Hiring spiritual support, in the workplace?
Companies across the country have hired thousands of chaplains to offer spiritual support to employees. They say it's good for workers, and the bottom line.
Chaplain John Eaton checks in on employees at Purdy McGuire – an engineering firm in Dallas.
“Our job is a lot of it to help them see there’s hope,” Eaton says.
Some weeks the chats are about sports or church, sometimes about problems at home. Principal Scott Brown, who’s LDS Mormon, likes the check-ins.
“A lot of times we’re dealing with deadlines and stress and so it’s nice to have someone come in and just unload for a minute and get away from it,” he says.
Eaton visits thirty companies every week. His employer, Plano-based Marketplace Ministries, is the nation’s largest provider of workplace chaplains. It sends thousands into high-rise cubicles and factories across the world. From Pilgrim’s Pride to Burlington Santa Fe Railroad.
“Some places are more reserved and it takes a long time to build credibility with the employees,” Eaton says. “I’ve had people brush me off for three years and three years and a day go by and they want to talk.”
Building credibility takes time, especially in today’s multi-cultural society.
What’s Your Agenda?
Most chaplains at Marketplace Ministries are Christian. Eaton is non-denominational, and says he only offers his religious perspective if he’s asked about it.
Employees have his cell phone number, and sometimes meet with him after work in a café or conference room for privacy if they need more guidance.
“I’ve got a process that I work through with people to help them identify and put words to what they’re feeling, how they’re reacting,” he says. “It’s not therapy, it’s just basic easy to understand information for life.”
Since Eaton is employed by a third party, everything is confidential, except certain in certain life-threatening situations.
A Business Decision
Purdy McGuire CEO Diane Fletcher hired the chaplains for her staff, but when she had to lay off several employees in 2011, the chaplains helped her cope as well.
“They asked if I wanted them to be onsite the day of the layoff so they could be supportive,” she says.
The chaplains perform weddings, funerals, and help resolve conflicts between employees.
The price for a firm her size? About $10.00 per employee each month.
“If I was having to make a budget cut I would never cut this from my budget,” Fletcher says. “I would personally write a check myself to have the service for my employees because I see the difference it makes.”
From The Battlefield To The Board Room
The idea of workplace chaplains isn’t new.
David Miller, director of Princeton University’s Faith & Work Initiative – is writing a book on workplace chaplains. He says the idea goes back centuries -- to England and the industrial revolution, and later to the U.S. Military.
So what’s brought it from the battlefield to the boardroom?
To start, spirituality is back in style, Miller says.
“People may not [identify] with a tradition or denomination, but there’s a growing interest in spirituality,” he says.
The second trend is in the workplace itself. A realization that it pays to allow workers to express themselves, whether that be through spirituality or style.
And of course, there’s the financial return. The World Health Organization estimates stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year. If a chaplain can help keep anxiety at bay and workers on task, productivity goes up.
Still, there are risks of mixing religion and work.
“With chaplains running around some people might feel a little awkward,” Miller says. “What signal are you sending? Is your business a house of worship or is it a house of work?”
Awkward feelings aren’t slowing down business. When Gil Stricklin started Marketplace Ministries in 1984, he had trouble getting one client. Now, maps of China and South Korea hang from the walls of his Plano office.
“We don’t go there to proselytize or to use our religious faith to harass you. We’re there to take care of everybody, Buddhist or Baptist.”
Stricklin, who’s 80 years old, was an army chaplain for two decades. He’s worn patrol caps, hard hats and cowboy hats to counsel employees at work sites. No matter the industry, he says everyone has a problem sometime.