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.