The Benefits of “Spirit at Work”
By Rhonda L. Norman
Today’s organizations are experiencing many challenges with a volatile global economy, fast rate of change, and increasingly diverse workforce (DeBell, 2001). The workforce has drastically changed since Frank Parsons began advocating for true reasoning, which then prompted organizations and individuals to pay attention to “person environment fit” (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013). Many employees do not have long-term expectations for their job tenure or careers (Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013; Kinjerski & Skrypnek, 2008a). In this time when engagement, commitment, and innovation are vitally important for organizational success, how can cultures be created that are healthy, inclusive, and thriving? One unifying concept that has promise to aid in this effort is “spirit at work.”
What Is “Spirit at Work”?
Spirit at work is defined at the individual level, by feelings of wellbeing. It is a belief that one’s work makes a meaningful contribution, a sense that work provides a connection to something larger than self, and placing the importance of work in the context of community (Duchon & Ashmos, 2005; Kinjerski & Skrypnek, 2006). The term is also used to revere organizations that foster a culture that includes autonomy, trust, cohesiveness, support, recognition, innovation, and fairness through leadership and effective work processes (Kinjerski & Skrypnek, 2006). Overall, organizational and individual “spirit at work” has been associated with increased creativity, honesty, trust, and commitment in the workplace, along with an enhanced sense of personal fulfillment for employees.
How Can “Spirit at Work” be Cultivated?
A key to increasing commitment and retaining valued employees is the ability to develop healthy and productive workplaces. At a time when employee retention is at the forefront of many organizational goals, especially for the workplaces that have experienced layoffs, downsizing and restructuring at the height of the recession, cultivating spirit at work may well provide a framework for increasing meaning and purpose for individuals, and for the organization.
In their study investigating “spirit at work,” Kinjerski and Skrypnek (2006) found inspiring leadership as the single most influential factor. Leaders who were able to provide a clear vision and purpose, exemplify personal integrity, and foster a culture of caring that contributed to a sense of community among employees, were able to realize additional benefits from the intervention. Additional outcomes that emanated from the intervention include the following:
1. A shared vision, mission and purpose and an intention to contribute to the overall good.
2. A positive workplace culture including a positive physical space for employees to work.
3. Positive connections with all members of the team and development of a sense of community.
4. Opportunities for members to pursue professional and personal growth and to fulfill their own personal mission through work.
What Are the Benefits of “Spirit at Work” for Individual Employees?
Focusing on individual employees, Kinjerski and Skrypnek (2008b) examined “spirit at work” using a quasi-experimental pretest-posttest design. The intervention emphasized what “spirit at work” is – living purposely, living spiritually, appreciating self and others – and included organizational conditions such as inspired leadership, sense of community, personal fulfillment and developing a positive workplace culture. Key findings from the qualitative data revealed the following results and benefits for individual workers:
1. Enhanced relationships: “Staff are having fun, sharing jokes and showing respect” (p. 23).
2. Improved communication: “more open in communication” (p. 23).
3. Personal Well-being: “I have more vitality at work” (p. 23).
4. Aligning work with service and making a difference: “it is about serving the residents and I knew I made a difference” (p. 23).
What Are the Benefits of “Spirit at Work” for Organizations?
At the organizational level, Kinjerski and Skrypnek (2008b) investigated “spirit at work” in a patient care environment, and results showed important outcomes that could impact organizational commitment, productivity, and patient care. In the Kinjerski and Skrypnek (2008b) quasi-experimental pretest-posttest study, the major and significant quantitative findings at the organizational level were a decrease in absenteeism and an increase in employee retention.
Why Is “Spirit at Work” Important?
In summary, healthy and thriving workplaces consist of employees who contribute to the mission and vision of the department and organization, and who gain a sense of accomplishment when completing their work day. Workplaces cannot always offer additional compensation, but intrinsic benefits can result from connecting with “spirit at work.”
Spirit at work has been associated with improving the morale and well-being of individual employees. It has also been associated with organizational benefits such as employee retention, improved communication, improved work relationships, and a greater commitment to the organization. Finally, the literature establishes the importance of effective inspirational leadership as the key driver of success in realizing the benefits of cultivating “spirit at work.”
DeBell, C. (2001). Ninety years in the world of work in America. Career Development Quarterly, 50(1), 77 – 88.
Duchon, D., & Plowman, D. A. (2005). Nurturing the spirit at work: Impact on work unit performance. The Leadership Quarterly 16(5), 807 – 833.
Kinjerski, V., & Skrypnek, B. J. (2006). Creating organizational conditions that foster employee spirit at work. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 27(4), 280 – 295.
Kinjerski, V., & Skrypnek, B. J. (2008a). Four paths to spirit at work: Journeys of personal meaning, fulfillment, well-being, and transcendence through work. The Career Development Quarterly, 56(4), 319 – 329.
Kinjerski, V., & Skrypnek, B. J. (2008b). The promise of spirit at work: Increasing job satisfaction and organizational commitment and reducing turnover and absenteeism in long-term care. Journal of Gerontological Nursing 34(10), 17 – 25.
Niles, S. G., & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2013). Career Development Interventions in the 21st Century (4th. ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Rhonda L. Norman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Counseling at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Norman maintains a private practice, with a focus on career and work issues. In addition, she is an Executive Coach with Promark of Cincinnati. firstname.lastname@example.org