Why spirituality is a business imperative in managing organisational ethics

by Khali Mofuoa | Published on 26 August 2019 for The Ethics Institute monthly newsletter

Spirituality is a controversial subject by nature in any context, and is even more so in the secular business world in South Africa. For me, ‘spirituality’ is concerned with the human qualities of a sense of responsibility and accountability to oneself and others (see Dalai Lama, 1999). According to Zinnbauer et al. (1997), spiritual people are more likely to feel connected with others (group cohesion) and exhibit self-sacrificing behaviour (altruism).


Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

"Too many individuals and organisations seem to think that ‘greed is good’ is a viable mantra of business..."

Despite being controversial, spirituality is arguably something that ethically minded and inclined South African companies should not neglect for grounding ethical cultures (Lee, 2016). It is no secret that many South African companies suffer from ‘sleeping sickness of the soul’ today (to borrow from Albert Schweitzer in Andrews, 1997:3), whose primary symptom is loss of morality. One just needs to glance at the Zondo Commission’s ongoing proceedings, which have become something of a ‘theatre of load-shedding of ethics’, to see that state capture was and is a notorious vehicle for ethical lapses in corporate South Africa.

Perhaps the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture will go down in history as one of the most revealing investigations of ethical ‘brokenness’ in South Africa’s business world. It will probably be something that ethics professionals and others are talking about for a long time to come. State capture scandals raise questions about the quality of the ethics of South African business leaders, and their capacity to provide ethical leadership when it matters. Indeed, state capture has dealt a major blow to societal trust in both the state and private sector, and has given many people the perception that the corporate world is simply amoral and corrupt – broken to the core. In my view, it is also a wonderful yet terrifying example of what can go wrong when spiritually is missing. To an ethics professional like me, the ethical failings that enabled state capture indicate that spirituality must prevail for ethics to become the DNA of doing business in this country.

Compelling academic work into the role of spirituality in the workplace has been done by, for example, Gull and Doh (2004: 134), who argue that ‘spirituality can be the basis for ethical conduct in business that is so much needed today’. They believe that being in touch with spiritual principles and values helps to stimulate the moral imaginations of individuals, and can provide a greater depth of understanding of the ethical problems that arise in business. Maclagan (1991) finds that increased ethical behaviour is an organisational benefit of spirituality. Similarly, spirituality has been connected with ethical cognitions, and is viewed as an important factor in determining how individuals perceive the ethicality of a situation (Giacalone & Jurkiewicz, 2003). It is thought by some writers that an increase in individual spirituality leads to increased sensitivity to the ethicality (or not) of questionable business practices, implying that higher spirituality leads to greater ethical consciousness and orientation. In the same vein, Fernando and Chowdhury (2010) think that the spiritual well-being of organisational executives has an influence on their moral philosophies and ethical orientations in decision-making. Overall, there is some agreement among experts that employees and leaders who view their work as a means to advance their spirituality are more likely to be ethical than those who see it merely as a means to a pay checque.

It is my view that, were business and spirituality more connected in South Africa’s business world, the disaster of state capture would not have happened to the extent that it did. Too many individuals and organisations seem to think that ‘greed is good’ is a viable mantra of business (to paraphrase Fry, 2005: 48). All the signs of our time signal that an ethics ‘clean-up’ – to the point that organisations have a conscience – is more urgent than ever before. I could not agree more with  Lee’s description (2016)  that this time happens to be ‘our dark night of the soul (Lee, 2016), which requires us to create corporate spiritual ‘skyhooks’ (Ohmann, 1955) that give us a leg-up when we seem to be spiralling out of control. Spiritual rebirth (Ohmann, 1955) or spiritual reawakening (Agbim, et al., 2013) – call it what you will – is needed. Corporate South Africa must search for new ‘skyhooks’ for an abiding faith around which life’s experiences can grow and give meaning, especially at work. Exploring how spiritual values can help build healthy, meaning-creating, and empowering corporate cultures is a business imperative in South Africa. Only in a more spiritual environment will organisational ethics thrive in this country.

A last thought from the French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin: ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience’.


Agbim, K. C., Ayatse, F.A. and Oriarewo, G.O. (2013). “Spirituality, Ethical Behaviour and Ethical Business: The Impact of Relatedness”. Journal of Business Management & Social Sciences Research, 2 (9): 76-86.   

Andrews, C (1997). The Circle of Simplicity. New York: HarperCollins.

Dalai Lama XIV. (1999). Ethics for the new millennium. New York: The Putnam Publishing Group.

Fernando, M. and Chowdhury, R. (2010). “The relationship between spiritual well-being and ethical orientations in decision making: an empirical study with business executives in Australia”. Journal of Business Ethics, 95 (2): 211-225.

Fry, L. W. (2005). “Toward a Theory of Ethical and Spiritual well-being, and Corporate Social Responsibility through Spiritual Leadership”. In R.A. Giacalone and C.L. Jurkiewicz (Eds.), Positive Psychology in Business Ethics and Corporate Responsibility, (Pp. 47–83), Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Giacalone, R.A. and Jurkiewicz, C.L. (2003). “Toward a science of workplace spirituality”. In R.A. Giacalone and C.L. Jurkiewicz (Eds.), Handbook of workplace spirituality and organizational performance (pp. 3–28). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Gull, G.A. and Doh, J. (2004). “The transmutation of the organization: Towards a more spiritual workplace”.   Journal of Management Inquiry, 13 (2)128-139.

Jurkiewicz, C.L. and Giacalone, R.A. (2004). “A Values Framework for Measuring the Impact of Workplace Spirituality on Organizational Performance". Journal of Business Ethics, 49(2): 129-142.

Lee, K. (2016). “Corporate Spirituality in South Africa”. http://www.katharinelee.co.za/news-corporate-spirituality.php [Accesed 20 August 2019].

Maclagan, P. (1991). “Having and Being in Organizations”. Management Education and Development, 22(3): 234-241.

Ohmann, O.A. (1955). “Skyhooks”: With special implications for Monday through Friday. Harvard Business Review, 33–41.

Zinnbauer, B.J., Pargament, K.I. & Scott, A.B. (1999). “The emerging meanings of religiousness and spiritually: Problems and prospects”. Journal of Personality, 67(6), 889-919.

Khali Mofuoa


Khali Mofuoa is a long-standing Supporter of The Ethics Institute and is currently General Manager: Ethics at the Road Accident Fund. He holds a Master of Philosophy in Applied Ethics with specialisation in Business Ethics from Stellenbosch University, and is completing a PhD in Professional and Applied Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Australia.