December 4, 2006

Corporations with chaplains.

Is your employer tending to your soul?
From car parts makers to fast food chains to financial service companies, corporations across the country are bringing chaplains into the workplace. At most companies, the chaplaincy resembles the military model, which calls for chaplains to serve the religiously diverse community before them, not to evangelize.

“Someone who has never thought about this might assume they pray with people, but the majority of the job is listening to people, helping them with very human problems, not one big intensive religious discussion,” said David Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and the author of the book “God at Work.”

The spread of corporate chaplaincy programs, especially out of the Bible Belt to the North, is part of a growing trend among businesses to embrace religion rather than reject it, Mr. Miller said. Executives now look for ways to build a company that adheres to certain Christian values. Some businesses offer Muslim employees a place and the time to pray during work.

Workplace chaplaincies are generally less costly to operate than the more familiar employee assistance program model of counseling and making referrals. Most chaplaincies also go beyond such programs to bring something of the local pastor to the workplace: the person who is on call around the clock to rush to the hospital when an employee has been in a car accident, or to find housing for families burned out of their houses, or to visit a worker’s relative in jail, even to officiate at weddings and funerals.

“You’re at work 8 to 10 hours a day, so that is where you spend a lot of your productive time,” said Tim Embry, owner of American LubeFast, a chain of oil change companies in the Southeast. “Work is where people are at and where they need to be cared for.”
Work is where people are at and where they need to be cared for. It's true, isn't it?

ADDED: Stephen Bainbridge opines.

MORE: Maggie's Farm likes the chaplaincy.


AJ Lynch said...


David said...

A great idea! Everyone should stop by and say Hi to the pastor who wears many hats! I remember the guy we called 'Padre' in the military! A truly peaceful guy!

Maybe we can start saying Merry Christmas again without fear of the EEOC department.

Joe said...

This is dumb. Most "employee programs" are almost as dumb. One of things that consistanty annoys me at the companies where I work is the amount of time, effort and obsession of making people feel good.

It has gotten so bad, people are getting promoted, made employee of the month and so forth, not due to the work they actually do (and how much they advance the business interests of the company) but their self-esteem efforts.

Heaven forbid that they actually openly disagree with another employee or speak in definitive sentences about anything.

George said...

I briefly worked for a company whose owners had hired (?) their minister to frequently come by and privately counsel them and wander around to chat with employees.

It was definitely unusual.

Then....I discovered that the minister knew more about what was really going on at the company than anyone else...and he even had better business sense than the owners!

That's when I knew it was time to quit! Particularly when the minister criticized the owners' business decisions to me, privately, behind their backs!

Christopher Drew said...

I entered a Presbyterian Seminary in 2004 after a ten-and-a-half year career with a global management and IT consulting company.

Corporate chaplaincy has become a big deal in the past 10 years. One of the reasons is that we have a spiritually starved workforce; one that confuses "vocation" with "career." The Protestant idea of a doctrine of vocation has really suffered under the pressures to graduate with a degree that will maximize income potential.

If a corporate chaplaincy program can help workers reconnect with what it really to be called to a particular career or life role, I think it can be helpful. Moreover, if a chaplaincy program can help people make meaningful career choices, both employee and employer could end up much happier in the end (even if it means the employee chooses to leave).

Another reason these programs are increasingly popular is that many pastors never darken the door of their parishoners’ workplaces. One of the best classes I’ve taken at the seminary was taught by a retired pastor who faithfully served one church for the past 32 years. He admonished us, throughout the semester, to make a point of visiting people not just at their homes and in hospitals, but also at their desks. Amen to that, I say.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea, but the role of the chaplain should be kept to a minimum. I don't think it's appropriate for a chaplain to circulate between the cubicles on a daily basis, interrupting work. This would impose contact with the chaplain, filling a religious role, on non-religious people. But keeping a chaplain on staff to help with crises or just to be available if employees seek counseling shows that a company is taking care of its employees.

Paddy O. said...


What they really need is a scientist who can go around and explain the biochemical and evolutionary realities that underlie their supposed angst.

These people don't need prayer. They need charts, well crafted rhetoric, and a trained intellectual to undercut the societal superstitions which contribute to lower productivity.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Paddy O: I'm assuming your comment is made in jest in reference to yesterday's post on Dawkins and atheism vs. religion. But that's not a fair description of what a nonreligious variant of the workplace chaplain would be. Many workplaces also offer their employees nonreligious counseling services by people with some scientific understanding of the brain to inform their counseling. Employers offer employees both services for similar reasons: if employees have a place to work out their personal, emotional, moral problems, those problems are less likely to adversely affect their job performance. As an employer, I'd think both might be useful to some extent in a workplace, but as an employee, I'd be personally cautious about sharing anything very personal with a chaplain/counselor who is based at my workplace and directly compensated (and hired and fired) by my employer.

Shanna said...

We have a chaplain staff...but then, we are a hospital. I don't know exactly how that would work in the corporate environment.

Dave said...

My religion is capitalism. I don't need a chaplain for that. I need a paycheck.

Paddy O. said...

Joseph, indeed said in jest. Mostly because it points to the fact that corporations are not doing this because they are beneficent. Like the military, they are going for efficiency, and in this case efficiency points to going above and beyond scientific approaches to human mental functions. In the ruthless pursuit of the goal, religion comes back into the picture because there are times in which science can't answer questions such as "Does life have meaning?" or if it can, the answer it gives ("no") makes productivity worse.

Even a psychologist has to go beyond the standard scientific model and approach each person with a nuanced eye, accepting the whole person rather than trying to artificially cut off innate aspects because it is logical. Though, as any degreed chaplain has experience and training in both spiritual and psychological counseling it's not an either/or issue.

As far as your personal caution, I assume that a chaplain would be given clergy privilege and not be allowed to share intimate details.

Sanjay said...

yech. Can they have brothels, too, to help the employees relax, make them feel cared for and productive?

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. Especially since the companies send their employees to me (under an Employee ASsistance Program) and sometimes we DO pray (if they are of that persuasion), or they can have the chaplain there onsite where people do NOT pray.


My patients LOVE their EAP program, they are all self referred and get 5 to 6 sessions with a psychologist with no copay and no deductible. That is win win as far as they are concerned.


reader_iam said...

"Is your employer tending to your soul?"

Hmm. Gonna go off and have a good heart-to-heart with myself about that one.

knoxgirl said...

FIRST, bitches!

Oh, I see AJ already beat me to it. And 13 other commenters.

Harry Eagar said...

A while back, when blogging was fairly new, somebody had a 'tag' that went:

'Keep those grief counselors away from me!'

Good advice and applies to chaplains, too.

I've seen too many marriages broken up by pastors.

Anonymous said...

Hum... how about I tend to my own soul in the manner I find appropriate, and my employer makes sure the company remains solvent until I win the lottery? I also happen to have three perfectly competent and approachable managers who I discuss workplace-related problems with.

Revenant said...

Is your employer tending to your soul?

Money is good for the soul.

Ann Althouse said...

We need to factor into all of this that the main thing the counselor may be doing is finding people who have substance abuse problems and getting them into treatment. The article doesn't describe chaplains as are trying to effect conversions, or even promoting a specific religion. It's not a function alien to the secular workplace but one that supports getting the work done. Frankly, it's amazing the workplaces get by without provind people with more emotional support.

Joe said...

"Frankly, it's amazing the workplaces get by without provi[ding] people with more emotional support."

Frankly, it's amazing that anyone believes clap trap like this in the real world. Seriously, what businesses need is employees of all levels to get their goddamn work done not emote about everything. A company is not your family or your friend or your pastor, they are your employer; they pay you do to a task.

It doesn't help that idiots who don't know their ass from a hole in the ground, but who have MBAs are being put into management. They then attend all sorts of seminars on how to manage people using the latest bullshit dreamed up by consultants (which is precisely the point; if their advice actually worked, they'd be out of business in short order.)

I'm sure many readers will think I'm just being cynical, but I'm not. I would rather have a competent manager who doesn't give a shit about my personal life than an incompetent manager who frets about my emotional well being. I've had both and utterly detest the latter--it's worse than having no manager at all.

(As for that cliche, validation; my validation comes from writing damn good software that customers purchase and say "this is damn good software." My company then writes me a big fat check, which I then spend how I see fit.)

Joseph Hovsep said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph Hovsep said...

joe: I strongly relate to your sketicism about an employer's ability to do a good job at counseling employee emotional, spiritual, or addition problems, but I see this as just an extension of the employer's provision of employee health care.

Relatedly, I think my boss is an inappropriate and inefficient person to decide whether, what kind and how much health insurance I should get, which in turn dictates what doctors can treat me, how often I can get treated, how much my treatments cost me out of pocket, and what conditions I can be treated for. I think employer control over our physical, emotional and now spiritual health is absurd, but I don't think this kind of in-house religious-based counseling is out of step with our current health care system.

Harry Eagar said...

Cynical, Joe? Sure. Right on the money, too.

How is chaplaincy different, in principal, from the bad old days when the boss fired people for being homosexual, Catholic, Democrats, married, unmarried with kids?

Professor Althouse may be right that the real intent is sniffing out substance abuse, but, you know, if the abuse isn't showing up in the work output, why would the employer care?

Oh, yeah, some shyster lawyer could hit him for a discrimination suit. I heard about that game at an employment law seminar earlier this year.

But, aside from the threat from the plaintiff bar, why should the employer give a damn?

Anonymous said...

Not sure how hiring a chaplain equates to bigoted firing. This seems like apples and handgrenades to me.


Harry Eagar said...

I have a private life. I don't invite my employer into it.