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Spirit at Work Research

We present our latest research first because that is what we think you will find most exciting.

The Promise of Spirit at Work

Having developed the Spirit at Work Program, we were interested in knowing if it was actually having any positive effect on those who participated. In conjunction with the University of Alberta, we designed a study to test this. Two groups from two different sites of one organization participated. The first group attended the spirit at work program which consisted of a workshop and eight weekly booster sessions. They also completed a set of measures before and after participating in the program. A second group acted as a comparison group and only completed the surveys and assessments. This allowed us to see if there were any differences as a result of our program.

The results were amazing! The findings provide strong support that the program increased spirit at work (that sense that work is meaningful and that one is able to make a contribution through work). In addition,
  • job satisfaction improved,
  • organizational commitment increased, and
  • organizational culture was enhanced (particularly teamwork and morale).
This lead to a
  • reduction in turnover and
  • a reduction in absenteeism
-two major concerns in today's workplaces.

What did the participates say about the program? Participants perceived that overall morale increased, that they experienced personal growth and development, and that there was a more positive focus on the residents. This study suggests that implementation of a spirit at work program is a relatively inexpensive way to enhance the work satisfaction of employees, increase their commitment to the organization (thus reducing turnover and absenteeism), and ultimately improve quality of care.

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Is Spirit at Work Connected to
Employee Satisfaction and Commitment?
What about Well-being?

When you develop a measure, like we did with the Spirit at Work Scale, it is important to validate it. What does that mean? First, you want to be sure that it is measuring what you want it to be measuring. Secondly, you want to be sure that it is not measuring the same thing that another measure is testing. So, in our validation study, we asked participants to complete a variety of surveys so that we could be sure.

What did we find? Spirit at work is a unique experience. While it has commonalities with several employee attitudes, it is different. We found a correlation among spirit at work and job satisfaction, commitment to the organization, team work and morale. We also found a correlation between spirit at work and several measures of well-being, for example, satisfaction with life, vitality, gratitude. Finally, as expected, we found a connection between spirit at work and spiritual transcendence and mysticism.

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Spirit at Work or Burnout?

Given our findings about the correlation between spirit at work and work related attitudes such as employee satisfaction and commitment, we suspected that we would find a negative correlation between spirit at work and burnout. We were right!

In this study, we had people complete three measures: spirit at work, depression, and burnout. Not surprisingly, we found that as spirit at work went up, depression went down. As spirit at work increased, emotional exhaustion - a major component of burnout - also went down. Finally, as spirit at work increased, so too did one's sense of personal accomplishment.

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How Spirit at Work Develops

Based on this and our other research, we developed a theory about how spirit at work develops. Download our model.

Personality: The focus of this research was on how individuals come to experience spirit at work. We found that individuals with high spirit at work are well adjusted and exhibit:
  • a sense of inner harmony,
  • positive energy,
  • conscientiousness,
  • self-transcendence,
  • openness to possibilities,and
  • a spiritual inclination.
Paths to Spirit at Work: Although they share a similar personality profile, these individuals develop spirit at work through one of four distinct paths: "always there", "coming together", "transformative event", and "contextually sensitive."

How People Create their Spirit at Work: Regardless of their path, these persons with high spirit at work take responsibility and action for creating the kind of life they desired, including their work experience. They live purposely and consciously; cultivate a spiritual, value-based life; appreciate themselves and others; and take time to refill their cup.

The Organizational Conditions that influence spirit at work were also identified. Included are: inspiring leadership; strong organizational foundation; organizational integrity; positive workplace; sense of community; opportunities for personal fulfillment; and employee appreciation. All these organizational factors seem to flow from inspiring leadership.

Benefits of Spirit at Work: Finally, this research revealed that spirit at work has positive outcomes for both the employee and the organization. Participants report an enhanced sense of wellbeing, positive relationships, improved consumer service, and increased productivity.

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Measuring Spirit at Work

The lack of a clear universal definition has hampered the ability to distinguish spirit at work from related concepts and delayed the development of theory about how spirit at work is developed, maintained, and impacts personal and organizational outcomes. Thus, we set out to generate a spirit at work measure that was grounded in individuals' experiences, was consistent with relevant substantive theories of self-transcendence, self-actualization and peak experience, existential meaning and personality development, and was compatible with existing literature on spirit at work.

Following standard procedures in developing a measurement tool resulted in a 102 item scale which we administered to a large group of people at a large mid-western university. Analysis revealed four meaningful factors to spirit at work: engaging work, sense of community, spiritual connection, and mystical experience which was very consistent with our earlier definitonal study. Using statistical procedures, the spirit at work scale was reduced to 18 items reflecting these four factors.

This study supported other research indicating that spirit at work transcends gender, age, education, and socio-economic status. The only difference noted was in regard to employees in management and professional positions. They experienced more spirit at work and found their work more engaging than other employees. Perhaps this is due to employees in management and professional positions having more opportunities for creativity, flexibility, autonomy, decision-making, involvement and making a difference. Moreover, individuals in these positions likely see their work as a chosen career as compared to a job.

When completed throughout the company or organization, the spirit at work scale can provide an overall assessment of spirit at work for that particular workplace and serve as base-line data. Efforts to improve spirit at work can be appropriately directed and assessed against what is already known. Moreover, the findings can pave the way for planning, program enhancements, and staff development - providing companies and employees with direction for change.

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Defining Spirit at Work

Believing that a comprehensive definition is an important first step to any research, a conceptual and operational definition of spirit at work was developed. Fourteen professionals, who not only experienced spirit at work, but whose work also involved researching or promoting spirit at work, participated through interviews or written surveys.

Participants were asked about what is spirit at work and then they were asked to describe a personal experience of spirit at work. Although most people had difficulty providing a comprehensive definition for spirit at work, they found it very easy to recall and describe such an experience. These rich descriptions of their personal experiences of spirit at work revealed much consistency in experiences among individuals, regardless of differences in career, gender, or religious/spiritual beliefs.

At the individual level, spirit at work is a distinct, multidimensional experience characterized by cognitive, spiritual, interpersonal, and mystical dimensions. Spirit at work involves:

Engaging work characterized by a profound feeling of well-being, a belief that one is engaged in meaningful work that has a higher purpose, an awareness of alignment between one's values and beliefs and one's work, and a sense of being authentic;
A spiritual connection characterized by a sense of connection to something larger than self;
A sense of community characterized by a feeling of connectedness to others and common purpose; and
A mystical or unitive experience characterized by a positive state of energy or vitality, a sense of perfection, transcendence, and experiences of joy and bliss.


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