What is spirituality, and why is it gaining so much ground in the workplace?

Making sense of Human Experience in a post-covid, recovering workplace in constant transformation and change:


The complex and unpredictable nature of the business environment has been a subject of many writings and studies aimed at capturing and unpacking the challenges faced by business leaders today.  While modern-day business conditions are often associated and blamed for managerial stress and the general decline in employee well-being, it remains important to note the influence of certain social, cultural, and geographical aspects that continue to add more pressures to this already difficult and complex post-Covid environment.  South Africa (RSA) is a good example of our V.U.C.A (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) post-Covid world, where this takes place.  It is within the complexity and ambiguity of our experiences that Spirituality might be able to offer a helping hand, a warm hand of insight, but is often brought forth with the cold hand of reason.


What is Spirituality?

The word “Spirituality” is derived from the Latin word “Spiritus” which means “Breath”. Without “breath”, man cannot live (Anderson, 2000).

To be spiritual means to be attuned to God or a Transcendental principal in the universe (Tolle, 1999).

Broadly speaking, spirituality is understood in terms of experiencing and responding to what is most profound in human existence: what brings up our deepest emotions and engages our conscience at that level.  We see things through a certain framework or perspective which has become our habitual way of interpreting all reality.  Then, because we see things like this, we habitually act in and show up in a particular way.  These two things, our vision or outlook on life and the response or way of life which flows from it, make up, what we call our spirituality (Sacha Bermudez-Goldman, 2021:10).

Spirituality at work
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Spirituality also involves the recognition of a feeling, a sense or belief that there is something greater than us, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole, of which we are part of, is cosmic and divine in nature.  Spirituality means knowing that our lives have significance in a context beyond a mundane everyday survival existence at the level of biological needs that often drive defensive, selfish and aggressive behaviours.  Our spirituality offers us a calmness in the unknowing and uncertainty of our time, whilst confirming that we are a significant part of a purposeful unfolding of Life in our universe.

It is important to note that spirituality is not religion.  Religion and dogmatism go together.  As defined by the Oxford (2016) dictionary, “Dogmatism” is a tendency to lay down rules and principles as unquestionably true, without any consideration of evidence or the experiential opinion of others.  Spirituality can be part of a religion, or a general belief-system, but could also be something very personal for man within his inner journeys of self-discovery, self-development / self-actualisation, and self-transcendence (Gardner, 2011).  Zohar and Marshall (2000) concur and note that self-transcendence refers to something beyond the physical world and lies at the core of spirituality.  Lombard (2017), agrees and notes that the mere fact that humans have the psychological ability to experience empathy, is indicative of that other dimension within the human psyche, which he terms, that “other centred” spiritual dimension.

Spirituality has different meanings for different people and thus a singular definition is not enough to describe the essence of spirituality.  Spirituality helps man, and for that matter employees, to make sense of their work and life purpose, especially in times of adversity and uncertainty.  Spirituality in its essence could also be classified as emotional love-energy, used by man to make sense of their higher purpose in this life.

(Willard, 2012) (Zohar and Marshall, 2000).


Spirituality at work:

Historically, organizations often discouraged their staff to practice any form of spirituality within the workplace.  Instead, staff were encouraged to become obedient technocrats with knowledge that applied the law in a value-neutral environment (Bruce and Plocha, 1999).

However, Oliveira (2004) notes that business needs to move beyond this mindset, and highlights several studies conducted on the factors that concurred to an increased need for spirituality within the workplace and lists them as follows:


  • Irreversible global changes that now have organisations desiring a new workplace paradigm.
  • Multiple ethnicities brought new insights into the workplace.
  • Spirituality is a critical human need and must be integrated within organisational culture.
  • Many organisations noted that they could be more successful if they allow their staff to express their spirituality within the workplace.
  • The need for spirituality has also increased due to the rise of technology.
  • The decrease in employment opportunities.
  • The constant pressures of creativity and competition.
  • Continuous uncertainty.


Marques, et al (2005) notes that there is an increasing call for the re-formulation of values within the workplace, as to accommodate a wider spectrum of stakeholders.

Spirituality in the workplace
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They reiterate the importance for organisations to address spirituality at work and notes that this is key in providing a more meaningful and purposeful working environment, with the obvious added benefits of wealth creation, for its stakeholders.

Mitroff and Denton (1999) agree and note that spirituality drives wealth creation through an experience of being connected, and in synthesis with the “self”, and to “others” within the organisation, and the organisation connected with an immediate society, and ultimately connected to a global community.  They state and conclude that spirituality drives a much stronger “interconnectedness” between the various systems within an organisation, which ultimately relates to an improvement in general cohesiveness and co-operation within the organisation.

Many companies such as Xerox, the Calvert Group, the AGL Group of Companies, Butlers Catering and Office Consumables, Aquila d’Oro Roastery, Marwel Investments and Butlers Point of Sale Logistics, are following spirituality programs within their businesses to promote personal development within their human capital.  This has resulted in an improvement in the general wellbeing of employees, their staff creativity, with a general improvement in productivities and efficiencies, whilst strengthening business bottom-line profits.

Can encouraging workplace spirituality be the secret to success within your post-covid business?
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Bermudez-Goldman, Sasha. (2021). “The Gift of a Stranger: Forcibly displaced people and Hope-Gifting” in The Way  60/1 (January 2021), pages 7-20

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Shah Alif Ahmed, 2021, https://blog.vantagecircle.com/


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