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Caring for People in the Workplace

Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Business Chaplaincy Articles: 

Faith and work: Businesses see benefits of chaplains in the office 
By Rebecca McCarthy, Staff Writer
The Atlanta Journal Constitution
January 14, 2007

As a single parent, receptionist Jan Farr has faced many challenges in rearing her daughter, now 23. But she hasn't handled the problems alone. She has relied on Ralph Atkinson, who has sent cards of encouragement, paid hospital visits and sat beside her desk at work, listening attentively.

"Ralph knows on a personal level what's going on with me and my family, day to day, week to week," said Farr, 60. "He doesn't have committees or budgets to worry about like a minister does, and he's able to get to the heart of the matter. He has a great way of bringing each of us to a level of faith that tomorrow will be better." 

Atkinson is a minister with Chaplain Associates, one of several nonprofit businesses supplying chaplains to metro Atlanta companies, including the Suwanee-based Tibs company where Farr works. He's been paying regular visits to Tibs and three other metro businesses for years, meeting and getting to know company employees. Low-key and affable, he becomes such a familiar presence that when something major happens -- birth, death, illness -- people count on his involvement. Trained in crisis management, he may even accompany the police and FBI into branches of Fidelity Bank, one of his clients, after a robbery to help employees cope with the experience. 

"I can go along with someone for five years just saying 'Hi,' and then suddenly a grandchild is in the hospital, and I'm there," said Atkinson, who worked in the electrical industry before attending seminary. "I see my job as returning people to wholeness. I help them make good decisions with the difficulties of life." 

Across the country, more businesses are including chaplaincy as an employee benefit, but it's still not a common practice. Marketplace Chaplains, based in Dallas, and Corporate Chaplains of America, of Wake Forest, N.C., both report a marked increase in the number of their clients last year. 
Chaplain Associates, a smaller, Atlanta-based operation, also is growing. Years ago, life was much more compartmentalized, with work concerns here and faith concerns there, said Faith Kirkham Hawkins, a professor at Emory's Chandler School of Theology. But things have changed. 

Having chaplains in the workplace is "acknowledging that people bring their beliefs and their faith to work," Hawkins said. "Work is an area in which our beliefs and values shape the way we work and who we are." 

As long as he or she isn't proselytizing, "a chaplain can be an extraordinary resource for companies and employees, conveying the presence of God in the best way each person can understand," Hawkins said. In June 2000, Marketplace Chaplains was serving 3,000 employees across the region, vice president John Mileson said. Now, it's serving 30,000. Nationally, it's adding one new client every five days, among them David Weekly Homes, Pilgrims Pride and American LubeFast.

"There's a greater recognition on the part of employers that people have lives outside of work, and they want to provide more than a paycheck," said Dwayne Reece, vice president of Corporate Chaplains of America, which added 85 companies in 2006. In a transient society where church attendance is down, few people have a family network or a spiritual community to support them, Reece said, "so we step in and fill the gap." 

Adding a chaplain to the list of company benefits could be valuable, said Daryl Koehn, director of the Center for Business Ethics at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston. For example, someone from outside the company could provide an objective perspective after a crisis, or could coach a CEO about trends in employee concerns, such as with pensions. "But the chaplain needs to know his or her boundaries pretty well," Koehn said. "He's not the ethics hotline and he's not the therapist. He needs to be up front about boundaries."

Most chaplains are ordained Christian ministers, but they stress that they are in the workplace not to proselytize or to represent any specific denomination or even religion. Their mission is to be part of a personalized employee assistance program and "to bring love, care, help and hope into the workplace," said Marketplace Chaplains founder Gil Stricklin. "We carry a moral value into the workplace." 

Corporate chaplains listen to people who choose to talk with them, offering advice -- including marriage counseling -- when requested and keeping conversations confidential. They perform weddings, funerals and baptisms and make visits to hospitals and, when needed, to jails. Often, they lead on-site discussions on topics such as stress and living wills. When needed, chaplains may tap into local resources, directing employees to a safe house, food bank or therapist for long-term counseling. "Chaplaincy puts up a protective fence as you're going around the curve," said Ed Salter, founder of Chaplain Associates. Most employee assistance programs "pick you up after you've gone off the highway. You dial an 800 number and don't know who you're talking to."

Tim Embry, CEO of Duluth-based American LubeFast, decided three years ago to hire Marketplace Chaplains as part of an employee assistance program. His work force is primarily young men in their early 20s who are in their first or second jobs, he said. He wanted them to make better decisions in their lives. "There's been a more positive atmosphere in the workplace, and a changed heart," said Embry, who has 700 employees in his 70 stores. "People spend time on the job worrying about things. With this program, they can go to someone for mature, solid advice. Our guys love the chaplains."

At AutomationDirect, Atkinson has in three years become "a trusted resource" for employees dealing with personal and work-related issues, according to company captain Tim Hohmann. His Cumming company sells industrial automation products, such as sensors and pushbuttons.
"We believe that this program has a huge return for the very small financial cost," Hohmann said. "Tardiness and absenteeism are almost nonexistent, along with poor attitudes." 

Corporate chaplains' work is not limited to lower-level employees. Mark Tibbetts is president of Tibs, a division of M.C. Dean. Tibs is installing the security system at Hartsfield-JacksonInternationalAirport. MARTA, Georgia Power and EmoryUniversity are clients. Tibbetts says he'll often discuss a company matter with Atkinson, and use him as a sounding board. "Ralph understands business. He's somebody I can lean on in the heat of the moment," Tibbetts said. Sometimes, at Tibbetts' request, Atkinson will pray with him before a big decision. 
Corporate chaplains' duties may include:
• Short-term counseling sessions for employees and their dependents.
• Referral services for employees needing specialized or long-term intervention.
• Develop and maintain relationships with company personnel through regular face-to-face visits and phone conversations.
• Provide pastoral counseling for issues such as marriage, divorce, remarriage, death and dying, illness and childbearing.
• Visit employees and their families in a hospital or home setting when they are sick.
• Perform funerals, helping to manage grief and plan the ceremony.

Pastors on the Payroll - corporate chaplains
By Haidee E. Allerton
Training & Development 
December 2000 

More U.S. companies are hiring clergy as a way to let employees know that their bosses do care about them.

Workers have usually had hot lines, Employee Assistance Programs, and the like to go to with work or family issues, but in-house chaplains offer the added dimension of being able to place problems in a spiritual context. In fact, this trend seems to be parallel with people's overall interest in finding more personal and even spiritual fulfillment in their jobs and work lives.

"Businesses are finding that chaplains can improve their bottom dollar when they see that a happier workforce can be a more productive workforce," says George Schurman, with the American Association for Ministry in the Workplace. "Chaplains can not only address emotional concerns, but are also trained and specialize in talking about spiritual concerns."

The rising incidence of workplace violence has also spurred employers to put pastors on the payroll. Marketplace Ministries is a Dallas company that has provided more than 800 Christian chaplains to organizations in 26 states. Family problems remain the focus, but there has been an increasing interest in helping workers cope with emotional problems before "reaching the boiling-over point."

Corporate chaplains deal with everything from job-related stress to marital problems to illness to thoughts of suicide.
To accommodate employees of different faiths, many of the Christian corporate chaplains know how to find a rabbi, an iman, a Buddhist monk, or representative of other denominations. And it appears that employee fears of Bible-thumping are unfounded. The corporate clergy also pledge strict confidentiality so managers don't know who seeks help for what reason.

This is actually not that new. Company chaplains go as far back as the building of the Hoover Dam in the 1920s, when they helped support those workers doing dangerous labor. Current estimates by the Houston-based National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains put the number of workplace chaplains in U.S. companies at 4,000.

Source: The Washington Post
Info burst See T101 in this issue, "Can You Train People to Be Spiritual?"

Spiritual guidance... in the workplace?
By Jane Lampman, Staff Writer
The Christian Science Monitor

NEW HAVEN, CONN. – In the middle of a winter night last year, the family of a forklift operator in Danville, Ill., suffered two devastating blows. In a fire that destroyed their home, the Kemps also lost their youngest child. While the family had no pastor, priest, or rabbi to turn to, someone came to their aid immediately: the chaplain at McLane Co., David Kemp's employer. Cleveland Taylor arrived amid the fire trucks, helped the family get clothing and meet its needs over many weeks, and held the funeral service for the baby.

As fewer Americans attend houses of worship on a regular basis, more people are receiving the compassionate help one might expect of a minister from corporate chaplains - professionals hired by companies to be a listening ear, a quick responder in crises, an arm to lean on through difficult challenges.

It's not that businesses are trying to take on a religious role. Corporate chaplains serve people of any or no faith, and the use of their services is voluntary. But business leaders increasingly recognize that employees who face crises often can't help bringing their personal difficulties to work, and job performance can suffer. Making provision to care for their workforce becomes a part of good business practice.

Bringing chaplains into the company "takes issues away from managers that they don't know how to handle and gives them to those that do," says Tim Embry, CEO of American LubeFast Inc., based in Duluth, Ga.

As a result, many employees are getting support that can make a significant difference in their lives, while companies say they're seeing a more satisfied, even more productive workforce.

When Coca-Cola Bottling Consolidated of Charlotte, N.C., tested a pilot program for chaplains at its Nashville, Tenn., plant, it measured changes in productivity, safety, quality, profitability, and employee perspective. "All objective criteria got better," says vice chairman Ron Pettus Jr. Along the way, "two people were talked out of suicide and are leading productive lives; several rocky marriages were reconciled; and many were helped out of financial problems and to resolve issues with their children."

The great surprise came, though, when the employees told management that, if necessary, "they'd take less benefits in order to keep the chaplain program going," Mr. Pettus says. Coca-Cola Bottling now has 25 chaplains serving employees at 58 sites.

Human resource departments used to be places to seek help, some observers say, but they've tended to become policy offices that are less in touch with day-to-day employee needs.

"If an employee has a substance abuse problem, or their husband is abusing them at home, or they're going through some trauma, most are not likely to go to the HR department and say, 'Would you just listen to me for a while?' That's where a chaplain fulfills a need," says David Miller, executive director of Yale University's Center for Faith and Culture. Last month, the center held a national conference in New Haven, Conn., on workplace chaplaincy as a developing service and career.

Speaking at the conference, Mr. Embry explained that he engaged chaplains at his oil-change business because he thought it might help the young kids who worked for him get on the right track.

Many were in their first or second job, and "they often didn't make good decisions for their lives, and would end up in the ditch," he said. Despite being "on the edge" financially, he made the investment.

Not only did lives turn around, but so did his company. Employee turnover dropped dramatically, to well under the industry average; "shrinkage" (disappearance) of equipment dropped from 2.5 percent to 1 percent; and American LubeFast, with 70 stores and 500 employees, is now profitable. "It changed the heart and soul of our company," Embry says.

Some businesses use "outside chaplains" - contracting with firms that can provide trained individuals in many parts of the country. Coca-Cola Bottling hired Corporate Chaplains of America, of Wake Forest, N.C.; American LubeFast worked with Marketplace Ministries, of Dallas. Chaplains get to know employees by spending regular periods at offices or plants and then are available 24/7, whenever needs arise.

Others hire their own chaplains: Tyson Foods, Inc., a major food supplier, has 127 part-time chaplains serving at 76 sites. Charles White, who trains and supervises Tyson chaplains, moved into the workplace after pastoring in a Baptist church in Kentucky for 20 years.

He made the switch, he says, because "there are millions of people the institutional church will never touch." Walking production lines where employees process chickens enabled him to build relationships that made it easier for people to come to him for help. He supported one family through their baby's surgery and then the wrenching decision to remove life-support. "You are helping people who are really hurting," he says.

Some business people are even making the career change. As a manager in the electrical industry, Ralph Atkinson saw the need and went to seminary for pastoral training. As a contract chaplain with Chaplain Associates in Buford, Ga., he currently makes his rounds at four businesses. Some 650 employees have his cellphone number.

"I'm dealing with lots of family issues - challenges with children or with aging parents - and also stress management," he says.

Fidelity Bank in Atlanta recently had several robberies, and bank tellers often move on after such incidents. But Mr. Atkinson's work with staff has kept that from happening. "Ralph is there for every employee who needs him," says Kathy Bennett, bank payroll administrator.

Sometimes a chaplain agency even responds to financial needs. Shannon Miller, a medication aide at Bickford Cottage, an assisted-living facility in Omaha, Neb., lost her teenage son when a van caught fire. She was without insurance. Marketplace Ministries wrote a check for $5,000 to pay for the funeral. "I don't know how he would have gotten buried without them," she says.

Corporate chaplains have been around a while: Gil Stricklin, an Army chaplain for 22 years and then a businessman, founded Marketplace Ministries in 1984. But changes in society - with millions of people divorced and single parents having to work - have increased the need, he says. Now serving 268 firms in 35 states, "we're on track this year to sign between 60 and 80 new companies," he adds.

While chaplains have long been accepted in the military and hospitals, the workplace poses sensitive issues, from concerns about proselytizing, to serving a diverse population, to limits on confidentiality.

Chaplains are committed to confidentiality. "Most people in America don't have anyone with whom they can share a deep dark secret," says Mark Cress, founder of Corporate Chaplains of America.

But they also face difficult pressures, such as how to handle a situation if they learn about undocumented workers at the plant or a safety defect in a product.

Some observers express concern that major chaplain agencies are founded by evangelicals, and that such chaplains will press people inappropriately to convert. Some, such as Mr. Cress, acknowledge that conversion is their ultimate hope (he sends a daily e-mail to chaplains asking if anyone has converted). But these chaplains also insist they are living their faith by example rather than actively proselytizing. There has never been a legal complaint lodged against their services, they add. Still, at the conference, Jewish chaplain Shira Stern emphasized the importance of "learning how others hear what you say."

Chaplain agencies commit to caring for everyone. When appropriate, they will refer someone to an imam or rabbi in the community, just as they send people to counselors when it's called for.

The prognosis for growth is strong. While workplace chaplains aren't likely to be "the next big thing in corporate America," Mr. Miller says, he predicts the service should "continue to grow annually by double digits." It's very popular in privately held family businesses, he adds. He expects corporate chaplain programs to grow at a slower pace among publicly traded companies.

Wherever the workplace, Chaplain Taylor says, "We try to be there for people and help lift the burdens."

Praying With the Office Chaplain
By Steve Herbert
The Wall Street Journal/
June 23, 2010

Marisol Corrales, an operations manager for a Dallas housecleaning service, doesn't attend church regularly or see herself as a religious person, she says. But she calls regularly on a workplace chaplain provided by her employer whenever she is worried about her family or stressed over problems on the job.

Praying and talking with the Rev. John Salas gives her hope and peace of mind, she says; "I'm starting to be a bigger believer" because of him.

A growing number of companies are offering the services of chaplains in the workplace. Managers say many employees who wouldn't think of calling a therapist or an employee-assistance program will willingly turn to a chaplain. Executives at Tyson Foods Inc., which employs 120 chaplains serving a work force of 117,000, say they believe the service reduces turnover. Other companies contract with chaplain-placement services to handle workplace disruptions that managers can't.

Following the military-chaplain model, these roving spiritual advisers typically visit offices or factories weekly, greeting employees, hanging out in the break room, handing out business cards and meeting one-on-one with workers. But they're also on-call 24/7, so chaplains rush to hospitals, restaurants or homes on request, providing comfort and support free of charge to employees.

They perform weddings or funerals for people who have no one else to do so. And they pray with employees over problems from medical or marital crises to job loss, addiction and financial woes, holding the information in confidence. The Rev. Warren Wetherbee, a corporate chaplain in LaCrosse, Wis., says he sometimes helps employees make a budget if asked, or sits with them while they decide to cut up their credit cards.

The chaplain services reflect a growing openness about spirituality in the workplace and an increasing desire among workers to express their faith at work. Some 74% of Americans say faith is becoming more important in their lives, based on a 2008 survey of 1,004 adults by the Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., research company. Although membership in churches and other religious organizations has been falling for years, 71% of U.S. adults say they have developed their own slate of religious beliefs, rather than accepting the tenets of a particular faith or religious group.

The chaplains say they don't proselytize or push any particular beliefs. Instead, they spend most of their time encouraging and calming people, offering emotional support or providing referrals to social service agencies or employee-assistance programs. If employees want to talk about religion, the chaplains do so, but only if asked. "We're going in as humanitarian care-givers. If I'm helping somebody, they don't care if I'm Baptist or Buddhist," says Gil Stricklin, chief executive of Marketplace Chaplains, a nonprofit Plano, Texas, provider of 2,455 chaplains in 425 companies. Voluntary expression of one's religious beliefs at work is permissible under law, but employers can't legally pressure employees to take part in prayer or devotional services.

Programs Expanding

While Bible Belt employers were the first to enlist chaplains when the services sprang up in the 1980s and 1990s, chaplain programs have grown fastest since 2001 and are expanding to other regions. Corporate Chaplains of America, a Wake Forest, N.C., nonprofit, services 650 employers from Vermont to California. And among a growing number of start-ups, Capital Chaplains, Middleton, Wis., has built its client base to nine employers since its founding in 2005, says its owner, the Rev. Steve Cook.

In another side of spirituality at work, about 15% of employers have set aside space for prayer or religious practices in the workplace, and 9% allow religious groups to meet on-site, says a 2008 survey of 543 employers by the Society for Human Resource Management. Texas Instruments Inc. offers "serenity rooms" where employees can go to pray and meditate.

Chaplains say they expect at least one or two employees at almost every work site to greet them with suspicion or hostility when they are first introduced, sometimes confronting them in anger. "I simply say, 'Hey, I totally understand that. This is voluntary on your part. You don't have to talk to me,' " says Corporate Chaplains' Mr. Wetherbee; usually, "after they get to know you, they start to trust you and tell you" about their lives.

Phil Rowland, a Spartanburg, S.C., toolmaker, says his workplace chaplain, the Rev. Jeff Brown, helped him through a devastating loss, when his sister lapsed into a coma and had to be taken off life support. "He was praying with us as my sister passed away," he says.

Mr. Brown, a former Army helicopter pilot in the Gulf War who now works for Corporate Chaplains, ministers at three companies to a total of about 500 employees, from agnostic to Buddhist to Catholic. He gets so many employee requests to pray for various loved ones—up to 10 a week, he says—that he sometimes taps the names into his BlackBerry so he doesn't forget. His pockets are stuffed with business cards so that when someone seems distressed, he can hand them his pager number.

Randy Turnbow, president of EME Inc., a Compton, Calif., aerospace metal-finishing company, says the chaplain service helps his 125 employees concentrate on their jobs. "If the employee can come to work with a better attitude, feeling better about the rest of their lives," he says, "they're better employees."

While blending faith and work was once considered as undesirable as mixing church and state, old barriers to expressing faith in the workplace have been falling since the 1980s, says David W. Miller, who heads the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton University. A growing number of executives "take their faith seriously" as a source of meaning and direction, he says. Thousands of nonprofits have sprung up to coach executives in spiritual matters or foster spirituality at work, Dr. Miller says.

Faith in the Workplace

Many corporate executives provide chaplains because they see faith as an important resource for employees at work. At Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, chairman John Tyson, who started the chaplain program, has spoken publicly about being a Christian. Today, the company's core values statement says that it is a "faith-friendly company," adding, "we strive to honor God." Tyson tries to recruit chaplains from denominations that are common at each of its work sites, says Rick McKinnie, director of chaplain services. Mr. McKinnie recently took an imam to meet with workers at a beef-packing plant in Nebraska, to talk with Somali Muslims there.

Lindy Capper, a senior compensation analyst for Tyson, says a company chaplain sat with her in the hospital while her young son had surgery, then comforted her after her son's death. The chaplains "have faith and they pray with me, and I just love that about them," she says. "If I couldn't share my faith, I couldn't bring my whole self to work."

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at


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