In the last issue of the JCTR Bulletin (No. 56, 3rd Quarter 2003), we featured an article The Five Faces of Christian Ministry by Professor Nessan Ronan, Bank of Zambia Chair in Accountancy at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia. Professor Ronan continues with his powerful reflections, this time on spirituality and work (this is a presentation he made to staff of Mindolo Ecumenical Foundation in Kitwe on the occasion of their annual retreat). He addresses — touching on various issues — employee motivation and responsibilities from the spirituality perspective

In the past two decades there has been a tremendous upsurge in interest in spirituality. This interest has manifested itself in how spirituality can positively impact on people in the workplace. Since the beginning of the twentieth century employers have been searching for the insights into how employees can be motivated.

Firstly, it was FW Taylor and his scientific management who saw money as the main motivator of man. His advice to management was to pay workers increasing amounts of money and that would ensure that they would be happy and would produce more. But it was soon discovered that “humans do not live on bread alone” and that money is not after all a long-term motivator. In the 1930s, Elton Mayo discovered that good social relations on the job were the key to employee motivation.

But subsequent studies did not confirm these findings and thus the search continued for an understanding of those factors, which could be said to sustain the motivation of workers over the long term. In 1954 Abraham Maslow, a clinical psychologist, developed his now famous “hierarchy of needs”. This motivational model postulates that the human person is both animal and spiritual. Thus food shelter clothing and other basic necessities are important but we also need the spiritual necessities of a sense of belonging and love as well as the opportunity to evolve and develop into the best that we can be. Maslow described this process as “what humans can be, they must be”. He described this process as self-actualisation.

Later Frederick Herzberg in his studies of human motivation in the workplace stated that material possessions were simply hygiene factors that allowed people to work, but they did not motivate and inspire. The non-material factors such as opportunities for development, a good boss and recognition for a job well done, he termed the motivators.

The hygiene factors were labelled the Adam characteristics of humans and the motivators the Abraham characteristics. The implication is that Adam was concerned with satisfying his material needs, while Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son for the glory of God which was an exercise in spirituality.


The concept of spirituality is not easy to define and many will see it as the practice of religion. But I see spirituality as the search for meaning in our lives. It involves asking ourselves what life expects from us. It means accepting the difficulties and sufferings which we inevitably must experience. It means using whatever religion we have to draw meaning from our life experiences.

Victor Frankl provides an excellent insight into the nature of the human spirit in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He draws on his experience in the Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau. During his time of incarceration, his parents, brother and wife died in concentration camps. He endured tremendous suffering and yet he came out of the concentration camp an optimist.

He summed up his philosophy by quoting Nietzsche “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. Frankl states that even though we may have lost everything we still remain with our freedom. And our freedom is to choose how we deal with adversity. We can choose to accept suffering and find a meaning in it or we can give up and say life is not worth living. In the end, our spirituality will guide us in what we choose to do.

We spend a good portion of our total adult lives in the workplace (including the home) and thus we ought to have our work informed by our spirituality. But observational evidence suggests that many of us lead dichotomous lives. We seem to leave our spirituality outside the factory gate or office door.

Many management practices do not exhibit a spiritual approach to human beings. Because it is in acting out our relationships with our fellow human beings that we give witness to the quality of our spirituality. If we take our religion seriously we should be able to internalise its precepts and act on them in our inter-personal relationships. We now look at a conceptual model of spirituality developed by the author.


The figure below depicts my view of the essential role relationships play in workplace spirituality.



Love relationships are at the centre of a spiritual life. Jesus told us that the Ten Commandments can be summarised as “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself for the love of God”. Psychologists tell us that we cannot love another unless we can love ourselves. But we know that many people have a hard time accepting and loving themselves.

They are their own hardest critics. If we practice the virtue of love we are unlikely to do anything to harm others. In the workplace, we often witness the absence of love in our dealings with our colleagues. Some people are highly critical of others and have no patience if they make errors or appear not to be as fast or efficient as required. Kindness to our colleagues has an enormous effect both on the giver and the receiver. Often it is tied in with forgiveness. The story is told about a senior executive in a large American corporation who had made a serious mistake and cost the company US$50,000. He was called up to the Chief Executive’s office. On the way up in the lift he decided to tell the CEO that he was resigning rather than be fired.

So on meeting the CEO he immediately offered his resignation. The CEO refused to take it. The CEO said that as they had now invested US$50,000 in the man’s training they were not going to throw it away by having him resign. This is a wonderful story of wisdom and kindness shown to another human being.


It is amazing the number of relationships a person can have in the workplace. Firstly we find that working with colleagues builds up a bond, which has a mutually supporting effect. We know that many retirees miss this workplace friendship, which can be life sustaining and spiritual. One of the virtues promoted by this bonding is that of cooperation. Elton Mayo in his Hawthorne Studies pointed out this affect among the workers in the bank wiring room.

It manifests itself in assisting another person with a difficult piece of work, covering for a person who is not feeling well and in some cases spending time in informal training. A person with cancer who chooses to continue working relates how her colleagues assisted her greatly by allowing her to take rests during the day when she felt weak. She was also assisted by their optimistic and encouraging statements about how her health was improving.

As previously alluded to, employer-employee relationships have received the most attention from researchers. What we now know is that people respond to kindness and fairness in the workplace. Employees appreciate when they know that the employer is not discriminating against them on the basis of race, gender, colour and other factors.

Indeed it is now considered good industrial practice not to practice any form of workplace discrimination. The Christian religion is full of admonishments on the evils of discrimination. Jesus is known to have preached the value of little children, the poor, the ignorant and the suffering. He took great pity on those who would today be considered the disadvantaged. Employers are called upon to be sensitive to the needs of employees in terms of the working conditions. In many parts of the world employees are exploited through very bad working conditions and poor pay. Often this is done simply out of employer greed and to give shareholders a higher dividend.

The employee also has obligations in the workplace. These include being honest with the employer as regards doing a full day’s work at the right quality, respecting the employer’s property and not making false claims. There is no monetary compensation that can be rendered for a guilty conscience.

Employees, which of course include management, have obligations to the community. Firstly, as part of the community, organizations should render proper service to their clients and customers. This means selling goods, which are safe and beneficial and will not injure the consumers. It also means treating customers with honesty and not cheating them through fraud or untruthful statements.

In addition, factories and other plants should be operated so that they do not pollute the atmosphere and injure the health of the community. Companies should not abuse the economic and tax incentives provided by a government. If they adopt these practices they are guilty of harming their fellow human beings who will have to suffer the consequential deprivations.

The story is told about a large American car manufacturer that discovered a serious defect in a new car they had just produced. The defect was such that it was known that some owners would have a serious accident and some would die. They did two calculations in order to make a decision on what they would do. The first calculation was to estimate the cost of recalling all the cars and putting the defect right. The second calculation involved estimating how much it would cost based on the probabilities of a certain number of people having accidents and so many dying and so many being injured. They then factored in how much they would have to pay out based on these probabilities.

Of course we all know that much less is paid out in compensation if a person dies rather than they being injured. Well, the cost of car recall was greater than compensation for death and injury, so the company decided not to recall the cars. This decision exhibits a lack of spirituality in the workplace. It demonstrates a lack of love and kindness for other human beings.


In Africa, there is a wise saying, “A chief is only a chief with the permission of his people”. We can say “A person is only a person when he or she is among people”. It is also said that what people do in their spare time is their real religion. Play is important for every human being. I like to think that if Jesus were physically with us today he would be a golfer.

Our recreation, hobbies, voluntary activities and kind works have a very spiritual aspect about them. They allow the human being to give glory to God in a very happy and enjoyable way. I would like to think that spiritual people are happy people. And to be happy is good for both body and soul. Our play can teach us a number of good virtues. One of the important ones is that of humility. Humility means being grateful for the gifts we have been given by God and using them wisely. It also means that we are able to accept adversity and in spite of the setbacks we continue with our mission in life.

Although we meet with disappointments and frustrations, we do not allow these irritations to deflect us from what we have been put on earth to do. Thus our play can train us to identify meaning for our life and in particular for our work life. We develop patience, so that the results we desire, although slow in coming, we believe will materialise in the fullness of time.

In our work we may be planting seeds for others to harvest. We should be happy with this outcome. I have met some people who are impatient for results and especially for results from their colleagues. They would do well to ponder these words of Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because He hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however Measured or far away”

We should be content to plant our seed in our own way at our own speed and be happy that we have used our talents for the glory of God and the benefit of humankind. The Benedictines Rule is very clear on leaving time for play in one’s daily life. In fact, St Benedict believed that play had the same value as work in the eyes of God. Of course, blessed is the person who can make play out of their work.


One of the great virtues worth practicing is that of gratitude. Being grateful for what you have been given is a powerful antidote to envy and jealousy. It is also a great way to start the day. Of course some people ask what they have to be grateful for. So I ask them to think of some gifts they might have been given. Then I assist them with the following:

Lets see if we can list some gifts from God that have been given to us.

1. Health

2. Family

3. Friends

4. Peaceful country

5. Beautiful environment, trees, shrubs, flowers, lakes, mountains and all kinds of wildlife

6. Job

7. Shopping facilities

8. Church organizations

They are then surprised that I should consider these things gifts. But it is only when they are missing that we realize they are gifts. This is a mistake we all make. I have described it as the “tyranny of familiarity”. It can best be described using a little story. If you wished to find out the nature of water who would you ask?

Would you ask the fish who swim in the water (assuming they can communicate with you) or would you ask the fisherman who fishes on the water. Well, the answer is that you would ask the fisherman because the fish are so much immersed in the water, they do not really notice it, whereas the fisherman has always to be aware of it. We are like the fish, we have been given so many gifts we cannot appreciate them. So to be grateful for your gifts is a wonderful way to develop your spirituality.


We have discussed some aspects of how our spirituality can inform and guide us in our daily lives and in particular while we are at work. I will leave you with a few core spiritual virtues, which might prove useful to us in our daily work.

· Being honest with our colleagues and our employer

· Respecting other people’s property

· Treating people with fairness

· Doing a proper day’s work

· Respecting other people’s reputation

· Not divulging confidential information

· Being glad at another person’s good fortune

Good spiritual values in the workplace have the capacity to motivate people and make them more satisfied. If observed they will ensure that employees are treated fairly by employers and those employees will render good service. Also customers and the community will receive the correct benefits from business and other organizations.

Professor Nessan J. Ronan
Bank of Zambia Chair in Accountancy
The Copperbelt University

Journal Comments

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait