1 Introduction

Workplace chaplaincy is an emerging topic within the fast-growing research area of workplace spirituality (Bell and Taylor 2003; Benefiel et al. 2014; Miller and Ngunjiri 2015; Miller et al. 2018; Neal and Biberman 2003; Ngunjiri and Miller 2014). This chaplaincy is described as pastoral care that aims to serve the personal, social, and spiritual needs of people in their workplaces (Jablonowski and Jansen 2000; Seales 2012). Therefore, workplace chaplaincy is regarded as an expression of workplace spirituality (Long and Driscoll 2015; Miller 2007; Miller and Ngunjiri 2015).

The phenomenon of workplace chaplaincy has a long history (Ballard 2009; Ngunjiri and Miller 2014), with roots in military and healthcare chaplaincy, both of which are well-known and widely published forms of pastoral care in organizations (Callis et al. 2021; Paget and McCormack 2006; Whitworth et al. 2021; Yih 2021). Some authors identify the beginning of workplace chaplaincy with Reverend Francis Fletcher, who accompanied Sir Francis Drake and his crew in their sixteenth-century circumnavigation of the world. Other historical overviews commence with Protestant pastors present in U.S. factories of the seventeenth century and beyond. It is assumed that these workplace priests were not only hired by the management to strengthen morale but also to prevent conflicts. Wartime stories regarding the effectiveness of military chaplains inspired employers to engage chaplains at their companies. The American industrialist LeTourneau installed the first chaplaincy programs in his plants in the 1940s. Most firms engaging chaplains were non-union and predominantly situated in the southern United States (USA) (Eades 1988; Fones-Wolf and Fones-Wolf 2015; Paget and McCormack 2006; Seales 2012). Narratives of European history concentrate on French working priests who worked full-time in companies alongside workers to experience their everyday lives (Arnal 1986; Erlander 1991), on the history of industrial missions in the industries of the United Kingdom (UK) (Bell 2005, 2006), and the development of workplace chaplaincy near major industrial areas in Germany and Austria (Gruber 2013; Lorenz 1998).

Despite this long history, only a few articles have thus been published in scientific management journals on topics such as the role of workplace chaplains (Michelson 2006) or the views of management, personnel department and employees on corporate chaplains (Miller and Ngunjiri 2015; Miller et al. 2017, 2018). This scientific work has so far focused on its positive implications such as reduced employee turnover rates or improved working atmosphere, as appears to be typical for research on workplace spirituality in general (Ashmos and Duchon 2000; Benefiel 2005; Duchon and Plowman 2005; Fry and Nisiewicz 2013; Fry and Slocum 2008; Garcia-Zamor 2003). This emphasis on positive implications and outcomes implies a connotation of instrumentalization, which is defined as the attempt to regard employees as means to reach increased organizational results (Lips-Wiersma et al. 2009). A literature review on workplace chaplaincy revealed a debate about the motivation for its installation, thus workplace chaplaincy needs to be analysed in terms of its possible instrumentalization (Wolf and Feldbauer-Durstmüller 2018). The question arises if workplace chaplaincy signifies real integration of spirituality, including a serious contemplation of the meaning of life and work and critical analysis of organizational structures and management (critical workplace spirituality). Or else, if it is instead instrumentalized as a management technique in order to improve organizational results (positive workplace spirituality) (Bell 2006, 2008).

As alternative ways of understanding spirituality and chaplaincy are needed (Bell 2008; Driscoll and Wiebe 2007; Fornaciari and Lund Dean 2001), essential characteristics of a critical and a positive workplace spirituality are elaborated in this paper and discussed in the context of workplace chaplaincy. Within our empirical study, a practical model of workplace chaplaincy is comprehensively examined through a combination of different ways of qualitative data collection. We scrutinized the Austrian Catholic workplace chaplaincy as a rather critical approach facing different challenges, allegiances and logics in the secular working world. The decision to conduct the study in this Catholic and national context was driven by the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is one of the longest standing and largest institutions worldwide, as well as by considerations of access and familiarity. Our empirical study was guided by the questions of how workplace chaplaincy can be implemented in practice and what challenges exist for the future of workplace chaplaincy.

This Austrian study represents, of course, as any study a singularity. However, we suggest, that its significance goes far beyond as it very different to the models presented so far in scientific literature. As a rather critical thought-provoking model, Austrian workplace chaplaincy illustrates the competing logics in a rather secular working world and in religious institutions. In summary, the elaborated characteristics and the qualitative study extend our understanding of workplace spirituality and chaplaincy by providing a view beyond traditional management perspectives. Moreover, this paper contributes to the discussion what kind of spirituality and chaplaincy we are referring to in management theory and practice.

The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. We first proceed with a theoretical background on spirituality, workplace spirituality, workplace chaplaincy and institutional logics. Subsequently, we present the basic discourse on positive versus critical workplace spirituality and then transfer this discussion to workplace chaplaincy. Regarding the empirical study, we first describe the applied methods and then provide the main results. We continue with a discussion of its findings. The last section concludes, including limitations of the paper and implications for practice and future research.

2 Theoretical background

2.1 Spirituality and workplace spirituality

No commonly accepted definitions of spirituality or workplace spirituality exist, as both terms are multifaceted, abstract, and highly personal constructs (Ashforth and Pratt 2003; Gotsis and Kortezi 2008; Milliman et al. 2003). The term spirituality is usually defined quite broadly, embracing a search for meaning, transcendence, and connectedness (Baker and Miles-Watson 2010; Bosch Rabell and Bastons 2020; Cavanagh and Bandsuch 2002; Emmons 1999). Giacalone and Jurkiewicz (2015) presented a sample of wide-ranging definitions, most of which comprise descriptions of transcendence and interconnectedness, with the latter including vertical and horizontal components. While the horizontal component embraces the relation with the self, with others, and the environment, the references of the vertical component can range from ‘a higher power, God or the sacred’ to ‘anything indefinable, intangible or immaterial.’ Consequently, definitions can encompass not only a higher power or God but also self-chosen values (Cavanagh and Bandsuch 2002; DiPadova 1998; Dyson et al. 1997; Stoll 1989; Tanyi 2002).

Spirituality may or may not be linked to religion, which leads to a discussion of the relationship between spirituality and religion (Bosch Rabell and Bastons 2020; Dyson et al. 1997; Gotsis and Kortezi 2008; Tanyi 2002). As religion and spirituality are both multidimensional concepts, this relationship remains unclear (Benefiel and Fry 2011; Phipps and Benefiel 2013). Some authors assert that it is necessary to compare religiousness to spirituality to remain at the same level of analysis. Acknowledging that defining religion is one of the most contentious areas of religious studies (Horton 1960; Van Buren et al. III 2020), we choose a rather broad definition regarding religion as an organized approach to supernatural reality through human activities including a set of beliefs, narratives, and practices, which are mainly spiritual (de Blot 2011). Because traditional religious institutions have weakened alongside an increase in individualized forms of faith expression, spirituality has developed as a distinct, more popular and adaptable notion without the negative or dividing impression often coupled with the institutionalized religion (Baker and Miles-Watson 2010; Hill et al. 2000; Iannaccone and Klick 2003; Zinnbauer and Pargament 2005). For this paper, we follow Phipps and Benefiel (2013), who scrutinized possible juxtapositions of religion and spirituality and recommended them as overlapping constructs meaning to regard them as separate fields with some shared content.

Transferring spirituality to the workplace, this lack of consensus on its definition presents a considerable hurdle for achieving a common understanding of workplace spirituality (Giacalone and Jurkiewicz 2015). Workplace spirituality is a phenomenon that describes employees’ spiritual or religious manifestations in the workplace. Employees are not merely task executors but ‘whole persons,’ bringing their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual characteristics to their workplaces (Hicks 2003; Lips-Wiersma et al. 2009; Sheep 2006). As a multifaceted construct, workplace spirituality includes three core aspects: meaningful work on the individual level, sense of community on the group level, and alignment with the organization’s values on the organizational level (Milliman et al. 2003; Parboteeah and Cullen 2010). On the individual level, the search for meaning in work is not novel, but workplace spirituality regards work as not just interesting or challenging but also about living one’s dream and searching for deeper meaning. On the group level, community involves deep relationships with and openness to others, including sincere caring and the feeling of being linked to a common purpose. The organizational level involves alignment between employees’ personal values and the organization’s purpose, including the notion that people wish to be employed in organizations with integrity and a meaningful purpose (Ashmos and Duchon 2000; Bosch Rabell and Bastons 2020; Chawla and Guda 2013; Houghton et al. 2016).

Briefly summarized, spirituality as an individual search for meaning includes a sense of connectedness and transcendence and can be related or not to religious traditions. Workplace spirituality is especially discussed in terms of connective aspects and perceived more in relation to organizational purposes and values (Tackney et al. 2017). However, a secular workplace spirituality that equates spirituality simply with values has been criticized for adding nothing new to approaches to human relations and social issues in organizations (Driscoll and Wiebe 2007). Chaplaincy, as a long existing concept deeply anchored within religious traditions, can provide stimulating insights for workplace spirituality.

2.2 Workplace chaplaincy

Workplace chaplaincy brings spirituality to the workplace and provides employees with opportunities to look inward and to clarify and live out their values in an appropriate manner while finding sense and fulfilment in life and work (Paget and McCormack 2006). Workplace chaplaincy is defined as pastoral care at workplaces provided by ordained ministers or qualified laypersons salaried by ecclesial institutions, professional associations, or companies themselves (Jablonowski and Jansen 2000; Miller and Ngunjiri 2015; Seales 2012). Chaplains usually minister to people from different religious backgrounds or with no religious faith at places that are not regarded as religious in nature. Chaplaincy developed because many people desired spiritual care even when they were not in church. As employees take ‘the whole person’ to work, they need support when they are in decisive or critical situations (Hicks 2003; Lips-Wiersma et al. 2009; Paget and McCormack 2006; Sheep 2006).

There are country-specific approaches to and different models of workplace chaplaincy. First, chaplaincy can be provided exclusively by the church, as in Germany and Austria. Second, it can be offered by various host organizations but only with authorization from the church, as in the UK. Third, as in the USA and Australia, chaplains can be leased from professional associations, similar to other employee-assistance programs. Chaplaincy in the USA rather acts distantly from churches, and is promoted as a spiritual counselling and social services system suited to secular and religiously diverse workplaces. Consequently, companies regard workplace chaplaincy as a type of employee benefit providing relational and spiritual care. Fourth, some companies and trade unions install ‘in-house chaplains,’ whereby workplace chaplaincy is performed by salaried employees (Elwyn 1996; Lathan 2015; Miller 2007; Miller and Ngunjiri 2015; Wolf and Feldbauer-Durstmüller 2018).

In the USA, chaplains’ roles seem to be rather business-oriented, and the chaplain is an interlocutor for all people in the workplace, including top-management (Gilbert 2007). Outside the USA, much discussion has centred on how chaplains can play a critical role in highlighting injustices in workplaces (Ballard 2009), like the workplace chaplains in the UK who supported workers during the miners’ strike of 1984–1985, one of the longest and most violent industrial conflicts in that country (Bell 2005). Catholic chaplains in Germany and Austria emphasize this critical role, providing pastoral care primarily for workers and underprivileged groups on the grounds that Christians support weaker members of society (Federal Commission of Workplace Chaplaincy in Germany 2010; Lorenz 1998).

2.3 Institutional logics

The institutional logics perspective is a framework to scrutinize the interrelationships between institutions, organizations, and individuals in a societal context (Thornton et al. 2012). In their foundational work on institutional logics, Friedland and Alford (1991) proposed a central logic for each of the main institutions of modern Western societies: the bureaucratic state, democracy, capitalism, the family, and religion. Logics as organizing principles are defined as a set of material practices and symbolic constructions, guiding institutions, organizations and individuals (Friedland and Alford 1991). Thus, the institutional logics perspective facilitates our understanding of the interplay between institutions, organizations, and individuals because these logics create categories, beliefs, and motives that organizations and individuals can use as bases for their actions (Friedland and Alford 1991; Thornton et al. 2012).

Thornton and her colleagues (Thornton and Ocasio 1999, 2008; Thornton et al. 2012) have elaborated Friedland and Alford’s ideas by extending their considerations to the seven logics of market, corporation, profession, state, family, religion, and community. They highlight that logics are “socially constructed, historical patterns of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material subsistence, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality” (Thornton and Ocasio 2008, p. 101). Each logic is characterized by particular organizing principles and rules that serve as a frame of reference for individuals by making sense of their world and constructing their actions (Thornton et al. 2012). Institutional logics as shared intersubjective meaning systems influence individual values, goals, and behaviors (Friedland and Alford 1991). Thereby, logics enable but also constrain individual behaviours by providing a set of guidelines for what activities are acceptable and what values and goals are appropriate (Thornton et al. 2012; Friedland 2018).

Whereas earlier literature focused on one dominant logic driving the behavior of institutions, organizations, and individuals, recent articles pay more attention to coexisting or competing logics. These approaches discuss how individuals influenced by various institutional logics can navigate through these pluralistic contexts (Arman et al. 2014; Reay and Hinings 2009; Thornton et al. 2012). The very name “workplace chaplaincy” already points to two distinct domains “workplace” and “chaplaincy” that are influenced by different logics. Workplaces are embedded in organizations with a business logic that focuses on profitability, efficiency and market positions. Chaplaincy is linked to the religion logic including faith, charity and transcendence, as well with a community logic that relates to broader social goals and serving community needs (Friedland 2013; Reay et al. 2015; Thornton et al. 2012).

3 Workplace chaplaincy: positive or critical spirituality?

3.1 Discourse on positive versus critical workplace spirituality

The topic of workplace spirituality developed within different scientific fields and theoretical traditions. Therefore, scholars with diverse academic and cultural backgrounds developed different approaches. Gotsis and Kortezi (2008) distinguished between two basic approaches. While some concepts are placed within the context of philosophic or religious traditions, more give priority to the positive outcomes of spirituality in workplaces. Similarly, Lips-Wiersma et al. (2009) and Lips-Wiersma and Mills (2014) differentiated between positive and critical workplace spirituality.

Positive workplace spirituality is presented as a win-win situation, good for employees and beneficial for the organizations (Lips-Wiersma et al. 2009). Thereby it emphasizes a non-confrontational approach and focuses on the happy and productive employee Bell 2005, 2006; Lips-Wiersma and Mills 2014hen). Thus, critical authors have applied the term ‘technical spirituality,’ as spirituality is considered as a management technique used to achieve instrumental goals (Bell 2008; Boje 2008; Driscoll and Wiebe 2007; Long and Driscoll 2015). The positive approach aims to link workplace spirituality with organizational results (e.g., Benefiel 2003a; Duchon and Plowman 2005; Jurkiewicz and Giacalone 2004; Karakas 2010; Milliman et al. 2003; Poole 2009), which accrues legitimacy within the scientific and management spheres (Benefiel 2003b; Tackney et al. 2017).

As spirituality addresses non-materialistic concerns, the question arises of whether it is suitable to focus on its material advantages (Benefiel 2003b; Boje 2008; Long and Driscoll 2015). Critical workplace spirituality focuses on how spirituality can be misused for managerial control and instrumental gain (Bell and Taylor 2003; Benefiel 2003a; Boje 2008; Driver 2005; Lips-Wiersma et al. 2009; Lips-Wiersma and Mills 2014). This workplace spirituality implies a serious debate about the meaning of life and work and leads to a critical analysis of structures and managerial practices (Bell 2006, 2008). Sometimes used, though generally less applied, are the terms ‘authentic spirituality’ (Driscoll and Wiebe 2007; Porth et al. 2003) and ‘existential workplace spirituality’ (Lips-Wiersma and Mills 2014).

The theoretical approach of critical scholars is based on philosophical foundations such as the critical theory of the Frankfurt School (Adorno 1974, 2014; Boje 2005, 2008; Horkheimer 1982, 2014), Foucault’s considerations of critique and the notion of power (Bell and Taylor 2003; Foucault 1982, 1997; Langenberg 2011), the critical sociology of Bourdieu (Bourdieu 1977, 1990, 1991; Kamoche and Pinnington 2012), or the technical imperative of Jacques Ellul (Driscoll and Wiebe 2007; Ellul 1964). The term ‘authentic or existentialist spirituality’ refers to existentialism (Heidegger 1962; Lips-Wiersma and Mills 2014; Sartre 1943). Moreover, theological approaches have also been applied, such as liberation theology (Bell 2005, 2008; Gutiérrez 1984; Gutiérrez and Inda 1988), Catholic Social Teaching (Melé 2011; Porth et al. 2003), and other moral and religious traditions concerning human dignity (Case and Gosling 2010; Hicks 2003).

As philosophical and religious approaches are rather sceptical concerning capitalism and economic power, an intensive debate arises around the political, economic, and social contexts of workplace spirituality (Bell 2006, 2008; Bell and Taylor 2003; Benefiel et al. 2014; Boje 2008; Lips-Wiersma et al. 2009). Critical workplace spirituality is, moreover, considered a force of social change that can vanquish processes of domination in workplaces by highlighting structural inequalities and organizational alternatives (Bell 2008). Consequently, critical workplace spirituality questions basic assumptions of existing management theories (Boje 2008; Driscoll and Wiebe 2007; Lips-Wiersma and Nilakant 2008) and reflects new approaches to management (Bell 2005; Lips-Wiersma and Nilakant 2008). This spirituality pays attention to the individuals’ rights to be treated with dignity at work, to be connected to others, and to be a whole, integrated person (Benefiel 2003a, b; Case and Gosling 2010; Wolf and Feldbauer-Durstmüller 2018). Awareness of a different conception of humankind implies that employees are not human resources to be managed but have an inviolable human dignity (Driscoll and Wiebe 2007; Hicks 2003). The key characteristics of critical and positive workplace spirituality are described in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Critical and Positive Workplace Spirituality

3.2 Discourse on workplace chaplaincy as a concrete manifestation of workplace spirituality

The key characteristics in Fig. 1 are also discussed within workplace chaplaincy. Critical approaches of workplace chaplaincy refer to liberation theology as a basis, which is a practical theology that aims to make a difference in the world through solidarity and action. Within this theological approach, religion can challenge capitalism and oppose the values of a dominant management culture (Bell 2005, 2008; Gutiérrez 1984; Gutiérrez and Inda 1988). In this sense, it is the duty of chaplains to reveal injustice and question structures in the working world. Public statements on topics such as social inequality and humanization of working life form an important part of the work of chaplains in Germany and Austria (Jablonowski and Jansen 2000). Furthermore, Driscoll and Wiebe (2007) refer to the technical imperative of Ellul (1964), and critically question whether the creation of a dedicated position as the chaplain is another human engineering attempt driven by instrumentalization.

Regarding the indicated benefits of organizations providing professional chaplaincy in the USA, the possibility of instrumentalization cannot be dismissed. Hicks (2003) criticizes chaplaincy organizations for prioritizing chaplains’ instrumental role in their promises of increased loyalty, reduced employee turnover, and increased productivity on their homepages. Loyalty conflicts may arise when chaplaincy must be justified economically; it is hard to image that a chaplain who raises serious questions about business practices will remain in the company (Hicks 2003). Scientific studies with interviews of business leaders, managers and employees, (Michelson 2006; Miller and Ngunjiri 2015; Miller et al. 2017, 2018) have typically concentrated more on the benefits than on potential risks. Such analyses have focused on decisions to engage chaplains in organizations or employees’ recognition of chaplaincy as a demonstration of management’s care for them. Personnel managers emphasize that chaplains enhance a positive organizational culture and support efforts in religious diversity. Potential risks of workplace chaplaincy such as religious harassment, discrimination, and issues of confidentiality are mentioned but scarcely discussed.

Regarding the political, economic, and social contexts of workplace chaplaincy, it would be reductionist to debate this topic apolitically (Case and Gosling 2010). Industrial relations, employment rights, and trade union coverage must be discussed particularly in light of differences among countries. While employees in the USA have little or no voice in company operations and functions, European models emphasize the role of the state and cooperation, which leads to recognition of employees’ influence on company decisions beyond wages and working conditions. In German-speaking countries, workers’ councils and employee representatives are important elements of industrial relations (Albert 1993; Streeck and Yamamura 2001; Tackney 2009). Workplace chaplaincy in the USA is quite differently considered an employee benefit which management offer as a concrete way to show interest in employees beyond salaries and labour conditions (Lathan 2015; Miller 2007).

When members of religious institutions enter the secular working world, they face different challenges, allegiances and logics. Chaplains may be viewed sceptically, leading to questions of whether they support existing structures and identify more with the interests of management or if they are more taking the side of employees (Bell 2006; Northcott 1989). In the USA and Australia, the function of chaplains as a neutral negotiator is emphasized (Michelson 2006; Seales 2012). Literature in the UK shows different attitudes towards workplace chaplaincy, including a non-confrontational approach with a focus on the reconciliation of interests. Nevertheless, there have been occasions in the UK when chaplains have adopted more radical positions supporting employee interests during strikes, bringing them into conflict with management and the church. Because they receive less financial support from churches and contractual relationships with companies have been introduced, chaplains in the UK feel less able to question business practices because they are also responsible to management (Bell 2005, 2006). In Germany and Austria, workplace chaplaincy cannot be neutral because it takes the side of people with fewer opportunities (Federal Commission of Workplace Chaplaincy in Germany 2010; Lorenz 1998).

Bell (2005, 2007, 2008) illustrated how chaplains oppose the values of a prevailing managerial culture, applying values of empathy and social justice to challenge predominant schools of managerial thought. Viewing human welfare as a primary end (Driscoll and Wiebe 2007) would lead to a different responsibility towards employees based on a distinctive conception of humankind. This different conception may be discovered in the holistic view of humans within chaplaincy. German literature particularly emphasizes the importance of ensuring human dignity in working life (Jablonowski and Jansen 2000; Waller 2012).

4 Methods

4.1 Data collection

Our study combines different ways of collecting qualitative data as it includes interviews, questionnaires, document analysis and workshops. The starting point of the selection of interviewees was an intensive search about workplace chaplaincy in Austria. On the basis of this research, we contacted the workplace chaplains and conducted interviews with those who agreed to participate. Interviews with twenty workplace chaplains (see Appendix A) were conducted face-to-face. All interviews were recorded with the permission of the interviewees and subsequently transcribed verbatim. The interviewees had the opportunity to review these transcripts and make modifications; after they expressed satisfaction with the transcripts, the content was used for our research. As interviews were conducted in German, we translate the cited statements into English, retaining the general meaning. However, a few quotations have been slightly edited or supplemented for better understanding.

We also sent questionnaires to additional chaplains, theologians, and managers, as well as scholars of management and theology. With these questionnaires which comprised open questions about workplace chaplaincy and encouraged discursive responses, we wanted to obtain a more holistic view of workplace chaplaincy and to prompt discussion with a broader circle of scientists and practitioners. These questionnaires included questions about the most important aspects of workplace chaplaincy, the relevance of workplace chaplaincy and the evaluation of workplace chaplaincy in terms of its scientific elaboration. In addition, questions were asked about how workplace chaplaincy will position itself in the changing working world and what might be its possible contribution in a multicultural and multi-religious society. We received 20 responses for further analysis (see Appendix B).

Furthermore, we participated in an interdisciplinary university workshop about workplace chaplaincy and organized a workshop together with the Catholic Workplace Chaplaincy in Austria for workplace chaplains as well as theology and management scholars. These workshops enabled us to deepen our knowledge of the challenges, allegiances and logics of workplace chaplaincy.

4.2 Data analysis

We chose an inductive approach, as we wanted to condense our extensive basic texts. Analysis was performed through multiple readings and interpretation of these basic texts. Even though our findings were guided by the questions we outlined, the results emerge directly from analysis of the raw data and not from a priori expectations or theoretical models. The summary of our findings emerges from frequent or significant themes inherent in the basic texts, as well as from consideration of variations in the statements of the interviewees. Key themes were identified during a coding process, as follows. We read our data material several times to identify dominant topics and categories. Based on this multiple reading, we developed a first coding framework but later found that revision and refinement of our category system was necessary. Trustworthiness in research was aimed for and achieved by independent parallel coding of several coders, some were more conversant with the context, while one coder was less familiar with the topic. Inevitably, the findings were influenced by the researchers, as all scholars need to decide what is more and less important in the data in order to obtain useable results (Thomas 2006).

5 Results

We studied the model of workplace chaplaincy provided by the Catholic Church of Austria in order to extend our understanding of a concrete manifestation of workplace spirituality. Multiple readings of the transcripts, questionnaires and documents enabled major themes to emerge. Figure 2 includes these key themes identified by the evaluators. We start with the structure and goals of workplace chaplaincy as basis, followed by the results focusing on the chaplains. Then we illustrate the relationships of workplace chaplaincy with the target groups, other services for employees, the management and the church, concluding with the future of workplace chaplaincy.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Workplace Chaplaincy

5.1 Structure of workplace chaplaincy

Catholic workplace chaplaincy in Austria started after World War II, especially in industrial regions (Gruber 2013). Austrian workplace chaplaincy is organized in various centres with different foci, many of which, for historical reasons, are still located near towns or former industrial areas. People can come to these centres which are considered as social bases with different activities, often responding to social needs. Since workplace chaplains are relatively free in initiating their offerings, there is a great variety of communicative, spiritual and creative activities in these centres. In addition, chaplains emphasize the importance of visiting people in their workplaces.

C16: “We have church in the world of work, we have chaplains on site [in the companies]... Being on site with works councils, with employees, and on the other hand, all of them offer houses, places, rooms…, where community life is practiced. Places to celebrate and to exchange ideas and to reflect.”

All centres are led by a central department, called ‘People and Work,’ which is located in the pastoral office of the diocese. The chaplains are paid not by commercial organizations or companies but exclusively by the Catholic Church. Furthermore, the church finances the infrastructure of the centres. In addition, the chaplains receive a budget for the activities in their centres. Occasionally, additional funding is raised through room rentals and external subsidy from cities and municipalities. Due to declining membership and financial resources in the church, there have already been cost-cutting measures in the workplace chaplaincy and it is clear to the chaplains that the financial framework may become tighter.

C3: “..if there are austerity measures again then we have to cut one to two percent again.”

C2: “We assume that the financial development will be rather tighter.”

5.2 Goals of workplace chaplaincy

The main goal of workplace chaplaincy is to view the whole person: not only in their working situation, political, and social setting but also as a person searching for meaning. The vision is ‘good work and good life’ for as many people as possible, with a preference to support those in weaker positions in the working world. Correspondingly, chaplains champion a fair society and necessary changes in politics, economy and management as human beings should be the focus of the working world.

C4: “Good work and a good life for as many people as possible and a favoured view of the weak in the working world: this is how it can be summarized briefly and concisely.”

C5: „One goal is to empower people who are in the working world and not those in the upper floors, but ordinary workers, personally and also for political engagement, where they can act, where they stand.

While the stated goals of the chaplains tend to focus on the weak in the working world and underline political engagement, management perceives broader goals for workplace chaplaincy and points to possible connections to values and spiritual sources within companies:

M8: “I believe that workplace chaplaincy can achieve a significant contribution to our society, as it carries Christian values into industrial companies where there were before only economic, technical, or administrative values....”

M9: “[…] pastoral care can and does not only have to address the level of social interaction but can also make possible reflection and access to spiritual sources [...].”

5.3 Education and professional path of workplace chaplains

Among the chaplains, we observed two clearly distinguishable groups. First, graduate theologians who were influenced by liberation theology and socio-political discussions during their studies. Second, chaplains who were previously apprentices came directly from the working world and had their roots in the Young Christian Workers movement. However, all of the interviewed chaplains had either worked as apprentices in enterprises or completed one or more practical trainings at companies to gain work experience. The chaplains mentioned a large variety of different trainings and further professional development for chaplains, but no ‘must-have’ training could be identified. Those chaplains without theological study have to visit special courses to acquire theological competencies.

5.4 Theological basis of workplace chaplains

In discussing the role of social and political processes and power in the economy, the chaplains are strongly influenced by liberation theology, with a clear preference for issues of the poor. With reference to the Catholic Church today, Pope Francis is cited as saying, “Go forth and reach out to all people at the margins of society!”

C5: “For me, it is still this liberation theology, which says that God wants us to live freely and under humane conditions.”

C4: “The focus of the Bible is always on those who are disadvantaged or in greater need of company and support.”

5.5 Role of workplace chaplains

The interviews revealed a great variety of roles for chaplains, including communicator, mediator, pastoral and consultant roles. The pastoral role focuses on turning points in individuals’ lives, with the chaplain as the main contact in challenging situations.

C8: “My task is where we have to work together in cases of emergencies or workplace accidents. There they were very glad that there is somebody left who is somehow still able to speak and act.”

C19: “We are regarded as the magical third party. That means, we are not the bosses of the worker. But we are also not the workers’ council, where the legal issues take place. We simply are the magical third, where everything can be taken together.”

C21: “[Workplace chaplains are] people, who sometimes fall out of alignment, who follow their path, open their mouths and are sometimes a bit challenging or chaotic or creative.”

The quotes “a magical third party” and “falling out of alignment and being challenging” illustrate that it is not unproblematic for workplace chaplains to find their place in the workplace. They have to consider allegiances to their preferred target groups, as well as to other employee services that similarly strive for supporting working people. Relationships with management in companies and with the church as the chaplaincies’ financial and spiritual home need also clarification.

5.6 Target groups of workplace chaplaincy

Workplace chaplaincy in Austria is focused on pastoral care for people with fewer economic and social opportunities in their lives. The main target groups are normal workers and employees; in addition, the chaplains mentioned women, young people, and unemployed people.

C18: “We are officially workplace chaplains, but we are worker chaplains. Our target group is workers. And if the manager wants to talk, we won’t refuse to do so. But we do not search contact to above, in our intention we are there for the workers.”

C14: “Basically everyone is in a target group, but again focusing mainly on the lower class. That are those, who have the smallest lobby and the least own voice. Those, who need the support […].”

C13: “[…] my place is on the side of the disadvantaged people of society.”

This unilateral positioning on the side of traditional workers or normal employees is viewed critically.

T8: “It has to be considered that class structures increasingly blur in modern service and information societies. CEOs are frequently employed and are not owners of their companies, and numerous individual entrepreneurs often live under far more precarious conditions than politically well-represented and secured workers.”.

5.7 Relation to other services for employees

Workplace chaplains’ access to companies in Austria occurs mainly through the worker’s councils, thus they have close relationships and common projects with these councils, unions, and other employee representatives. Self-evidently, chaplains are invited to meetings of the workforce and regarded as reliable partners of the workers’ council.

C9: “It is absolutely clear where the workplace chaplaincy stands; it is exactly where the unions also stand.”

C14: “[...] with the union it fits very well. Those are the representatives of the employees. They have the same goals as the workplace chaplaincy.”

Some of the chaplains’ close ties to the trade unions are due to their professional background as apprentices and their involvement in the Young Christian Workers movement. In addition, this close connection is also important for the practical work of chaplains, as socio-political topics offer starting points for chaplains in the companies. This one-sided positioning on the side of the worker’s councils and unions is criticized as political instrumentalization or commingling with the tasks of worker’s council.

T4: “The contribution of workplace chaplaincy is rapidly dwindling […] and [it is] frequently religiously veiled political partisanship on a simple level.”

M9: “[...] response to the current problems of individual cases, remaining in the internal perspective of companies, commingles with issues of the worker’s council regarding working conditions [...].”

5.8 Relation to management

Workplace chaplains in Austria approach the companies not through management or company owners but mainly through worker’s councils. The interviews revealed differences regarding the chaplains’ relationship to management. Some chaplains perceive tensions with management but also recognize mutual respect. However, there is sometimes absolutely no relation to management, or, even stronger, a consciously chosen distance and rejection of management by chaplains to facilitate their acceptance as dialogue partners of workers, employees, and their representatives. This conscious distance from management could also be one reason why workplace chaplains tend to be viewed rather sceptically and as very close to the unions by the management in some companies.

C1: “Of course, we would rather get in touch with those in a severe situation […] Whether the management understands that—what we want—and whether they take us seriously, I do not know, but I also actually do not care.”

C15: “The church does not see people as machines. But sometimes they [top management] do. In such situations I do not know how we could come together.”

C13: “In most of the companies we are perceived very sceptically or even dismissively. Because we are the ones from the other side. We were placed under the same umbrella as the labour union.”

C10: “There is no personal dependence. This is the main thrust: ‘it is important that you are here.’ This we hear it from different people.”

5.9 Relation to Church

Chaplains are employed and paid by the church. Their mission is both to present the church in the working world and equally to present the views of workers and employees to the church and its representatives. Workplace chaplaincy is regarded as a low-threshold way for the church to reach people who are detached from the church.

T1: “Workplace chaplains have good rapport with people in the working world.”

T6: “The company could be a space where humans still let themselves be touched by pastoral care […]. As many people have lost contact with the church and with religion, this can be a good offer to experience faith as a practical aid in everyday life.”

The chaplains’ statements emphasize the distance of the church from the working world. Therefore, the motivation of the chaplains is to provide crucial information for the church to keep the topics of the working world remain present in the church.

“C13: “.I think to myself, as chaplains, we are deep in society….I do think that we have an impact on the church. We are the thorn in the flesh, sometimes we serve as the fig leaf.””

C19: “I believe that it is very important that the church as an institution gets this view, and it only gets it…through workplace chaplaincy...we are on site and because they (the church) sit in a protected space...so the reality of the hard world of work and life worries ...we have to bring that into the church, otherwise they won’t know...”

5.10 Future of workplace chaplaincy

The following future developments are apparent: On the one hand, the church is experiencing internal changes, such as fewer financial resources and the increased assignment of laypersons as chaplains with a different approach to pastoral care. On the other hand, massive external changes can be observed within the working world and society caused by digitalization, demographic developments, and migration. This creates new requirements for workplace chaplaincy, as well as requests for interreligious and interdenominational approaches. We identified some particularly sceptical statements concerning the future of workplace chaplaincy, including its declining importance or even disappearance.

C18: “Workplace Chaplaincy has to cope with staying alive by its own. Because it is shrinking more and more within the church.”

T3: “According to my perception, the relevance of workplace chaplaincy has declined, not least because of the transition from an industrial to a service society.”

There are changes within the working world which workplace chaplaincy has to consider.

T7: “From this point of view, workplace chaplaincy urgently needs to position itself anew. The working world of today cannot be reduced to the man in blue overalls who works physically hard in production processes. Digital working worlds with changed legal conditions require pastoral care just as desperately.”

“T8: “Also, the forms of work are changing […]. That is why the traditional structures of workplace chaplaincy […] are greatly challenged to change. Presumably ‘internationalization’ and ‘mobilization’ of workplace chaplaincy are going to be important topics; today, the weakest members of the working community can often be found among migrant workers from various cultures and religious confessions.””.

As a result of increased diversity, interreligious and interdenominational approaches are necessary, and workplace chaplaincy is compared with healthcare chaplaincy.

T2: “Workplace chaplaincy must occur more strongly across denominations and must be interreligious [like healthcare chaplaincy] [...].”

M1: “[...] rather accepted as an essential dimension of personnel management whereby ethical issues and interdenominational thinking should have priority.”

6 Discussion

Workplace chaplaincy of the Catholic Church of Austria exemplifies a critical, thought-provoking model that differs greatly from the models so far described in the scientific literature. Regarding workplace chaplaincy, we need to distinguish between approaches of a positive and a critical spirituality as described in Fig. 1. The characteristics of a positive workplace spirituality seem to be more consistent with the corporations’ business logic in that they refer to positive outcomes of spirituality, present a win-win and emphasize material advantages and productive employees. The community logic is more in line with critical approaches, whereas the religion logic enables critical and positive approaches.

A critical workplace spirituality is exposed to various challenges, allegiances and logics as it refuses to support existing structures and emphasizes a different conception of humankind as well as a critical analysis of instrumentalization and indicated benefits. If we consider the key characteristics of a critical spirituality, we conclude that most criteria are met by workplace chaplaincy in Austria. As a critical approach, it is confronted with the competing logics of business and capitalism in the companies, the logics of religion and spiritualism in the church, and community logics regarding the needs of the disadvantaged in the workforce and in society. The factors influencing the individual chaplains to tend more toward critical spirituality or positive spirituality are their education, professional path, theological basis, and socialization in the Catholic Church.

Figure 2 indicates four crucial relationships for workplace chaplaincy in Austria: its target groups, other services for employees, the management and the church. There is an intense discussion about the target groups and chaplains’ one-sided positioning on the side of traditional workers or employees. The chaplains rather disregard executive staff and managers as potential target groups to avoid allegiances to or a possible instrumentalization of chaplains by the management. Nevertheless, other papers in the scientific literature (Miller and Ngunjiri 2015; Miller et al. 2018) indicate that chaplaincy can be provided for all people at workplaces and it is not proved that these approaches are to be regarded as an instrumentalization of spirituality. Moreover, Gotsis and Kortezi (2008) already warned that it would be unfair to accuse positive spirituality approaches of exhausting themselves in an instrumentalist view.

As workplace chaplains in Austria gain access to companies primarily through the worker’s councils, there are allegiances to be considered. The chaplains maintain close relationships with employees’ representatives because of common socio-political topics and a unifying community logic regarding broader societal goals for the workforce. In contrast, they choose a purposeful distance to the management and sometimes even a conscious avoidance or repudiation is evident. The chaplains’ statements reveal a very one-sided consideration of management, predominantly concluding that within their business logic the only purpose of companies is profit maximization. This one-sided understanding of management is obviously caused by the history of Austrian workplace chaplaincy, which is located near major industrial areas characterized by labour disputes and waves of layoffs. As the chaplains emphasize that human beings are be considered ends in themselves, they are in opposition to the classical mainstream discourse of management research which regards people as human resources, human capital or mere means to an end (Huselid 1995; Parboteeah and Cullen 2010). Nevertheless, management research has more to offer such as approaches as stewardship theory (Davis et al. 1997; Hernandez 2008) and corporate social responsibility (Carroll and Shabana 2010). These concepts encompass a special responsibility of the management, but the chaplains do not acknowledge such discourses. Furthermore, the chaplains do not address the specific characteristics of small and medium-sized or family firms, which dominate the European corporate landscape and show a special connectedness and attitude towards their employees (Marques et al. 2014).

Austrian chaplains are independent from the management of the organizations in which they care for employees as they are paid entirely by the church. Workplace chaplaincy emphasizes this independence from management, however, allegiances to the church need to be reflected. The church provides the financial resources for workplace chaplaincy and there is a certain connectedness based on a common religion and community logic. Despite the existence of this religion logic with a focus on faith, charity and transcendence, and a community logic relating to broader social goals and serving community needs, differing attitudes can be found in the church. It should be noted here that considerable parts of the church regard approaches such as liberation theology and the questioning of power structures as perilous. Furthermore, a business logic is also taking hold in the church, as it is struggling with fewer financial resources due to declining membership. The financial situation of the church has an impact on the workplace chaplaincy as more cost-cutting measures may be expected in the future.

Overall, many questions arise for the future of workplace chaplaincy, as a possible declining relevance of workplace chaplaincy within the church is discussed. Additional challenges arise due to the changes in the working world triggered by digitalization, demographic developments, and migration. A new positioning in a modern, multicultural and pluri-religious but also secular working world becomes necessary. In this context, healthcare chaplaincy could offer a possible orientation as it applies a wide variety of approaches.

The examined model of Austrian chaplaincy primarily meets most characteristics of critical workplace spirituality but this leads to a certain one-sidedness as well as challenging allegiances and logics. In contrast to the workplace chaplaincy in the USA as the most frequently presented model in scientific literature, which does not question management practices or working conditions but focuses on spiritual aspects (Hicks 2003), the Austrian model takes a critical socio-political and anti-management position. As a result, spirituality sometimes seems to disappear behind these debates.

7 Conclusion, limitations, and implications

This paper contributes to the management literature by elaborating key characteristics of critical and positive workplace spirituality and debating those characteristics that pertain to workplace chaplaincy. Furthermore, our comprehensive empirical study analyses a practical model that greatly differs from the examples thus far portrayed in the scientific literature. Explanations of workplace chaplaincy in scientific articles have concentrated more on its benefits, thus implying a possible instrumentalization. In contrast, our findings present the Austrian workplace chaplaincy as rather critical approach refusing to support existing management structures and emphasizing a different conception of humankind that is characterized by a strong position against the instrumentalization of people. The elaborated characteristics and the qualitative study extend our understanding of workplace spirituality and chaplaincy as they provide a view beyond traditional management perspective.

Moreover, the Austrian workplace chaplaincy could be regarded thought-provoking model that shows the different logics in the world of work and in religion. The very name “workplace chaplaincy” implies two distinct systems “workplace” and “chaplaincy” that are shaped by different logics. While a positive spirituality seems to be more consistent with the business logic of the organizations, a critical spirituality struggles with different challenges, allegiances and logics. Moreover, workplace chaplaincy in Austria will face the following challenges in the future: Internally it is confronted with diminishing financial and personnel resources of the church; externally, there are additional challenges due to a modern and secular but also multicultural and pluri-religious working world.

Consequently, this paper contributes to the discussion what kind of spirituality and chaplaincy we are referring to in management theory and practice. Do we instrumentalize spirituality and chaplaincy at workplaces to achieve improved results or would we acknowledge critical views about managerial practices and the meaning of life and work as well? Do we focus on models of a positive workplace spirituality that seem to be more adoptable to the Western and now globalized business logic as the norm in today’s working world or do we discuss critical models of workplace chaplaincy that struggle with diverse logics as illustrated by the analysed practical model? Or else, can we learn from these discussions how to reconcile both approaches in the working world? In any case, these discussions indicate that topics such as workplace spirituality and workplace chaplaincy involve challenges, allegiances, and contradictory positions, as spirituality defies simple and functional approaches.

This paper has several limitations, as a discussion and evaluation of models has to consider differences among countries. These distinctions include differences in industrial relations, the welfare state, church structures, and the diversity of cultures and religions, which has recently become an issue in Europe alongside increased migration. A further limitation of this paper is our use of qualitative methods; findings based on this relatively small sample size cannot easily be generalized.

Our results have implications for both researchers and managers. Management researchers could reflect more about these critical approaches of workplace spirituality and chaplaincy instead of focusing on impacts on organizational results in order to reach legitimacy within the scientific and management spheres. We propose further potential avenues for future research, as previous studies of workplace chaplaincy have excluded organizations that may have considered but decided against chaplaincy or have eliminated their chaplaincy programs (Miller et al. 2017). Moreover, it would be fascinating to examine cases studies of chaplaincy in organizations that show how the involved parties—workers and employees, worker’s councils, unions, other services for employees, middle and higher management—reflect on workplace chaplaincy. In addition, it would be informative to compare workplace chaplaincy with other well-known and widely published forms of pastoral care, such as healthcare, military, or prison chaplaincy, in order to learn more about possible models and ways of cooperation. As chaplains’ one-sided criticism of management and missing positioning in the modern, multicultural and pluri-religious working world also bear mentioning, further interdisciplinary approaches with support from religious studies and theology, would be helpful. Discussions about the relationship between organizations and spirituality have a long history in theology, starting with the rules of St. Benedict and other leaders of medieval monasteries and continuing with Luther’s affirmation of the holiness of daily work and the Protestant ethic. All has influenced ideas of management and work that remain present today (Bell and Taylor 2003; Hiebl and Feldbauer-Durstmüller 2014).

The results have implications for practical management, as companies could think about workplace chaplaincy as an alternative option to established counselling programs if management acknowledges their responsibility to support employees in their personal, social, and spiritual needs. As diversity of cultures and religions becomes an important issue in practice, management’s task is to provide a context in which spiritual and religious diversity can be negotiated and lived (Hicks 2003). In practice, it could be challenging for the management being confronted with the workplace chaplaincy’s critical position regarding organizational structures, management and instrumentalization. However, it could also be an opportunity to question the own managerial practices and the way people are regarded in the organization.