The worker within

Yoga, t'ai chi, even poetry - soul and spirituality have arrived at the office.
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The Independent Culture
Last summer, you may remember, Glenn Hoddle attempted to improve England's chances in the World Cup through the enlistment of a faith healer. Meanwhile, Prue Leith, businesswoman of 1998, used a spiritual counsellor to map out her career.

Modern-day logic, it is predicted, is set to have even more serious opposition this year with managements throughout the country attempting to let some "soul" into the workplace. Consider the fast rise up the charts of books such as Jesus and Leadership, The Executive Mystic and The Enlightened Management - and the increasingly popular website Consider, too, the fact that stress-busters, yoga teachers and Feng Shui consultants are becoming regular employees of many multinational organisations. Indeed for graduates, this emphasis on the "spiritual" nature of work is almost certain to become a fundamental issue as experts predict it will become the biggest management fad of the next few years.

"It is finally being recognised that companies need to appeal to people's souls as well as to their minds and pay-packets," explains the Reverend Peter Delany, vicar of All Hallows by the Tower of London - who has noticed a recent surge in the number of City workers using local churches, if only for a quick sermon at lunchtime.

"As part of the church, we have a stress clinic which offers counselling, chiropractors, osteopaths and the like. The local business community actually helped fund this, which speaks volumes in itself."

According to Susan Walker, managing director of human resources research at Mori, modern stress levels are largely accountable. "There is, for instance, a mobile phone backlash at the moment. People just want to turn off and find peace." In fact, Mori recently carried out a poll to explore the ways in which wider changes in cultural values affect organisations - concluding that there is a fast growing sense of people wanting more from the "work experience".

Other business analysts believe the spiritual trend is the effect of "pre-millennial tension", information overload or the death of the Princess of Wales. But Rob Briner, an organisational psychologist at Birkbeck College, London, claims that it's simply a rejection of Thatcherite values.

"In the Eighties, employees were not expected to show any emotion at work. But with the recent focus on the success of counselling at work and emotional intelligence, it's hardly surprising that managers and trade unionists alike are willing to consider ideas of corporate and individual `soul'. After all, if you're involved in an organisation which you feel is spiritually as well as materially worthwhile - both to its customers and staff - you're likely to feel more committed and expend far more effort."

In addition, he says, the focus on spirituality at work is an inevitable progression from the emphasis on Culture Change Programmes of the late Eighties. "In those, people weren't asked just to get on with their jobs but were encouraged to start feeling excited and involved in the end project. This was totally new because prior to that, individuals were generally quite cynical about the idea of going to work."

As part of its move to introduce more "meaning" to work, the London-based law firm Mishcon de Reya offers in-house yoga sessions as well as the teachings of a poet-in-residence. "The yoga has been hugely successful as a way of showing we really care about our employees and their wellbeing. Many employees now make sure they use it regularly," says spokesperson Kamal Rahman. "The use of a poet is also about breaking down barriers between personal feelings and work personas, thus creating an ethos of absolute teamwork."

Indeed, the poet has been conducting workshops with everyone from secretaries to senior partners - and all employees agree that writing and analysing poems has created an environment where hierarchy becomes irrelevant. Added to this is the opportunity for everyone to explore "deep" issues which can then be transferred to workplace matters.

"Words are the tools of a lawyer's trade," continues Rahman. "So trying to think about other - more spiritual - industries where words are important has taught us a lot."

Likewise, Omni Solutions offers its employees chi kung sessions, a form of t'ai chi - meaning "energy cultivation" - that entails twice-weekly group sessions at 8am. "The aim is to improve staff wellbeing and morale, and thus office productivity," explains a spokeswoman.

But she is quick to admit that even a decade ago, such an initiative would have been laughed at - a view which Paul Gibbons, PricewaterhouseCoopers' management and leadership consultant, agrees with. "Such measures are still laughed at in much of the business world," says Gibbons, whose MBA dissertation focuses on spirituality at work. "But what people seem to forget is that the objectives are only one step on from those used in team-building courses."

Consequently, he says, he has to be very cautious of the type of language he uses. "If I went into an organisation and talked about `brotherly love' or `being humble', I'd get thrown out. Similarly, if I spoke about `spirituality', people might assume I'd lost the plot. Rather, I have to use words like `teamwork' and `creativity' to get people's attention - and then carefully move on to more involved issues."

But, he predicts, all this is set to change. "Recently, I spoke to the chief executives of two of the most successful companies in the world - one based in Finland and the other one in California. Both mentioned the word `humility' and one said the most important thing to him was the way the top team worked together `in a loving, caring way'. These are words which are pretty `ucky' in the world of business - but perhaps not for very long."

Gill Coleman runs an MSc in responsibility and business practice at the University of Bath, in which spirituality at work constitutes one of the modules. "We explore what the meaning of work is in the late Nineties and how it's changed so much," she says. "Is there an opportunity for reflection in work time? How can employees make a connection between inner purpose and outer work? These issues need addressing urgently for the sake of both employees and employers."

Those who attend the course range from human resources practitioners to line managers eager to get the full potential out of their business. Paul Weilgus is an internal training consultant for Allied Domecq. He will graduate from the course in March. "It's essential to remember that people change, organisations don't," he explains.

According to organisational psychologist Amanda Butt, there is one major danger in all this. "I've seen organisations send staff off on `spirituality days' where they've been encouraged to release every detail about their emotions. Sometimes, as an observer, you feel like you're watching an Oprah Winfrey episode. Then, either the management gets bolshy about the attitudes and holds it against the staff, or nothing further is done with the detail. That's why it is fundamental that any measures for organisations to become more spiritual are handled with clear objectives in mind - otherwise it will all amount to yet another failed business initiative."