Photo: Faith & Work, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, by J. Irving
In the increasingly post-Christian and pluralistic contexts of North America and Europe, the question “Can you bring Jesus to work?” has the potential of raising diverse and intense emotional responses.
Corporate Chaplaincy on the Rise
One expression of bringing Jesus (or faith in general) to work is the emerging trend of corporate chaplaincy. To the joy of some and perplexity of others, corporate chaplaincy is on the rise. Illustrating this trend, one of the largest providers of corporate chaplains, Marketplace Ministries, saw more new companies added to their roster in 2015 than any year since their founding in the 1980s.
Marketplace Ministries notes that, “almost everyone said developing a business model of corporate chaplains caring for workers, as well as their families, in the secular workplace was impossible.” Trends in the industry suggest otherwise. For example, Tyson Foods employs around 115 chaplains in their company; this translates into roughly one chaplain for every 1,000 employees in the company.
Finding Jesus at Work
Emma Green draws attention to these trends in her recent article in the Atlantic entitled “Finding Jesus at Work: Why are more and more companies offering access to chaplains as an employee benefit?”
My thoughts in this post are influenced both by Green’s article as well as two occasions I had to hear from David Miller over the past year. David Miller, cited frequently in Green’s article, is the author of God at Work and director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative.
Here is some of what I’m learning about why corporate chaplaincy is on the rise and the benefits corporate chaplaincy offers.
Why is Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work on the Rise?
I see two reasons behind the rise of corporate chaplaincy and faith at work emphases in the realm of business.
1 – Considering the Whole Person
The first reason is the move toward holistic thinking. Both within society in general, and the corporate world in particular, new emphasis is placed on viewing employees as whole persons. Consider the following examples in some corporate environments:
- Attention to ergonomically sensitive work conditions
- Increased consideration of work-life balance
- Focus on physical and mental wellbeing
- Provision of nap rooms, yoga classes, and onsite workout facilities
While not all work environments give attention to such considerations, an increasing number of companies are doing so. This represents a shift toward seeing employees less through a mechanistic lens and more through a whole-person lens.
Mike Tarvin of Tyson Foods’ chaplaincy program notes that “[John Tyson] wanted people to be able to bring their whole selves to work.” For Tyson Foods this means that they want to provide team members “an opportunity to bring that whole self, including that spiritual side, and not [feel] like that they have to check that at the door.”
2 – Finding Community for Whole-Person Challenges
David Miller notes that “Human beings still have problems in life—we get cancer, we get divorced, we have workplace accidents.” People seek out diverse avenues of support for such problems. To name a few of these avenues, this support sometimes comes from friends and family, sometimes comes from medical professionals, and sometimes comes from religious communities.
While many find external support independent of their work environment, the challenge arises when many workers find themselves separated from such needed support systems. When this happens, employees, and employers, feel the negative impact on employee health, wellbeing, and productivity.
In light of such realities, David Miller points to the following: “Due to people not having sufficient social support networks, whether at church, in the family, or community, it has become necessary for the work of organization to become the new community.” Or, put it another way, Emma Green notes, “Workplace chaplaincies are another attempt to make workers more productive by catering to their ‘whole’ selves.”
Alongside other employee-assistance programs (EAPs), the provision of workplace chaplaincies provides another accessible pathway to help employees as they engage the difficulty realities of both the workplace and life. Emma Green notes that because work, and life, can be painful, “These chaplains may be able to provide much-needed comfort to people who need it and can’t find it elsewhere.”
What Benefits do Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work Offer?
In the section above I argue that corporate chaplaincy is on the rise due to rising consideration of the whole person paired with the decline in workers finding whole-person support outside the work environment. These realities, whether helpful or not, provide a key incentive for businesses and employers working to be part of the solution.
1 – Benefits to Companies
On this point David Miller notes, “Everyone now gets it that if your employees are healthy—physically, psychologically, and now we can maybe argue spiritually—they’re better employees.” Miller notes that this adds real value to companies due to variables such as lower turnover rates, increased focus on the job, and reduced stress-related illnesses. Further, Doug Fagerstrom (CEO of Marketplace Ministries) points to his clients reports of increased worker productivity due to corporate chaplaincy programs.
2 – Benefits to Employees
Employee health—physically, psychologically, spiritually—not only benefits the bottom line for companies, but it also provides deeply meaningful benefit to employees as well. On this point, Mike Tarvin (of Tyson Foods) notes that chaplains try to “find out where they’re coming from, so that we can help determine on their own what they see as their meaning in life or purpose in life.”
The theme of purpose is something that is vitally important to me both personally and professionally.
Personally, I want to engage my work in a manner that connects with a deeper sense of spiritual purpose in life. I want to know that what I do on the job has meaning—that it matters to me, to others, and to God. Whether someone is a factory worker, school teacher, or serving in another role altogether, most people want to know that what they do matters—that it is meaningful and infused with purpose.
Professionally, studying the role that purpose plays in the lives of leaders is an active path of research I continue to explore. It is also a line of research that is providing significant affirmation on why purpose is important to leaders (see some of my reflections here). I would certainly argue, though, that this importance is not limited to leaders. All workers, leaders and followers alike, benefit from connecting their work with what is meaningful.
As Tarvin notes, corporate chaplains have played an important role for many workers desiring to think through their meaning and purpose in life. Corporate chaplains and faith at work help workers to bring their whole selves to their workplace. Corporate chaplains and faith at work also provide a platform on which workers may tap into a deeper sense of their meaning and purpose in life.
What’s your experience with corporate chaplains and/or intentional efforts to bring your whole-self to the work environment? Take a moment to share your thoughts below.