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Ministers in the Workplace

Normally, employees take their work-related problems to HR departments. They may, for personal problems, bend the ear of a concerned manager or supervisor. More and more, however, employers have begun to use what they believe to be an even better approach to the needs of their employees: corporate chaplains. In an effort to create the best working environment and thus the most productive employees possible, many large companies now provide the service of chaplains as a regular benefit to employees.

Among those companies, Tyson Foods, Inc., has garnered national media attention for its employment of over 125 chaplains throughout its business locations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In 2005, several individuals from the company, including executive officers, legal counsel, and in-house chaplains, spoke at the National Conference on Workplace Chaplaincy. In July 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported on the company’s use of corporate chaplains and the positive effect that the company’s higher-ups believe the practice is having on Tyson employees.

Other large companies, such as HomeBanc Mortgage, are employing high numbers of chaplains to accommodate the needs of their thousands of employees nationwide. Although the practice has become more prevalent over the last couple of decades, many employers may be hesitant to use corporate chaplains based on their lack of understanding about what corporate chaplains do and how they do it.

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Corporate chaplains’ nonmissionary mission
Ask any company that employs a chaplain what exactly the chaplain does, and you’re likely to hear that despite their many purposes, chaplains aren’t missionaries in the workplace. Rather, they are strictly an optional source of help for employees handling difficult crises at home or even within the office. Although chaplains aren’t necessarily counselors, they spend much of their time simply listening to employees’ problems and offering comfort and support. Among their various functions, corporate chaplains may visit employees in the hospital, offer marriage and family care, provide stress management, and even conduct weddings and funerals.

Chaplains hail from many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. Often, they aren’t employees of the company but are hired through organizations like Corporate Chaplains of America (CCA) or Marketplace Chaplains USA, two of the largest national providers of chaplain services. Employers typically pay a flat fee based on the number of employees, and the fee covers 24-hour availability. Tyson, however, employs its own chaplains and even advertises for part-time chaplain positions in the employment section of its website.

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Confidentiality policies build confidence in chaplains
Regardless of whether a chaplain works for an employer through an in-house program or through a chaplain hiring service, he will abide by a strict code of conduct and confidentiality policy, which may alleviate employers’ concerns about religious discrimination claims. For example, on its website, CCA addresses one frequently asked question regarding the legal concerns of offering chaplain services. The company states that any chaplain hired through CCA will abide by the “White House Guidelines for Religion in the Federal Workplace,” a set of parameters issued to help employers prevent issues with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in their business.

At Tyson, chaplains maintain the confidentiality of their conversations with employees with only four strict exceptions. Those exceptions include information involving sexual harassment, abuse, danger to someone else at the company, or danger to the company itself. While the chaplains sometimes face tough dilemmas regarding those policies, their main goal is to put employees’ needs first.

Despite the seemingly thin line chaplains may appear to walk at times, the success of chaplain programs has been outstanding in the view of both employers and of companies like CCA. On its website, CCA claims that employers can take comfort in the impressive fact that no corporation in the history of workplace chaplaincy has suffered legal problems as a result of offering chaplain services to its employees. Ultimately, chaplains aren’t present to police the halls of the office. Rather, as the director of Tyson’s chaplaincy service put it, “What [employers] are really looking for is someone with a pastor’s heart to care for folks.”

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