What businesses can learn from Buddhism

Millennials, we are told, have a different attitude to work than their elders. They want to work for values ​​and ethical organizations where the goal is higher than just making a profit.

Companies wishing to attract top millennial talent could therefore learn some lessons from ancient spiritual teachings, such as those of Buddhism. The fourth largest religion in the world has strived to achieve a higher meaning and to follow the path of moksha – liberation – since the 6th century.

Organizations, especially in the nonprofit and charity sector, can re-energize their employees by aligning the way they measure performance with the principles of Buddhism. It could also improve productivity, an important measure of economic activity and standard of living.

These were the conclusions of our research. We surveyed 63 leaders of nonprofit organizations and found that most simply imported strategic business models and practices to measure their performance. Unfortunately, this is a world of profit maximization, which defeats the underlying goals of these organizations.

Committed and energized

Numerous studies have found that most employees are not just motivated by money, while the carrot and stick approach of mixing reward and punishment is also outdated. Employee engagement is now the ultimate goal of managers and it is not just about job satisfaction.

It may be that an individual is perfectly satisfied with a job and yet does not commit to it. Instead, engagement is where the work is absorbing and employees naturally feel dedicated; work in which we wrap ourselves and by which we are energized. Engaged employees are ready to go beyond the call of duty and truly lead the business; they show up because they want to, not because they have to.

Employees and businesses benefit from an injection of spirituality.

Some might think that spirituality and business should not be mixed up, but the two play an important role in society and in people’s lives. They should be seen as interdependent. Spiritual disciplines can very well offer insight into techniques for gaining lasting employee engagement that everyone is looking for. At the very least, ancient wisdom could offer lessons for understanding what it means to seek and achieve higher meaning in your life.

A different focus

This is perhaps even more applicable in non-profit organizations. Many nonprofits use standard performance metrics, which have been adapted to help traditional organizations maximize revenue while lowering costs. The rationale provided for using performance measurement is also generally commercial, suggesting that measurement only supports efficiency and effectiveness.

This can obscure their ethical and benevolent dimensions. Rather, the emphasis is on understanding data such as the number of products delivered or the assessment of a service in numerical terms. Employees are rewarded for their ability to achieve high scores on given criteria. While none of this is inherently wrong, it does mean that the discussions and attention are focused on the money.

Meanwhile, the rich social interactions, trust, and positive, but unquantifiable, stories go unnoticed and go unrewarded. Employees would be better able to believe in their organization if it was clear that their performance measures stimulate social connectivity and create social value.

Our research has shown that spiritual philosophies can provide this. Buddhism, for example, teaches its followers to take greater personal responsibility for their actions, to have a healthy detachment when needed, and to take a healthy view of their actions.

This can include how socially connected and aware employees are, but also their entrepreneurial awareness. Risk taking and innovation are at the heart of many of these organizations, so employees need to be conscious of evaluating and exploiting opportunities as they arise.

This also applies to financial significance – how the money is spent, but also where it comes from. Spiritual justifications for goals and activities can complement business justifications. Most employees in the nonprofit sector want to help people and this is what motivates them to work in this industry, often for less money.

Evidence also suggests that embracing spirituality in organizations can lead to better decision making, increased creativity, reduced absenteeism, and better emotional control.

Buddhist principles are not, however, restricted to nonprofit organizations. Spiritual principles such as higher sense, awareness (of self and the environment) and connectedness (belonging to a community), are likely to be relevant in other sectors, especially if companies wish to re-engage and revitalize their workforce.

Many are already doing it with corporate social responsibility programs, corporate volunteering and sustainability goals. Several large companies, such as Google and retailer Target, are even already adopting spiritual-based practices to reap some of these benefits. But management practices like performance measurement haven’t caught up with the deeper desire that many employees might have. We are only scratching the surface of how we can find more meaning and more productivity in our work.