Finding meaning at work
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For years, it was as if Rogers Strickland lived in two separate worlds.
He started a successful construction business, but it never seemed to intersect with his spiritual, faith-driven side. Until he realized it had to.
“I was good at it, and I was making money, but it wasn’t enough,” Strickland said. “Finally, about six years ago, I began to find some very concrete ways to take what I’ve been doing in the construction industry for 25 years and incorporate it into what I believe.”
Specifically, Strickland began using his skills for a good cause – putting up 26 schools, community centers and churches in Brazil and Guatemala in the last several years.
The experience has brought great satisfaction to him, and he’s not the only one to go through such a search for meaning at work. Many others also are grasping for a deeper purpose in their jobs – finding religious communities that more frequently address issues surrounding the weekday lives of their congregants and discovering some companies that are more willing to address the spiritual needs of their employees.
“It was almost an oxymoron to people – spirituality and work,” said Greg Pierce, author of “Spirituality at Work.””But now it seems like it’s exploding.”
In Kansas City, the Center for Faith & Work has a support group for those between jobs, a coaching program to offer help with networking, interviewing and resume building, and a breakfast and dinner speaker series that seeks to address ways to incorporate spirituality into the job.
The center is sponsored by the local Roman Catholic diocese but is ecumenical in its outreach. Many of its clients are looking for help finding a job, but others are just searching for a way to make their work more meaningful.
“In all respects, work is noble,” said Bob Gillis, executive director of the center.
Companies take a couple of distinct approaches when it comes to bringing the spiritual into the workplace. Many do so generically, with core do-good philosophies, but others are not shy about an overt religious presence.
At Rapid Refill Ink in Eugene, Ore., chief executive Dan White and his executive team have a Bible study each week. Lexington, S.C.-based Southeastern Freight Lines has a paid chaplain on staff to counsel employees. The chief executive of Atlanta’s HomeBanc likes to say God runs his company.
Still, those examples are exceptions.
“We just do what we think is right, try to treat people how we want to be treated,” said Danny O’Neill, who runs The Roasterie, a Kansas City coffee business that donates to 150 charities and operates a foundation named for the patron saint of coffee, St. Drogo, that supports the communities where its beans are grown.
Mark Goebel, director of Chicago’s Crossroads Center for Faith and Work, says the amount of time people devote to jobs makes deriving meaning from it important.
“People tend to live dualistic lives where they have their work lives and their outside-of-work lives,” he said. “Not everyone is going to find meaning in their job, but hopefully people can kind of develop a sacred space in their work through helping to create an environment of hospitality, an environment that kind of welcomes people and is responsive to the needs of people.”
Some think spirituality can actually help workers’ productivity, too.
Krishan Kalra, the chief executive of biotechnology company Biogenex, relies on Hindu prayer, meditation and yoga to balance out his day. The spiritual connection “gives you an infinite amount of energy,” Kalra said.
George Filpansick, chairman of the business division at Dallas Christian College, which offers a program called Bible and Business Administration, said employees don’t have to go overboard in incorporating faith at work, but he believes there’s an undeniable link.
“We don’t have to tell people ‘turn your job into a church,'” he said. “But when you’re serving your boss, you’re serving God.”