and the need to cut jobs.
"Even in a recession, you can't afford to let fear creep into an organisation," he says.
Citing Cisco Systems, he says companies should offer staff sabbaticals or time off, rather than cut jobs wholesale.
But whether corporate spirituality will endure is another matter. Father Tredget says that is becoming more mainstream, but adds warily that he takes "one day at a time".
Alternatively, Dr Gomez of the LSE argues that it could be just another consulting fad come over from the US.
The Royal Mail, although shy of talking about its new-found respect for spiritual solutions, could provide a turning point in the UK if Corptools manages to work its magic.
According to Consignia's commissioned report, "there is a clear divide between managers and staff which is exacerbated by the lack of trust and respect for each other."
What better crisis could there be to test Corptools' brand of corporate consciousness and "employee involvement"?
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