• Corinne McLaughlin

Spirituality and Ethics in Business

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Many people today are finding that there’s more to life— and business—than profits alone. Money as the single bottom line is increasingly a thing of the past. Values and ethics are an urgent concern. A popular buzz today is about a “triple bottom line,” a commitment to “people, planet, profit.” Employees and the environment are seen as important as economics. Some people say it’s all about bringing your spiritual values into your workplace. A poll published in USA Today found that 6 out of 10 people say workplaces would benefit from having a great sense of spirit in their work environment.

What is spirituality in business? There’s a wide range of important perspectives. Some people say that it’s simply embodying their personal values of honesty, integrity, and good quality work. Others say it’s treating their co-workers and employees in a responsible, caring way. For others, it’s participating in spiritual study groups or using prayer, meditation, or intuitive guidance at work. And for some, it’s making their business socially responsible in how it impacts the environment, serves the community, or helps create a better world.

Key spiritual values embraced in a business context include integrity, honesty, accountability, quality, cooperation, service, intuition, trustworthiness, respect, justice, and service.

Are spirituality and profitability mutually exclusive? Bringing ethics and spiritual values into the workplace can lead to increased productivity and profitability as well as employee retention, customer loyalty, and brand reputation, according to a growing body of research. More employers are encouraging spirituality as a way to boost loyalty and enhance morale.

A study reported in MIT’s Sloan Management Review concluded that, “People are hungry for ways in which to practice their spirituality in the workplace without offending their co-workers or causing acrimony.” The word “spirituality” is used generically and seems to emphasize how one’s beliefs are applied day to day, rather than “religion”, which can invoke fears of dogmatism, exclusivity, and proselytizing in the workplace.

To the surprise of many, this movement is beginning to transform corporate America from the inside out. Growing numbers of business people want their spirituality to be more than just faith and belief--they want it to be practical and applied. They want to bring their whole selves to work- -body, mind, and spirit. Many business people are finding that the bottom line can be strengthened by embodying their values. They can “do well by doing good.”

People at all levels in the corporate hierarchy increasingly want to nourish their spirit and creativity. When employees are encouraged to express their creativity, the result is a more fulfilled and sustained workforce.

Happy people work harder and are more likely to stay at their jobs. Spirituality was cited as the second most important factor in personal happiness (after health) by the majority of Americans questioned in a USA Weekend poll, with 47% saying that spirituality was the most important element of their happiness.

Across the country, people want to bring a greater sense of meaning and purpose into their work life. They want their work to reflect their personal mission in life. Many companies are finding the most effective way to bring spiritual values into the workplace is to clarify the company’s vision and mission and to align it with a higher purpose and deeper commitment to service to both customers and community.

Why all the sudden interest in spirituality at work? Researchers point to several key factors. Corporate downsizing and greater demands on remaining workers has left them too tired and stressed to be creative--at the same time that globalization of markets requires more creativity from employees. To survive into the 21st Century, organizations must offer a greater sense of meaning and purpose for their workforce. In today’s highly competitive environment, the best talent seeks out organizations that reflect their inner values and provide opportunities for personal development and community service, not just bigger salaries. Unlike the marketplace economy of 20 years ago, today’s information and services-dominated economy requires instantaneous decision-making and building better relationships with customers

and employees.

Corinne McLaughlin, is Executive Director of The Center for Visionary Leadership, which offers public educational programs, values-based leadership training and consulting services for business, government and non-profit organizations. She wrote The Practical Visionary, is a co-author of Spiritual Politics and a Fellow of the World Business Academy. She formerly taught at American University and coordinated a national task force for President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development. She can be reached at The Center for Visionary Leadership, 369 3rd St. #563, San Rafael, CA 94901; 415-472-2540; email: corinnemc@;website:

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