Buddhism could help workers be more productive

02 October 2017

  • Not-for-profits over-emphasise profit measurements of performance
  • Charities' ethical and social goals are ignored when using business models
  • Buddhist informed principles can help not-for-profits re-energise staff
  • Engagement and ownership can be measured to boost performance

Not-for-profits and charities should consider using spiritually-informed practices to boost levels of workplace happiness and productivity, new research claims. 

Attracting and retaining talent has been identified as the second-greatest challenge facing not-for-profit organisations, according to the 2016 Non-profit Employment Practices Survey. 

But by assuming organisational practices may also have spiritual dimensions in addition to the traditional economic business roles, not-for-profit organisations would be able to offer their employees practices that have a higher meaning, which could lead to greater productivity and entrepreneurial activity. 

According to the Warwick Business School study, adopting spiritual principles, such as those offered by Buddhism, enables the intricacies of the not-for-profit environment to be appreciated and may better guide and inform not-for-profits in their mission rather than traditional rationales for performance measurement.

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Spiritual reasons for working can open up the possibility for employees to see the interdependence of their actions — which should contribute to higher levels of workplace happiness. 

Haley Beer, Assistant Professor of Performance and Responsibility at Warwick Business School, said: “Some might think spirituality and business should not be mixed, but both play an important role in society and people’s lives and should be seen as interdependent. 

“In the not-for-profit field we found an over-emphasis on profit-orientated philosophies where the assumptions of individualistic, bureaucratic and materialistic attainments continue. 

“But these ignore the ethical and benevolent dimensions of not-for-profits and charities and the key role these organisations play in society. 

“Spiritual rationales for goals and activities, such as those proposed in Buddhist philosophies, can complement the commercial actions required to help individuals through business means - most employees want to help people and this is what motivates them to work in this industry.

How can Buddhism help businesses become more productive?

"They would be more able to believe in the purpose and intent of management practices such as performance measurement when understanding that its use also drives social connectedness and enables them to identify opportunities to create social value.” 

The study, Spiritually Informed Not-for-profit Performance Measurement published in the Journal of Business Ethics, interviewed 63 executives, board of directors, senior employees, and long-serving volunteers at not-for-profit organisations. 

The researchers, Dr Beer, of Warwick Business School and Edward Gamble, of Montana State University in the US, set out to explore whether the five spiritual practices of Buddhism can inform a higher meaning for performance management measures, a greater awareness of performance management principles, improved not-for-profit well-being, and deeper levels of reflectiveness among not-for-profit constituents. 

The research centred on five spiritual practices of Buddhism: a pro-scientific philosophy, personal responsibility, healthy detachment, higher collaboration, and a wholesome view.

According to the findings of the study, stakeholders of not-for-profit organisations associate the purpose of performance measurement to these principles:

  1. Social connectedness - a shared social message among stakeholders.
  2. Entrepreneurial awareness - active exploration and exploitation of opportunities to create social value.
  3. Financial meaning - securing and managing finances to enable social value creation in order to restore levels of equality within society. 

But not-for-profits typically use the same performance management measures used in the business world, a world driven by ruthless profit-maximisation, which go against the underlying principles of these organisations. 

Dr Beer said: “Human wholeness and well-being should be respected and nurtured so engagement and ownership become more visible and are measured as important to performance instead. 

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“Employees need to be more aware of how dependent they are on each other, and how they contribute to workplace happiness and social value creation, which could be another key driver for organisations.” 

Evidence also suggests that embracing spirituality within organisations may lead to better decision-making, enhanced creativity, reduced absenteeism, and greater emotional control. 

Dr Beer said: “Several large for-profit organisations such as Google, General Mills, and Target are already adopting spiritually-informed practices to reap some of these described benefits. 

“Performance management should connect people with the processes of the organisation, promote behaviours that are in line with its objectives and engage stakeholders – spiritually informed principles can help not-for-profits re-discover this.”

Read more about this research at The Conversation.

Hayley Beer teaches Design in Business on the MSc Management and on the Undergraduate programme.

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