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Workplace Chaplaincy: What It Is and What It Isn’t

A chaplain can not only provide assistance to those who are currently struggling with personal issues, but also may be able to observe potential concerns before they develop into serious problems.

So, how would you define chaplaincy?


The word “chaplain” can seem downright old-fashioned and bring to mind thoughts of someone who’s the spiritual mentor of a service-based group such as a police or fire department, or perhaps a sports team. Even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition limits itself to referencing a clergyman attached to the military, an institution, or a court. As a result, pairing “workplace” with “chaplain” is likely to create even more of a cliché, and possibly even a little bit of confusion. The concept of workplace chaplaincy is widely practiced, yet many people have never been exposed to it or have an underlying misunderstanding of what it’s all about.


Some historians credit inventor and industrialist R.G. LeTourneau with having first developed workplace chaplaincy in the early 1930’s, but the idea can actually trace its roots as far back as the days of the Industrial Revolution. As more and more workers moved from an agrarian lifestyle to the realm of the factory and workshop, many Christian denominations saw the need to maintain a presence in these industrial settings. It also became obvious that the onset of the new mechanization of the American workplace was bringing with it a specialized set of challenges. People not only had issues in their personal lives which could become a distraction on the job, but the demands of an ever-busier workplace also took a toll on the people actually doing the work.


Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the incredible complexities of modern life make the case for workplace chaplaincy all the more compelling. Just as the Industrial Revolution forced sudden and sweeping change on how people earned their livelihood, so has the digital era introduced a plethora of new stresses, anxieties, and uncertainties. The pace of life in the modern workplace requires a long attention span, the ability to multi-task, and the need to embrace an endless array of new technologies. In a scenario where someone’s home life is reasonably balanced and healthy, workplace pressures can still manage to seep into relationships and negatively impact the family dynamic. How much more so when this is coupled with job stress that’s always waiting, 40 hours every week?


To gain a better perspective on how workplace chaplaincy can help to bring positive benefit to the modern worker, the first step is to dust off the term and shake away any negative connotation of “religiosity”. The role of a chaplain in some ways does mirror that of a pastor, but the underlying purpose addresses things from quite a different perspective. Whereas a pastor is usually interacting with those who have chosen to connect to a spiritual community, a workplace chaplain is operating almost entirely in a secular environment, many times with individuals whose own faith convictions might be the polar opposite of the chaplain’s. The workplace chaplain and the pastor might use similar tools, but they’re building different structures: the pastor is caring for and equipping a congregation, but the chaplain is endeavoring to strengthen both the employee and the company.


In response to the increased demand for in-workplace assistance, many employers have decided to pursue third party involvement which can differ drastically from what a workplace chaplaincy program would offer. A common care option offered in many companies is connection with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). On the surface, this can appear to neatly check off all of the boxes when it comes to providing support for those in the organization who are dealing with struggles, and EAP’s certainly do have their merits. But the one significant drawback is that, due to their size and complexity, many EAP’s are offsite, faceless entities that can only be accessed via a 1-800 number. Although there may well be qualified professionals in the EAP who are able to speak to a variety of situations, some employees may also feel that there’s a cold impersonality to the idea of sharing complex personal struggles with someone they never meet in person.


From the perspective of the workplace chaplain, direct involvement with the employee as things are being discussed is of paramount importance. Instead of functioning like a “help line”, the chaplain places emphasis on maintaining a regular, visible presence within the company, allowing opportunities for employees to interact with the chaplain, build real relationship, and cultivate human connection in advance of those times when assistance is needed. Just having the opportunity to dialogue with a chaplain in person can have a tremendous positive impact on the outlook of the employee. Also, knowing that conversations will be kept confidential can help an employee to honestly address areas of struggle and to seek solutions to longstanding problems.


Another important aspect of interacting with a workplace chaplain is that it helps to establish a local connection. An EAP may be able to provide valuable assistance, and possibly even connect the employee to some local resources, but the one-on-one dialog that can be had with a workplace chaplain opens the door to a much more comprehensive level of support. The chaplain will likely have a high awareness of the dynamics of the local scene – what employment options exist, what challenges are present in terms of housing, and many other attributes that an EAP representative has little likelihood of being personally aware of. Being a member of the same general community in which the employee lives enables the workplace chaplain to speak with much more relevancy and credibility than would come from some outside source. A chaplain may also be aware of a highly-specialized resource that could benefit the employee greatly but that isn’t commonly known about within the community.


Although it might be the employee who’s on the receiving end of the services being provided by the workplace chaplain, the employer stands to gain great benefits as well. It’s widely documented that employees with unresolved personal problems tend to drag that baggage to work, and the net result is a loss of focus and diminished productivity. When personal stresses are left unresolved for a prolonged period, the most likely effect in the workplace is absence. This can begin as a mental absence in which the problems distract from the job performance, but a possible further outcome can be the employee starting to show up late for work, call in sick frequently, or otherwise demonstrate that they no longer place value on being where they should, when they should.


The chaplain can not only provide assistance to those who are currently struggling with personal issues, but also may be able to observe potential concerns before they develop into serious problems. Being able to provide workplace chaplaincy to employees shows them that management is committed to the well-being of the entire team, and not merely viewing everyone as a worker bee with a task list to complete. This can do wonders for fostering healthy company-wide morale and helping each employee to feel valued as an individual. Helping to increase productivity and to decrease absenteeism might be the most attractive aspects of workplace chaplaincy, but another major benefit is that it can help to significantly increase the longevity of the employee’s connection with the company.


Just as workplace chaplaincy can work in tandem with an EAP rather than replacing it, the same holds true with Human Resources. Company policy may still require an HR representative to become involved in situations where there is an unresolved dispute between employees, but the chaplain can become a powerful partner in helping the process to unfold in a productive and healthy manner. Additionally, the chaplain’s ongoing physical presence within the company can help to provide an easy access point to assistance in those situations where an outside perspective is needed. The chaplain may be able to mediate in a scenario where a misunderstanding between employees has just begun to unfold, thus reducing or eliminating the need for direct involvement from HR.


If you’ve never considered the many potential benefits of a workplace chaplaincy program within your own business, it’s well worth your time to research what this type of service can provide. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” can often be proven out by workplace chaplaincy, as dealing with issues at their outset can bring a peaceful and positive solution that may be much more difficult to obtain later on. Ultimately, a workplace chaplain can sometimes serve best simply by being a friend – a gentle, non-judgmental, caring perspective for those facing anxieties and challenges that they don’t know how to handle.

 

To learn more about the Workplace Chaplaincy program offered through ValorExcel, visit our website at: www.valorexcel.com/chaplains. ValorExcel also offers training and coaching to help you work smarter, not harder. Visit www.valorexcel.com or call us at 240-329-9387 today to find out how! Also, be sure you check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. Each episode is designed to inspire, empower, and transform you and/or your organization.

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