At work, don’t neglect the “inside stuff”

In the midst of questionable business practices and corporate downsizing many people are yearning for deeper meaning and purpose in their work—something that is stable, has integrity, is integrated into the rest of their life, and brings joy.

Some business leaders are seriously trying to improve work conditions by upgrading resources and by creating more realistic plans under tighter, leaner management. But as well-intentioned as these fixes might be they alone can’t make the workplace a place of self-fulfillment and progress for every employee.

According to Gary Boelhower, addressing only the “outside” or externals of the workplace isn’t enough. “What’s needed,” he says, “is to look ‘inside.’” Gary is the Virginia L. Duncan Professor of Spirituality and Leadership at Marian College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

“Most of us know, quite clearly from our experience,” he says, “that what we traditionally call the ‘soft stuff’ or what’s on the inside—how we deal with people; what our own reflection practices are; what our own values are and our attentiveness to those values—those are more important, frankly, than the external skills.”

This “inside stuff” consists of understanding what your passions, gifts and foundational values are as a person. What you are at work and how you live with yourself outside of work are one and the same.

Gary feels spirituality is at the core of this, including valuing not only ourselves, but also the inside stuff of every individual. Everybody is “a unique precious story in and of themselves,” he explains. “If we approach each other with the expectation of looking for the whole story that each of us comes with, then we listen to each other and care about each other in a deeper way. And this can transform the workplace.”

Gary has seen how this approach brings healing to business disagreements. When he runs into conflict, he acknowledges that although there has been a difference of opinion he’s going to focus on what’s important. He tries to see the other individual as a precious unique person made in the image of God, and he affirms to himself that the individual innately recognizes the same in him. This response lays a foundation to rebuild respect and develop mutual understanding. “Very often just that recognition changes how we look at each other,” Gary says.

This attitude springs from what he believes about God. Gary sees God as unconditional Love supporting, nurturing, and empowering the very best in us. “When we live in openness to that power of unconditional Love,” Gary says, “then we see ourselves connected to each other in a deeply respectful and caring way.”

For those who want to develop more spirituality in their workday, Gary advises to first begin with yourself. Take some time before each workday to reflect on your core values and how you can live them out in the workplace.

“I think that internal step, you’ll soon see, begins to have all kinds of external consequences,” he says. “Once we are aware of our core values, we begin to interact with people in different ways, ask deeper-level questions.”

Second, take action—cherish your core values and express them at every opportunity. Choose some small way that you can bring these qualities into the workplace. It could be as simple as starting a spirituality book discussion group at lunch. Or you can choose to begin taskforce meetings with a moment of reflection.

Gary has seen that cultivating this spiritual environment helps people ride out the storms encountered at work with more grace and patience. It enables them to look beyond the superficial and maintain a more regular sense of joy and security.

Anyone can take these ideas to work, Gary believes. And with this renewed sense of employment your work can’t help but take on deeper meaning and purpose.

Reprint permission from,