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August 21, 2001
Employers Looking to 'Soul' Benefits
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panies and their chief executives are talking freely of spirituality in the workplace these days and trying to encourage spiritual values through employee benefits, according to the Washington Post.

Some are adding a dimension of social responsibility through environmentally friendly practices. Others are paying employees to mentor students or work at homeless shelters. Still others have infused their employee handbooks with ethics-based philosophy or altered workday routines to allow time for meditation, yoga, or napping.

Napping, the Post notes, is said to encourage spiritual development and mental and physical renewal.

Alternately called "spiritual economics," "soul in the workplace," and "values-driven leadership," this is a quasi-religious moment, the newspaper reports. Though there's no mention of a god or a theological foundation, it's nevertheless filled with moral attitudes and guidelines common to all religions.

Some ethicists and theologians warn that management efforts to promote work as spiritually fulfilling can lure employees into working longer hours away from family and friends.

But what seems beyond debate, according to the Post, is that emphasizing morality over profitability has turned out to be good for the bottom line. Executives who have embraced the approach say it has helped them build loyalty among employees and customers.

"We were raised to think we had to screw around with other people to be successful. But taking the opposite approach of J.R. Ewing is probably going to be more successful," said Kip Tindell, chief executive of the Container Store.

Tindell's Dallas-based retail chain, which tells workers they are morally obligated to help customers solve problems and not just sell them products, has posted average annual sales increases of 20 percent to 25 percent since opening its first store in 1978. It has been No. 1 for the past two years on Fortune magazine's list of "100 Best Companies to Work For."

In Atlanta, Ray Anderson has repositioned his billion-dollar carpet business to become one of the world's first large companies to be "fully sustainable" using only renewable energy sources and recycled material.

He acted after reading "The Ecology of Commerce," by Paul Hawken, a book that predicts the demise of humanity if multinational corporations continue to abuse nature's resources.

Anderson tells the Post that his conversion seven years ago was "an epiphany, it hit me like a spear in the chest." As head of one of the world's largest manufacturers of commercial carpeting, a petroleum-based product, "I was part of the problem . . . a plunderer of the Earth," he said.

His company, Interface Inc., embarked on a program of technological retooling and organizational restructuring. At least three-fourths of the company's 8,000 employees on four continents have received environmental training, and many of them have created environmental organizations in their communities, according Jim Hartzfeld, Interface's vice president of sustainable strategy.

To view the Washington Post story, click here.
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