Workplace Spirituality

  • Carole L. JurkiewiczEmail author
Living reference work entry



Aspects of the workplace, either in the individual, the group, or the organization, which promote individual feelings of satisfaction through transcendence.


Interest in issues of spirituality, particularly as related to the workplace, has grown rapidly over the past two decades and has moved from theoretical conceptions to definitions to measurements. Workplace spirituality is generally understood as either a set of static qualities that organizations may or may not possess to varying degrees or traits that change little if at all over time, such as benevolence, generativity, and gratitude (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2010b). The other approach views workplace spirituality as a dynamic set of skills or capacities that can change in conjunction with the external environment. The forces driving this growing level of inquiry are (1) a recognition that younger and subsequent generations place emphasis on inner life satisfaction as much or more so than materialism and promotion and (2) evidence that workplace spirituality has a positive impact on motivation, productivity, efficiencies, and financial outcomes. The field is very much a developing paradigm and often researchers need to educate readers about the topic as they report their findings.


Initial research into workplace spirituality by scholars, practitioners, and the general public prompted researchers to search for the causal factors. Some reported it was merely an expression of a global value change initiated by younger generations. Others suggested it was resultant of an expanded interest in Eastern philosophies that promote the integration of self with the environment (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2006). The predominant then and now the foundational belief is that the interest in workplace spirituality is a reactive response by organizations to developments that heightened social anomie and increased a sense of further alienation from their employers. Surveys indicated that while employees were dependent upon their workplaces for the human contact and social interaction (Jurkiewicz 2012), they simultaneously felt anxious and insecure at work. As individuals are distanced from the traditional social supports of nearby family, places of worship, and neighborhood affiliations, the workplace became increasingly more important in satisfying their social needs, and individuals looked to their experiences there to enhance their self-esteem, recognition, and respect.

An organization’s culture has a profound impact on its performance, as has been well documented in the literature, and a spirituality-based culture has been shown to have the greatest impact on productivity, employee loyalty, ethics, leader effectiveness, and financial prosperity, among many positive variables (Jurkiewicz and Giacalone 2016). Spirituality, as defined here, has no connection to religion; religion in the workplace tends to be divisive and discriminatory and leads to lower productivity (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2010a). Workplace spirituality is expressed through the values that define an organization’s culture. Adopting this set of ten values is viewed as a strategic advantage and a key element in an organization’s strategy to achieve its goals (Kolodinsky et al. 2008).

Values Framework of Workplace Spirituality


Demonstrating kindness toward others, coupled with the impetus to foster the happiness and prosperity of employees and other stakeholders, is benevolence. Such behaviors generate positive emotions in employees and increase their positive attitudes about work. Research has shown that employees who have shown organizations demonstrating benevolence have higher motivation toward task accomplishment and are 86% more productive than those in organizations where benevolence is absent. Organizations which promote happiness have employees who are better able to moderate stressors.


An organization operating with the value of equality treats all employees as inherently worthy and equivalent in all matters, regardless of lifestyle orientation, demographic, or hierarchical position. Employees feel respected and value and feel as if their voice in organizational matters is important. Organizations demonstrating equality have fewer unhealthy conflicts, reduced political activity, less gossip, and higher levels of collaboration and mutual support.


Generativity in organizations is express through policies, practices, and programs that demonstrate a concern for the future and the individuals not yet born who may be affected by activities undertaken in the current time period. Organizations high in generativity are proactive in leaving something behind for those who follow. Behaviors that evince generative concerns, such as sustainability practices and awareness of environmental impact, demonstrated concern over an employee’s lifespan and mentoring, and the organization’s reputation show that these orientations are positively correlated with career outcomes, role clarity, job satisfaction, loyalty, sector dominance, and productivity.


Humanism is expressed through practices and policies that assert the essential dignity and worth of each employee and provide opportunities for personal growth as a function of achieving organizational goals. The positive effects of humanism on organizational culture are increased hopefulness, self-esteem, and job satisfaction. Employees are less distracted and are able to focus more clearly on the tasks required. Employees who view their workplace as a place to advance spiritually are inclined to exert greater work effort than those who view their organizations as merely a means to a paycheck. Humanistic values increase employee identification with the organization, making them more protective of its reputation.


Integrity is demonstrating uncompromising adherence to a code of conduct; sincerity, honesty, and candor simply because these are recognized as inherently worthy. In the absence of integrity, a multiplicity of values often conflicts between personal and organizational life, leading to feelings of disconnect and disparity and reduced connection with the organization (Jurkiewicz and Thompson 1999). Further, it has been shown that organizations and employees function best when their values are aligned, increasing productivity and employee commitment.


All employees are interconnected and mutually dependent as a community; each contributes to the process of goal achievement. Interdependence is a workplace value that emanates from the importance of working together for a greater overall good, both for goal achievement and for feelings of social connection. Combining these outcomes enhances intrinsic motivation and facilitates the social contract, thereby enhancing feelings of identity with the organization and loyalty to it.


Employees who expect to be treated fairly are happier and more productive, and their organizations see higher financial outcomes if those expectations are evinced in practice. Employees’ sense of job satisfaction is directly connected to the perceived justice of employers’ decision-making, policies, practices, and decision-implementation procedures. Even during periods of downsizing or cutting costs, organizational leaders who are subject to the same sacrifices as their employees and speak with them directly and transparently about the cuts, the reasoning behind them, the expected outcome, and the timeline can still retain high levels of loyalty and productivity and reduce the theft and other negative impacts that usually occur in such circumstances.


The interconnection and interdependence of employees provide a benefit to the organization. Core feelings of belonging to a community and engaging in meaningful work lead to increased organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and self-esteem. This balancing of needs and contributions encompasses both employees and stakeholders who essentially share the same goals of working toward the common good. Valuing mutuality leads to organizational success and career optimism. Cohesive groups given some control over their work in conjunction with others are also less likely to experience burnout, unhealthy conflict, hopelessness, and feelings of alienation that lead them to seek employment elsewhere.


Research has shown that threatening organizational cultures lead to rigid and simplistic decision-making that is invariably faulty and shortsighted. Those cultures inclusive of receptivity create supportive and open relationships with employees, foster productivity and creativity at all organizational levels, and make leaders feel more comfortable with risk and change, leading to better quality decision-making. These creative organizations are more fiscally healthy and therefore are better able to adapt and grow with changing internal and external conditions. These cultures also are better able to function during crises and use crises to advance the organization in general.


Organizations benefit from a culture that values mutual respect and demonstrates consideration and concern for others. These organizations are characterized by employees who are less likely to suffer from burnout, are less stressed, are more productive, are more satisfied with their employer, and are less likely to seek career opportunities elsewhere. Further, research has shown that respect for employees increases their job satisfaction, reduces absenteeism, weakens efforts to unionize, and increases the average length of tenure with the organization. Respect also generates higher levels of organizational spirituality, an orientation toward giving, and an acceptance of diversity. Along with these benefits, respectful cultures increase employee enthusiasm for their jobs, collaboration, creativity, and performance.


When employees who have demonstrated capability and skill are allowed to follow through independently on aspects of goal attainment, both employee and organizational productivity increase. Such self-directed employees, when encouraged by the organizational culture, are more conscientious, collaborative, and overcome obstacles more creatively and efficiently than other organizational cultures. Empowered employees are more intrinsically motivated and productive; with the greatest productivity gains seen at the lower levels of the hierarchy, such autonomy is rare.


Research has clearly demonstrated that trust between employees and between employees and their employer is essential to productive work relationships and that those organizations which create trust are more productive than those that do not. Employees who can confidently depend on the organization and know the organization trusts them have a greater sense of employment and personal security, reduced political behaviors, and greater employee commitment. As the Pygmalion effect has shown, employees live up to the beliefs employers have in them, and if they believe they are trusted, they are more likely to behave in a trustworthy manner.

While spirituality-related work policies and practices such as gainsharing, job security, narrower wage and status differentials, outlets for worker input into the organization’s decision-making processes, and legal guarantees on individual workers’ rights have been widely correlated with growth in labor productivity, it is the organizational culture that is the determining factor in the extent to which these and other similar practices are likely to be adopted, or if adopted, in whole or part. Many, if not most, organizational cultures are resistant to such changes even when presented with the empirical data supporting their efficacy. As with all changes, there are considerable short-term costs in instituting new long-term policies and procedures which can be perceived as deterrents, especially given most organizations focus on short-term results. However, a large body of data suggests that the costs connected to the conversion to a spirituality-based work culture are more than offset by measurable productivity and financial gains.

On an individual level, demonstrated benefits of a spiritual culture include enhanced physical and mental health of organizational members across the hierarchy, fulfillment of personal growth needs through contributing to something larger than oneself, and a sense of self-worth. The literature associating workplace spirituality with performance can be grouped into three key areas: motivation, commitment, and adaptability.


Organizational cultures defined by workplace spirituality have a positive impact on employee motivation. In such an environment, employees believe that their efforts make a substantive difference in organizational outcomes and are motivated to achieve them. They exhibit greater determination in overcoming impediments in reaching these goals and are more inventive in crafting solutions to resolve problems causing goal interference. By satisfying personal growth needs through the attainment of organizational goals, they are subsequently intrinsically motivated to excel. This motivation to achieve occurs at both the individual and team levels.


An employee-employer job fit characterized by value alignment has been reported as resulting in increased productivity and success in recruiting talented employees, reduced turnover, and increased employee commitment as a function of workplace spirituality. Employees find personal fulfillment through their work as well as the satisfaction of a job well done, enhancing feelings of identification with and commitment to the organization.


Employees in organizations with greater levels of spirituality display increased acceptance toward organizational changes. They are better equipped to direct the change process, are more open to new ideas, and experience less anxiety than employees in organizations without spiritual cultures. These employees are also more adaptable to organizational needs for action, feeling they are serving a greater purpose rather than simply doing a job. Finally, such cultures promote employee creativity and individuation, with positive financial impacts.


The majority of our waking hours are spent at work. The work we do and the culture in which we do it are essential to our self-concept, which affects the quality of our lives beyond work as well. We seek growth and satisfaction through our efforts both in terms of the contributions we make and the fashion in which we make them. To accelerate this sense of satisfaction is to motivate individual effort and, in doing so, maximize organizational performance.

The intrinsic drive for personal growth through skill development and self-actualization has been established across a range of interdisciplinary research (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2010a). Generally, individuals seek opportunities to grow and advance themselves, to feel respected and valued for the contributions they are making, thereby experiencing a needed sense of connection to others. Such experiences transcend both the tasks themselves and the mundane aspects of the workplace and align us with a sense of the meaningful which we feel but can only rarely articulate. We can work longer and harder under these circumstances yet leave refreshed and energized, rather than drained and depleted. This sense of meaningfulness extends to our personal lives as well. Described by some as “a peak experience,” “in the zone,” “flow,” or “when things just clicked,” it is the time when we are compelled toward our best efforts and are able to overlook insignificant distractions.

We also know well when that sense of connection between spirit and work is missing. We are too aware of the resultant feelings of disconnect and disassociation. Many have come to accept this lack of fulfillment as normal and the lowered expectations of work as only a necessary step toward monetary reward. While we might yearn for the spirit/work connection, many have come to believe that it is magical, a chupacabra, that the confluence appears out of nowhere and disconnects without warning or reason. As discussed here, advancing research has shown workplace spirituality is set of tools than can be implemented to maximize both organizational and individual benefits.



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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McCormack College of ManagementUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA