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Short Nonfiction: Commentary

As a professional in organization and management, I have placed a strong emphasis on the importance of understanding and appreciating the worker. As I consultant, I've initiated Team-Building efforts into many organizations. 

As a writer, I've addressed the concept expressed in "Spirituality -- In the Workplace?" in short nonfiction (as below) for both newspaper commentary and professional journals, as the basis for a layled sermon, and as an underlying theme in a novel-in-progress that is plotted in the hospital field. 

 

Spirituality--in the Workplace?

by William T. Delamar

There are potential spiritual bonds in everything we do.  Most of us look to our churches--or to nature.  But, more and more it can be found in the workplace, where many of us spend much of our time. 

Many people still work at jobs surrounded by strife, conflict, and a competitive, me-first, self-survival mentality.  How can there be any spirituality in that kind of setting?  This is, in fact, the antithesis to spirituality.  It is also the antithesis to team effort.  And team effort and spirituality have strong links.  

Frederick Winslow Taylor, born in Philadelphia's Germantown, maintained in 1881 that workers and management should be able to share the fruits of productivity. Few thinkers in industrial history have had a greater impact than Taylor.  He was the first to study work methods and break them down into specifics that could be identified and taught.  He opened the door to understanding that each part was a piece of the whole.  The resulting training programs opened opportunities for everyone.  What he did was more revolutionary and pivotal than he ever dreamed.  

In this century the real income of workers has increased about twenty-fold.  That doesn't wring the wrath out of work, but it helps, and it's moving us in the right direction.  Without mass training for mass production, this would not have happened.  Without Taylor's contribution, the work of D. Edwards Deming in Japan would have amounted to little.  

Deming had to go to Japan to get wide-spread acceptance of total quality processes, a concept largely based on teamwork.  In the United States, training techniques had proven their worth, but industry was complacent and not interested in more change.  The worker was still a means to an end, a tool.  Besides, there was an inherent distrust in teams.  They were equated to committees, and, of course, "a camel is a horse designed by a committee."  

When our security was under siege by Japan's success, we began to copy the Japanese who, ironically, had learned from us.  We began on a broad basis to look at teams.  We began to act as though employees really were more than just a pair of hands.  

In all walks of life, we work in teams, from family units to church committees, professional organizations, social organizations, neighborhood associations, and many others.  Many of us spend a significant amount of our lives at work.  We work on a spectrum where being hassled and used sits on one end and achieving and growing sits on the other.

There has always been a certain recognition of the inherent worth of the individual in the work place, but it has never been more strongly acknowledged than in the pooling of knowledge and teaming of effort by individuals from all levels to achieve common goals.  While the movement toward this is not new, it has only been a minor stream feeding into a river of vested interests.  It is encouraging to note that the stream seems to be growing in size.  

Teams build group momentum, "esprit de corps," mutual enthusiasm, and mutual commitment.  But there is something more, a compassion and concern for the group itself, a shared concern for every individual in it, a spirit that tends toward a group consciousness, a group awareness, a group being, almost a group soul, from the top of the organization throughout the pyramid. 

Anyone who develops them can verify that in highly performing teams a bond develops.  The members care for each other, help each other, look out for each other, are concerned for the welfare of each other, are concerned about the families of each other.  And the members increase their knowledge by sharing and pooling it to solve problems, all this while the organization prospers.  

There's an element of spirituality to it.

Greed and avarice will always be with us, but so will spirituality.  We all search for real accomplishment, doing something that makes a difference.  Such experiences are spiritual, a sharing, a sense of belonging, for a brief moment, with the universe.  The workforce has gone from individual struggling and learning to team advancement.  

The measure of life is not the wealth one can accumulate, or the power.  The goal of accomplishing something of meaning is something we keep circling around, deflected by money and power, and waves of misunderstanding.  To quote Pogo, "We have met the enemy and they is us."  

Deming blamed the CEOs of corporations for poor quality.  It would be easy to blame the CEOs for the lack of meaning and spirituality in work.  And they are to blame, but they are not alone.  We are all to blame.  Fortunately, the spirit of understanding and mutual concern is asserting itself.  Enlightened leaders hear and are laying the groundwork, not just because it increases accomplishment and production, but because it increases the quality of life.  

Today, many employees have discovered that they can work cooperatively rather than competitively.  They can help each other to achieve rather than to get caught up in the race to get ahead of each other.  They can narrow the circle a little closer to the goal of accomplishing things of meaning. They are learning that the greatest self-interest lies in removing "self" from first on the list.  

Metaphorically, people in the workplace are discovering that work can provide more than economic roots; it can provide wings for soaring to meaning--and a sense of spirituality.          

- copyright  © 1999; 2002 William T. Delamar

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