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In this blog, I will post my notes on corporate happiness and aggregate value maximization technologies that will later be included into my upcoming book "Building a Happy Company" that I am currently working on. I will try to daily post something that will help you make your life and your company more efficient, comfortable and happy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chaplains Come Into Workplace

New York Times: At Bosses’ Invitation, Chaplains Come Into Workplace and Onto Payroll

From car parts makers to fast food chains to financial service companies, corporations across the country are bringing chaplains into the workplace. At most companies, the chaplaincy resembles the military model, which calls for chaplains to serve the religiously diverse community before them, not to evangelize.

“Someone who has never thought about this might assume they pray with people, but the majority of the job is listening to people, helping them with very human problems, not one big intensive religious discussion,” said David Miller, executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and the author of the book “God at Work.”

The spread of corporate chaplaincy programs, especially out of the Bible Belt to the North, is part of a growing trend among businesses to embrace religion rather than reject it, Mr. Miller said. Executives now look for ways to build a company that adheres to certain Christian values. Some businesses offer Muslim employees a place and the time to pray during work.

Workplace chaplaincies are generally less costly to operate than the more familiar employee assistance program model of counseling and making referrals. Most chaplaincies also go beyond such programs to bring something of the local pastor to the workplace: the person who is on call around the clock to rush to the hospital when an employee has been in a car accident, or to find housing for families burned out of their houses, or to visit a worker’s relative in jail, even to officiate at weddings and funerals

Chaplaincy programs are voluntary and confidential, experts said, and free to employees. There are no statistics about the scope of such programs, but Mr. Miller estimated that 600 to 700 companies in the United States have chaplaincies, twice as many as five years ago.

Gil Stricklin, founder and head chaplain of the nonprofit Marketplace Chaplains USA in Dallas, said his firm was signing up one new company every three days, compared with one company every four months when it started 22 years ago. Fortune 500 companies never responded to him a few years ago, he said; now he is negotiating with one that has 175,000 employees.

Often, chaplains are hired because of the beliefs of a company’s chief executive.

“We profess to be Christians and we think, ideally, that should make some difference in not just how we live but how we do business,” said J. M. Herr, chief executive of Herr Foods of Nottingham, Pa., a maker of chips and pretzels.

Companies that introduce chaplaincies run the risk of looking as if they back a particular faith or religion, which might make many employees uncomfortable. Companies that come across as “faith friendly,” rather than religion based, manage most easily to dispel that discomfort, Mr. Miller said.

Companies tailor the chaplaincy program to their culture. Cardone Industries, a Philadelphia company that refurbishes auto parts for resale, draws its chaplains, almost all lay people, from its employees. Other corporations, like American LubeFast and Herr Foods, contract with an outside company like Marketplace Chaplains to provide chaplains. Some, like Tyson Foods, which started its program in 1999, have their own chaplains, 127 of them at about 250 of the company’s more than 300 plants in North America, said Allen Tyson, the company’s head chaplain, who is not related to the founders of the company.

For the most part, corporate chaplains are ordained ministers, often hired locally. Some are retired, others have churches to pastor, and most of them work part time.

While most chaplains are Christian, some programs have imams and rabbis, especially in the health care industry. Programs with only Christian chaplains urge them to build ties with religious leaders in the towns where they work. For instance, at the Tyson pork plant in Storm Lake, Iowa, which has many Vietnamese and Laotian employees, the chaplain has a relationship with monks at a local Buddhist monastery, Mr. Tyson said.

Dressed in a white hairnet and white coat with “Chaplain Ken” embroidered in red over the right breast, Mr. Willis, 56, walks Tyson’s 550–worker Glen Allen plant almost every day, greeting workers on the line. He finds people on break. He visits the overnight shift. Every week, he drives to a hatchery and grain complex 90 minutes away and meets people who catch live chickens all day to send to the plant.

Though he leads a small local church, Mr. Willis is on call for Tyson all the time. In his 18 months here, he has spoken at funerals, visited employees in the hospital, arranged housing, food and diapers for families flooded out of their homes, helped people devise simple budgets and open bank accounts. When he discovered that several employees did not have enough money to pay their utilities and have a Thanksgiving dinner, he collected money to assemble Thanksgiving meals for them, which he delivered.

Employees come to him because they feel uncomfortable seeing a counselor or social worker. Some have no church of their own. Others may feel too embarrassed about their problems to go to their own pastors. Or it may simply be because he is there, right by the entrance, and willing to help.

“That’s my understanding of the pastoral role,” Mr. Willis said, after taking a phone call from an employee in the hospital asking him to bring her paycheck. “I treat everyone the same, and my hope is that they will see in me the love of God.”

While Tyson tracks the number of contacts chaplains have with employees, discussions between chaplains and employees are confidential, unless the worker is an imminent danger to himself or others.

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