Chaplains for employees

Investing in your workers

Some corporations believe they need to deal with the whole person, not just the workplace issues of employees. They’re turning to on-site chaplains to care for staff, thinking a less-stressed crew helps the bottom line. Today, an Atlanta business owner touts the benefits of corporate chaplaincy. We also profile a chaplain executive about the role of assisting workers in good times and bad.

Rick Badie is today’s moderator. Commenting is open following Rilo Stephens’ column.


By Rick Badie


Shane Satterfield had been an ordained minister for 16 years when a friend told him about a business that offers the services of chaplains in the workplace.

“I didn’t even know such a thing existed,” he told me during a recent conversation at his Suwanee office.

Today, Satterfield serves as Southeast regional vice president for Marketplace Chaplains USA, a Texas firm that’s one of several U.S. providers of corporate chaplains.

In Georgia, Marketplace provides ministers for 55 businesses. That person is available 24/7, every day of the year. In good times and bad. He or she visits the work sites weekly and gets to know the people. Interaction with employees and their immediate family members is voluntary and confidential.

The chaplains are there to listen, not proselytize, though employees can broach the subject of religion if they desire. Marketplace’s Satterfield says the chaplains are an invited guest, a term he used repeatedly during our conversation.

“We learn every shift and every environment,” the Gainesville native said. “We are not there to get in the way. The workers know who we are and they know why we are there.”

Corporate chaplains aren’t new, just a growing niche. Besides Marketplace, there’s Wisconsin-based Capital Chaplains and Corporate Chaplains of America in Wake Forest, among others. The National Institute of Business and Industrial Chaplains says nearly 4,000 chaplains work in U.S. companies.

Businesses in recent years have turned to chaplaincy programs as alternatives to traditional employee-assistance programs.

When companies value people, when they care about their worries and well-being, it makes for a better workforce and bottom line, say chaplaincy advocates.

People come to work consumed with other aspects of their lives. Some good. Some bad. A worker might be concerned about caring for an ailing mother. A divorce may be under way for another. They aren’t likely to talk to the boss or turn to human resources.

“Our greatest tool is to listen,” Satterfield told me. “It is to engage and process in our minds what we can do to help, to alleviate the stress or the situation. We have walked people through layoffs, budget crunches and tragedies, and we have a referral network for specialized assistance.”

Satterfield joined Marketplace after a 15-year career as minister of education at Gainesville’s Hopewell Baptist Church, followed by a stint as executive pastor at Marcus Pointe Baptist Church in Pensacola. He oversees operations in 11 states.

“About 80 percent of most workforces don’t have a pastor, preacher or rabbi,” he said. “We are not there to take the place of the church or to share a particular faith. We have 87 denominations represented. We are not fighting about doctrinal issues. The key is to develop relationships.”

By Rilo Stephens

The past several years have been challenging for our company and many others.

The issues we face are different and more far-reaching than any others we’ve dealt with in the past. As president of Eckardt Electric, I believed it was important to meet these challenges in an innovative, personal way.

We began noticing the economic downturn was affecting our employees in ways we were not equipped to handle on our own. The tough economic times were leading to marital and personal strains that many employees did not feel comfortable sharing with management.

Implementing a workplace chaplains program seemed to be the best way to meet the needs of our employees. I turned to Marketplace Chaplains USA. As we are all being asked to do more tasks with fewer people or resources, I believed it was critical to have an independent third-party chaplain service.

While the idea was initially new to me, I learned it’s not really a new concept. Chaplains go back hundreds of years, and workplace chaplains are used by hundreds of companies nationwide and in several overseas countries.

To me, having Marketplace Chaplains in my company is another tool in my executives’ toolbox, part of an important strategic initiative to help my company’s most valuable asset: employees.

I try to do lots of things to help our employees and our overall company health. When I write our monthly check for the chaplain service, I simply see this as a way to invest in our employees’ lives and well-being, an investment which can pay off.

Several times I’ve heard leaders say they have an open-door policy at their company. I’d like to say that’s certainly the case here at Eckardt Electric. But I also know that there are some employees who would simply not feel free to share their deepest problems with me or other company leaders.

When I see our chaplains here on a weekly basis, I feel as if they are helping others even if I don’t know what they are talking about.

This is a multigenerational company, and I feel a deep responsibility to continue to uphold and instill the family values my father and grandfather implemented early on. By inviting chaplains to take care of our employees’ needs, not only in Atlanta, but also wherever they are in the Southeast, I believe I’m honoring that legacy.

In addition, the chaplains have a nationwide and even global reach to help those who have parents or family members with needs elsewhere.

Times are tough for businesses everywhere. All employees feel the stress of those difficulties. Corporate chaplaincy has provided us a way to invest in our greatest assets, our employees, while being good for business. That’s why I feel engaging with them has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

6 comments Add your comment

SAWB

July 5th, 2012
1:58 pm

“a penalty, except it wouldn’t be a penalty it would be a tax.”

Correct, but remember after it is a tax it then becomes a penalty again???

Don’t you love politicians and all that doublespeak or what we little people call lies.

Doug

July 5th, 2012
12:13 pm

In response to K. The genius of the Marketplace Chaplains model is that the chaplains (I am one) are paid by Marketplace Chaplains, not directly by the company we serve (we are the third party provider). I feel no pressure to “keep the boss happy” and the boss knows I WILL NOT share any information nor may s/he request or require me to. Sorry about your discrimination experience.

Shavondalyn

July 5th, 2012
10:43 am

How is it fair that some people get chaplains and others don’t? The government should mandate that every employer provide chaplains or pay a penalty, except it wouldn’t be a penalty it would be a tax.

Gail

July 5th, 2012
8:15 am

I meant THE company where my husband works. Sorry, still waiting for coffee to kick in!

Gail

July 5th, 2012
8:14 am

My company where my husband works has an on-call chaplain. I don’t think he’s around the office at all, I think they just call him if needed. Anyway, when my husband had a serious surgery a couple of years ago, the chaplain came to the hospital prayed with us before the surgery, and came back later in the day to make sure that he was OK. We don’t have any family in the area, so we were thankful for the chaplain that day. His being there was a real comfort.

K in VA

July 5th, 2012
7:41 am

Good grief, another way to discriminate: I remember, years ago, when my prospects for advancement in a job were limited because I wasn’t part of the crowd that went drinking with the boss on his weekly outings. Now we have bosses setting people up for favoritism or rejection, whether or not they patronize or reject the in-house “chaplain”?

Further: What fool would talk freely with and share personal information with a chaplain whose paycheck depends on keeping the boss happy? Seriously? That’s every bit as dangerous as letting the company nurse in on personal medical matters. Yeah, I know chaplains and nurses are supposed to keep it all confidential but, again I ask, who’s paying them?