This last week there was an article cited by Cornell University’s Industrial Labor Relations department about the use of chaplains in the workplace.
While the article made it sound like this was a new phenomenon, workplace chaplains have been around for quite some time. The military, of course, has used chaplains and considering some of the issues they face, chaplains are definitely needed. But should chaplains be in the workplace?
According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) in the year 2000, workplace chaplains are used quite often. They help with funerals for employees and their families, layoff situations, or if something happened to family members of employees like an auto accident. Some have even helped with workplace conflict within departments and their employees. HR managers say chaplains can fill voids for them such as going to funerals for employee family members or they help with morale and retention issues because employees feel comfortable talking to them. In addition, chaplains can help employees ease the burden of both personal and workplace stress issues. Chaplains can also refer employees to an EAP service or other professionals who might be able to help employees. Employees may also prefer talking with a chaplain instead of an EAP counselor so employers like to provide both. Chaplains can simply give organizations an opportunity to show employees they are interested in their well-being.
So what type of workplaces use chaplains? Apparently, it is a wide variety. Safety and law enforcement departments use them but so do manufacturing facilities, car dealerships, poultry plants and many others.
I understand safety and law enforcement forces using chaplains because of the similarity between the military but I’m not sure about other workplaces. Maybe it depends on what they do.
Under a layoff situation, chaplains can definitely provide assistance to employees who are about to lose their jobs. Layoff situations create a multitude of emotions for employees. CALMC has assisted with layoff programs in the past and we remind people that are impacted it is like going through a grief process, and, in that sense, a chaplain is very helpful. Most employees worry about having enough money to support their families or where they will get food. They also worry about having medical insurance should their child have an accident or get sick. All of these things are areas a chaplain can offer assistance. Many churches have pantries and other resources to help those in need.
But what about those employees who are non-Christian, who helps them? According to many of the chaplains that provide services, they will either provide the needed service themselves or find someone of the employee’s faith. Chaplains, many of them said, recognize not everybody will be comfortable or trust those of the Christian faith so it will be up to them to find someone from the person’s own faith.
Another concern is will there be some overly aggressive or assertive chaplains who act as missionaries to convert either non-believers or those of non-Christian religions? Most Chaplains say they are not about that but it still creates a concern there may be one who will.
Does it make it uncomfortable for atheists? A spokesperson for a group that includes atheists says they are more concerned about their workplace standing. Do they need to be concerned about backlash or job security if they oppose having chaplains in the workplace?
Do all managers like having chaplains available? What about chaplains helping with conflict situations? Most of the organizations that provide chaplains say they do not get involved in workplace issues but, when it comes to conflict, how far do they go in their assistance? Is a manager going to be concerned about “how” they help the situation? Will they take a particular side or run and tell superiors about managerial behavior that could impede work from getting done or harm workplace relationships?
The reasons to have a workplace chaplain cited by some of the managers in the SHRM article are a concern. Those managers who say chaplains help them by going to employee funerals or those of family members raises a red flag about the workplace environment. How much of a concern for the employee is there if the managers need a surrogate to attend? And it doesn’t have to be a funeral. If managers helped employees with some of the other issues chaplains assist with, think what that would say to employees. Helping an employee who’s having a bad day is just something that can mean so much, and that in itself, can improve productivity and turn morale around without the additional expense of contracting with workplace chaplain organizations. It would be interesting to know what the workplace environment was like without the chaplain.
Having workplace chaplains does have some advantages but there are some problems with “why” they are there, too.