NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: faith in the workplace.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Corporate America isn’t known for being open to expressions of faith. Unless, of course, that faith is secular progressivism. But in the last few years, a growing number of companies are starting to see the value in supporting employees’ religious beliefs.
EICHER: About 20 percent of the Fortune 100 now have religious-based employee resource groups. And workplace chaplains are becoming more common in large and small companies alike. WORLD Radio correspondent Katie Gaultney reports.
KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Adam Bowman is one of two chaplains at Interstate Batteries. The Dallas-based company has 600-employees in its home office.
BOWMAN: Heavenly Father, we do thank you for today. We thank you for Misty and her love for her boys…
Today he’s meeting in his office with Misty, an administrative assistant. She’s seeking advice on giving spiritual guidance to one of her sons. Bowman spends a good part of his day having similar conversations.
BOWMAN: And most of the people that come talk to us, it’s, “I’m having issues with my kids.” “I’m having issues with my manager.” It’s light counseling, just interpersonal relationships.
Bowman is one of two chaplains at the company who offer counseling and discipleship from a Christian perspective. They also manage prayer requests, oversee company Bible studies, and make the occasional hospital visit. Bowman’s counterpart even performs weddings and funerals for company personnel.
Interstate Batteries was founded by Christians, so Bowman’s work is gospel-centered. But not all the company’s employees are Christians.
BOWMAN: This is kind of a weird deal in the sense that I’m doing ministry, but I’m doing it in a business. I’m not a pastor. I don’t have any authority in people’s lives in the sense of their spiritual… So it’s much different.
Still, even non-Christians appreciate the chaplaincy. Bowman gets calls and visits from all types. And people from a variety of faiths participate in the company’s volunteer opportunities and humanitarian trips. It makes them feel like a part of something bigger. And while that may not directly pad the company’s bottom line, it does make a difference.
BOWMAN: Doing things where team members can see, okay, we’re doing this because of the purpose, not because it’s going to help us sell batteries. I think it creates a culture where people recognize, okay, even if I don’t necessarily like some aspects of my job, I feel cared for and loved and that’s gonna make people happier. And it brings in all the ROI things that you can say about business…
But it’s not just Christian companies that are beginning to prioritize employees’ spiritual development.
Earlier this year, the Religious Freedom in Business Foundation released an index ranking companies for their support of faith in the workplace. The report noted that only one out of five Fortune 100 companies includes religion as a sort of workplace accommodation. But that actually represents an increase. Walmart and PayPal added their first-ever religious employee resource groups last year. And the report gave high marks to companies that support a variety of faiths, not just Christianity. Google nabbed the top spot.
At a recent conference in Washington, D.C., Religious Freedom in Business Foundation president Brian Grim said the best workplace faith resources include a variety of belief systems—or, even a lack of belief.
AUDIO: You would think, okay, these faiths would be pulling in different directions, including, you know, atheists and agnostics, instead, there’s common ground. Isn’t that hopeful?
But this trend isn’t just limited to Fortune 100 companies. Smaller companies also see the value in offering employees spiritual care, even if they don’t have a full-time staffer devoted to it. That growing demand has given rise to chaplain temp agencies like Marketplace Ministries. Its chaplains provide employee care to businesses in all 50 states, plus Canada and Mexico.
Dan Truitt is one of the company’s directors. He says there’s a long list of reasons why adding spiritual care offers a good return on investment. Increases in retention and employee satisfaction, for example. But there are plenty of intangible benefits for employers, too.
TRUITT: We do have anecdotal testimonies from employers that say after a few months or, or a year or so, they began to see employees having better attitudes, maybe more productivity.
And the agency’s growth shows that more and more companies recognize the importance of supporting employees’ religious needs.
TRUITT: We’ve had record growth over the last two or three years. We added 187 new companies in 2019, which is just phenomenal for us to add that many. That was 32,000 employees added under our care just in that one year. So, we’re finding just such an openness with businesses that want to provide that extra level of kind of a soft touch for management to care for their employees.
Despite that growth, secular companies are still better known for shying away from, or even penalizing, expressions of faith at work. That’s especially true for any beliefs that contradict the secular orthodoxy on things like sexuality and gender. But maybe the increasing interest in offering religious support to employees—while not limited to Christianity—will revive tolerance for Biblical viewpoints as well.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Katie Gaultney reporting from Dallas, Texas.