Company Chaplains: Help In a Crisis

My first experience in workplace crisis, non-combat related, officially occurred in the spring of 2012. I had scheduled a mid-week meeting with a safety officer, who I will call Mike. It was a 9:30 a.m. meeting, yet by 9:40 Mike still had not arrived.

This was the military, so 9:30 meant 9:30. Mike, a good friend of mine was a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he was never late

By 9:45 I told the group I would reschedule the meeting for a later date.

I called Mike’s cell phone; it went straight to voicemail. Then I called his house where his wife answered and stated that Mike had left for work as planned.

At 10:30, I turned on the local morning news and caught a live breaking report. Before I even heard the newscaster, I saw Mike’s red Honda Gold Wing motorcycle down in a lane of the 15 freeway. Beyond that, I could see a sheet covering a body as the broadcaster reported live.

I was at a loss. All my extensive military training did not prepare me for this. Thankfully, the United States Navy is more than prepared to handle this type of workplace crisis. Within 20 minutes of me informing my chain of command, military chaplains were on hand. Within 40 minutes other chaplains and officials made the heartbreaking drive to inform Mike’s widow of the news.

Tragedy impacts everyone

This affected everyone in the organization.

There is a sort of workplace spirituality derived from the connectedness of each employee to other members of the organization and to the organization itself and its culture. This cultural spirituality evokes important feelings of completeness and joy.

That definition of workplace culture was heavily paraphrased from Giacalone & Jurkiewicz in their book published in 2003, Toward a Science of Workplace Spirituality. All the members of your organization have a need to feel connected, and feel a sense of belonging, which also means they will likely feel loss as well.

Human resource professionals are in a role within their company to create and shape a sustainable and profitable culture. Few are equipped to deal with personal crisis. See, issues like divorce, addiction and stress can and will occur at some point, as will other serious events like death.

According to 2015 data, collected by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death among workers. Are you equipped to handle these kinds of personal issues?

How prepared is your company?

The fact is, employees in a company are a type of community. Philip Mirvis discussed various aspects of the workplace community and its spiritual overtones. In “Crossroads – “Soul Work” in Organizations he wrote, “Lacking continuity and connection in so many other settings, many naturally look to their organization as a communal center.”

This needs to be discussed by company leadership, especially in light of events such as the Orlando nightclub shooting and the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California. Workplace homicide, according to the BLS report, is in a virtual three-way tie for being the second leading cause of death in the workplace, after motor vehicle accidents.

The cultural dynamics of our American life have changed in the last 50 years. The way of life of years past that had a positive impact on their social connectedness — neighborhood get-togethers, church attendance, clubs and extended families — have been replaced with work and work socialization. That poses the question for the HR professional today: How do we handle the inevitable curveballs of life that employees experience in our organization?

Who to turn to in a company crisis?

I do not believe it is the job of HR professionals to counsel individuals through crisis. Simply put, we are not trained for it. Yet, when we observe differences in employee behavior and conduct we need to take note of it, and be able to offer help.

One solution available to HR professionals – beyond EAP programs — is corporate chaplains. Although chaplains are ministers, they do not promote religion or even bring it up, unless an employee so desires. Chaplains are naturally empathetic and many are trained in handling trauma, crisis management, death and other types of crises. At those times, they fill an emotional and spiritual gap. Outside of crisis, they offer a way for employees to discuss, in relative confidence, problems they might be having or things they are concerned about, without the fear of retaliation.

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According to an article written by Andy Higgins, there is also evidence chaplains have a positive impact in several areas of business including:

  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Improved morale and teamwork
  • Increased employee retention
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced health and disability claims

These are the very areas we HR professionals are concerned with.

Mental health concerns

Mental health is also a hot topic today in America. In Mark Oppenheimer’s article “The Rise of the Corporate Chaplain,” he discusses how employees are more likely to talk about mental health issues with a chaplain to get the help they need, rather than seeking psychological counseling on their own. Chaplains also have knowledge of local, state and federal programs that employees might be able to benefit from.

For those of you who are concerned about the fiscal side of hiring a chaplain, in an article in USA Today by Kevin Allenspach, General Motors and Ford Motor company report, “That for every $1 invested in a chaplaincy program, they see a $9 return.” That is an ROI that would make any CFO happy.

HR leaders at all companies should consider the benefits of hiring on a corporate chaplain. They can be on part-time basis, or full time, depending on the size of your organization. Even if you have an EAP, a company chaplain can be an effective adjunct to an all-around concern for your employees’ emotional and mental health.

About the Author

Stewart Simons is a 20-year veteran of the United States Navy with years of experience in Special Operations. With cross-cultural leadership experience spanning 12 countries, he is passionate about people and business. His former position involved training and mentorship of SEAL and SWCC operators in various aspects of special operations, with an emphasis on establishing and building cross-cultural rapport.

In his previous leadership role, he was responsible for the curriculum development, management and budget of 18 different Naval Special Warfare training programs. Additionally, that role included extensive inter-agency coordination between both state and federal organizations including the United States Marshals, LAPD, LAPD Special Investigative Section, LAPD SWAT, United States Border Patrol and Customs, and various state law enforcement agencies nationwide.

For more information or to contact him see his LinkedIn profile.