Deskside help for troubled workers: companies hire outsourced chaplains: “we don’t go in flying a religious flag,” says a ministry founder – Out front: news & trends in workforce management
THE HEADACHES ARE BACK. The husband’s an alcoholic. The nerves are frayed. There was a time when workers facing such rambles would look to an employee-assistance program for help. Now, the distressed employee increasingly is turning to company-sanctioned visits with a chaplain.
In recent years, as the economy has soured and the feeling of national safety has eroded, corporate chaplains have been called on to counsel employees on matters ranging from family problems to grief management. The National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains estimates that there are 4,000 pastors in the workplace nationwide. The cost to companies for their services ranges from $8 to $10 a month per employee.
This trend, which is concentrated primarily in the Bible Belt and the Sunbelt, stands in sharp contrast to the controversy over religion in the workplace elsewhere in the country. Last February, for example, six firefighters were so disturbed by clergymen in their workplace who wore Christian insignia while on duty. that they filed a suit against the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Mark Cress, founder of Corporate Chaplains of America, and Gil Stricklin, former spokesman to Billy Graham and founder of Marketplace Ministries, say that the growing demand for outsourced chaplains is related to the significant increase in employee need for spiritual succor. They say that terrorism and job insecurity are key contributors to employee anxiety.
President George W. Bush also can be credited with fueling the trend, Cress says. “The President of the United States happens to be very. forward in the practice of his faith in his workplace, which has opened the door wider for business owners to say, ‘If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough far me.'”
Marketplace Ministries, established in 1984 and headquartered in Dallas, provides 1,321 full and part-time chaplains to a variety of industries in 35 states, over half in the Southwest and Southeast. South Carolina’s Chaplains began eight years ago. The organization now has 100 full-time chaplains ministering in the workplace. Members of the multi-denominational Protestant Christian clergy make weekly visits to business facilities, provide on-call services to employees 24/7 and wear street clothes rather than religious garb. Employee participation is voluntary, and chaplains provide referrals to clergy of other faiths if requested.
The belief that a happy employee is a productive, loyal employee motivates many employers to hire chaplains. Cliff Butler, vice chairman of 35,000-employee Pilgrim’s Pride, poultry producers in Pittsburg, Texas, has used Marketplace since 1991. “Although it’s intangible, we feel we’ve had a good return on every dime we spent with Marketplace Ministries. We believe there’s a payoff, and it’s not always with dollars, It’s with the feeling of gratitude of the employees to us.”
In response to concerns about proselytizing in the workplace, both Stricklin and Cress insist it isn’t their intent to push Christianity. “We don’t go in flying a religious flag,” Stricklin maintains. “We go in flying a service flag.”
Dave Smitson, president of Cummins Mid-States Power, Inc., headquartered in Indianapolis, says that his employees are delighted with the chaplain program, “I get more positive appreciation notes for having Mitch [their chaplain] than for any other single thing I’ve done.”
Dr. Ian Mitroff, co-author of A Spiritual Audit of Corporate America, offers a counterpoint. The authors’ survey of 200 human resources executives, located primarily in East and West Coast cities, reflects noteworthy regional differences in attitudes. Sixty percent surveyed felt positive about spirituality in the workplace but negative about religion–a particular set of beliefs–reading corporate ground. Mitroff’s conclusion: “They were ambivalent at best.”
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