Kim Nimon, assistant professor in the department of learning technologies at the University of North Texas, is emerging as a national voice on what's becoming an increasingly common and potentially controversial practice: companies hiring chaplains to minister to workers. In this month's Annals, the quarterly publication of the American Psychotherapy Association, Nimon addresses the blend of business and religion in pursuit of happier, more productive workers.
Using placement companies such as Dallas-based Marketplace Chaplains USA, such firms as Tyson, Pepsi and Walmart have begun hiring chaplains in an effort to boost employees' overall life satisfaction, and in the process up their on-the-job productivity. "In the past we wanted people to just bring their bodies to work and leave their minds at home, but this is part of a realization that in fact, everyone is bringing everything to work," Nimon told Unfair Park. "It's all connected."
Nimon says corporations are willing to invest in spiritual counselors because studies show that a sense of community and meaningful work that's aligned with personal values are linked to workers' job performance and length of tenure. And, in spite of potentially thorny questions of separation of church and state, Nimon says anecdotal evidence shows workplace chaplains are more effective than counselors.
"There's somewhat of a stigma attached to using a psychologist or counselor," Nimon says. "The chaplains are coming into lunchrooms, attending community functions, they're part of that community."
That's helpful since generally, people are spending more time at work than ever before and don't necessarily get the spiritual or psychological nourishment they need, she says. If such people are struggling with a family issue, a difficult work relationship or even a death, they're more likely to talk to a familiar chaplain than reach out to a therapist.
Chaplains, Nimon says, can play an important role in reducing turnover, retaining employees, improving productivity, reducing stress and improving morale. Even so, she warns in her column that any company using chaplains should stop short of anything that could be considered religious harassment or the promotion of a single faith.
And just in case, they should also have a policy that spells out a process for harassment complaints. Nimon writes in her column that the courts have worked to balance employers' rights to express their values through their business and the right of employees not to be proselytized. Opening the workplace to religion could mean a lot of lawsuits, considering that according to The Economist more than 300 companies in more than 45 states have hired chaplains through Marketplace Chaplains USA.