Spirituality in the Workplace: A Conversation

18th February 2020
By Frances MacKay and Bethany South
What might we mean by spirituality in the workplace? Are there ways to restore more humanity within the workplace? Bethany South and Frances MacKay explored this topic in an article published in the December edition of EREMOS magazine and we share some of that conversation in this news story






























































Spirituality in the Workplace: A Conversation

By Frances MacKay and Bethany South


What might we mean by spirituality in the workplace? Are there ways to restore more humanitywithin the workplace? Bethany South and Frances MacKay explored this topic in an article published in the December edition of EREMOS m agazine and we share some of that conversation in this news story.

What does it look like to express some deeply - held values in one’s workplace?

Bethany’s training in spiritual direction through Bar nabas Ministries and her experience in conducting retreats in ‘religious’ settings have equipped her with knowledge and skills that have helped her to live out her ‘spiritual’ values in a ‘secular’ workplace. Bethany shares some examples of facil itating reflection and deeper conversations in her workplace:


Last week a team member and I facilitated a workshop for our team of 8 people on Mindfulness - how mindfulness of our emotions and reactions can influence our responses and hence impact our relationships within the team. One reflective activity was to leaf through a pile of Breathe magazines and share articles, quotes and images that caught our attention – a bit like Lectio Divina. Corridor conversations with colleagues in other teams later in the day led me to share the agenda and presentation we'd prepared with them.They said they’d like to share a similar workshop with their teams.

After a session on Resiliencerun by the Human Resources team, we spoke about 'switching off from work', and the importance of rest for ‘recharging’ and 'recovery'. I spoke about a rhythm of work and rest and the importance of life-giving rest which goes beyond recharging and recovery. It was very timely as I was also preparing to lead a day retreat for a church congregation titled ‘The Rhythm of Life – How are we living?’. This retreat explored the rhythm of work and rest and what we can learn about life-giving rest from an understanding of the Sabbath.

A key factor in these initiatives is that a number of individuals are willing to speak of their personal values and to create and embrace opportunities to build a happier, healthier workplace. There is an authenticity about it all.

Lastly, as social committee coordinator, I organised a 1 hour walk/dawdle-during office hours - along the shared pedestrian/cycleway by Parramatta River to a local park. Along the way, we collected and/or photographed a list of things that drew our attention, such as a yellow flower, running water, something new, something beautiful etc. It was a time to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, each other's company and take the time to really notice our surroundings. Along the way, we stopped, shared our photos, took a look at what we'd collected, enjoyed some snacks and then dawdled back to the office.In a retreat setting this might be called a meditative or contemplative walk in the work setting it was simply called a team walk.


Bethany describes her own role as a ‘people leader’, responsible for managing budget and resources and leading a team of technical experts to be and do their best. Having volunteered to coordinate the recently re-reformed Social Committee, she could see the opportunity for meaningful conversations and connections across different work teams. Other social opportunities are offered in shared morning and afternoon teas and themed pot-luck or bring and share lunches as well as the ‘walk / dawdle’ event discussed above.

Bethany articulates how she sees the difference between the work place walk and a similar activity in a retreat setting:

In the workplace, we speak of connections with each other and with the natural environment. In the retreat setting, we speak of connections with ourselves, each other, creation and Spirit.  In both settings, we are encouraging people in practices of gratitude, empathy, mindfulness and connections with self, others, creation and Spirit. The language is both similar and different and yet the outcomes are more similar than different.

“It seems that some organisations are recognising that certain practices can contribute to the well-being of their employees, and that a workplace where people are flourishing is more likely to be productive and creative. I am wondering if there is a broader ethical context to be addressed in any discussion about spirituality in the workplace,” writes Frances. She continues:

The idea of Sabbath rest is a way of thinking theologically about some of these issues. In the Jewish scriptures, Sabbath rest is not just about personal wellbeing. It is about what we might call the ‘common good’, according to Bishop George Browning in an article called ‘Sabbath and the Common Good: A Christian Response to the Environmental Crisis’ (EREMOS, June 2015). In this article, he referred to the ‘sabbatical ethic’ underpinning Jewish laws surrounding Sabbath-keeping. These laws extended beyond a rest day once a week to include a sabbatical for the land every 7 years, and a jubilee every 49/50 years when property reverted to original owners, debts were remitted and slaves freed. The purpose of these sanctions, he argued, was ‘to keep acquisitiveness and a sense of ownership in check’.

The sabbatical ethic of imposing limits on the exploitation of people, creatures and the land is clearly relevant to the climate change debate as well as areas of social justice. Frances concludes:

If Sabbath rest in some form is necessary, not only for our personal and social well-being, but for the welfare of our planet, what are some other ways of reclaiming the spirit of the Sabbath for our times–  in our workplaces and other public arenas?

Bethany and Frances would be delighted if you joined in the conversation and welcome your thoughts on these questions.

Frances MacKay is the Editor of EREMOS and Bethany South is the Chair of Council.
You can contact Frances at
magazine@eremos.org.au and Bethany at council@eremos.org.au

Members can access the full article by logging in here and selecting Issue 147 on the EREMOS magazine index page.

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