The Merger of Faith and Work
This article was originally published here.
by Katie Sweeney
The following article appears in the spring issue of The Strategist.
In his 13 years working at Sears’ world headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Ill., Michael Valleskey has survived recessions, manager changes, several rounds of layoffs and the Sears-Kmart merger of 2005.
So what has kept him going? His Christian faith — and his Christian co-workers.
Seven years ago, Valleskey, a real-estate research analyst for Sears Holding Corp., helped found the Christian Fellowship at Prairie Stone, a 150-member informal group of Christian employees at the Prairie Stone office complex where Sears has its headquarters. The group of mostly Sears employees holds lunchtime Bible studies and prayer groups, and members act as a support network for one another. Valleskey also participates in the Sears Associate Gospel Choir, which rehearses at lunchtime and is an officially recognized group at Sears.
“I don’t know what I would have done without my co-workers of similar faith,” he says. “They have been there to support me, encourage me, make me a better worker. They really are family. It’s basically church. I have a church in the workplace.” Church at work? It’s not as far-fetched as it might sound. Across corporate America, there’s a growing movement to recognize and incorporate spirituality and religion in the workplace. A few of the signs: a growing number of religion-based affinity groups, lunchtime prayer meetings, on-site corporate chaplains and company “quiet rooms” for meditation and prayer. Meanwhile, books on religion and spirituality in business are flying off the printing press, and even some business schools are starting to address the issue.
Who’s behind this movement? While evangelical Christians are leading part of the charge, the trend also includes other Christians, as well as groups focused on more general spiritual principles. In addition, people of all faiths are seeking time off and other religious accommodations from their employers. In short, religion in the workplace is the next big diversity issue.
If this sounds like sticky territory for companies, it is. However, ignoring the issue has its own perils, says David Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and author of the book “God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement.”
“The soul train is going through town,” Miller says. “If you haven’t thought through a structured policy and appropriate training for your management, you’re going to make a misstep and find yourself on the back end of a lawsuit.”