“There are two main ways that people find meaning through work,” Elizabeth Doty told me in about 2001 while I was researching Work with Meaning, Work with Joy: Bringing Your Spirit to Any Job. “One is giving your gifts to the world through work that comes from some source in you, the kind of work that suits your talents and passions. There is also the process of finding meaning in any work by how you go about the practice of working. The latter idea excites me, because imagine how healthy our society would be if people did all work with a sense of meaning. ….[but] when people think they have to leave the corporate world to find meaning, the corporation becomes hollow.”
Since that interview, Elizabeth has written The Compromise Trap: How to Thrive at Work Without Selling Your Soul. The spirituality and work movements have grown along with a movement towards socially responsible business or conscious capitalism. Still, simple, compelling pictures of what it’s like to do ordinary work with meaning and joy are still fairly rare. That’s why I’m excited by the new TV show, “Undercover Boss,: which puts CEO’s into entry level jobs throughout their company, with a fake identity and a real quest to see what’s really happening.
When Employers and Employees Care About What They Do, We All Benefit.
Probably the biggest blessing any employer could give is to be fully acknowledge employees, as President and COO Larry O’Donnell of Waste Management did when he demonstrated a willingness to learn from his employees and to honor them during the launch of “Undercover Boss” on CBS.
While there was not a “religious” word spoken in this show, I saw in it a great model of the basic Buddhist practice of mindfulness, the Muslim practice of creating no split between what you do in the marketplace and what you do in your religious life, the Jewish and Christian practices of compassion and service, and the Hindu practice of engaging fully with any task but surrendering the results to God.
7 Spiritual Practices Demonstrated by the First “Undercover Boss”
No, none of these principles was stated in the show, but they’re what I saw in action:
See The Truth, Then Live By It, That You May Be Free. In business, truth is often hard to come by, because most managers are surrounded by spin doctors and “yes” men or women who only say what seems currently expedient. Also, rarely do all of us see others without projections or fear, or a quick dismissal because they don’t seem to offer us anything at the moment — which leads to the power of the next tip.
Bless Others By Acknowledging And Appreciating Them As They Are. As many workplace surveys have found, a top yearning for many employees is simply to be seen, acknowledged and appreciated. When they get this from their employers, their morale naturally soars and stress diminishes. Often, productivity also soars — as was reported at Waste Management in the follow-up section of the show.
Open Your Eyes To The A Workplace Full Of Spiritual Allies. O’Donnell was blow away by the gifts and commitment in his own employees. As I discovered during a hard time when my husband was out of work and we were dealing with three fatally ill family members across the country, workplace spiritual allies are everywhere, at every level of the corporate ladder. I learned from such expert practitioners of acknowledgement and appreciation as receptionists and mailroom clerks that simply acknowledging and appreciating others is a deliciously satisfying practice.
Put Your Values Into Action. A huge value for O’Donnell is workplace safety, because his daughter was brain-damaged after a doctor failed to follow proper procedure in a routine medical procedure. That led his vow only to work for or run companies that take safety seriously.
See And Take Responsibility For The Impact Of Your Actions On Others. O’Donnell was shocked to see how badly his productivity policies impacted employees. As CEO, he had the power to change hurtful policies, and he did. We of lesser status in smaller companies always have the option to notice how we affect others for good or ill, as the Iriquois say, “to the seventh generation.” We always have the option to be more socially or environmentally responsible, to be more kind to others, to tell the truth more.
When Life Hands You S__t, Laugh and Deal With It! At Waste Management, some employees literally have to work with human waste. Fortunately, O’Donnell was taught to deal with it from a master, Fred the potty mentor. If you don’t think of laughter as a spiritual practice, remember the proverb that a merry heart is healing for you and everyone around you.
Whatever Your Work, Do It With Caring And Integrity. Or, to paraphrase Khalil Gibran, allow love to take form and be seen through your work. Or as people of many faiths say, through our work in the world, whatever our work, we are God’s hands and feet. So work as if we worked for God or another beloved.
What spiritual practices do you now quietly, and without fanfare, engage at work? What else could you discover if you also shed your usual workplace personal and simply saw it afresh with new eyes?
Please comment below and, as always, many blessings,
Pat McHenry Sullivan