Nobody actually worships their CEO. (At least, not since Steve Jobs passed away.) But UC Berkeley sociology professor Carolyn Chen, author of the new book Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley, is concerned that companies are misusing traditional spiritual practices to keep employees at the office for extreme hours.
Many major companies have incorporated mindfulness training into their office cultures. For instance, Aetna saw productivity boosts worth $3,000 per employee of those who meditated. While Chen acknowledges these benefits, she told b. that such programs can’t fix the root causes of workaholism and burnout.
How do these programs go beyond helping workers chill out and perform better?
For some places, it might be just about productivity, but many of the places I studied understood it as being more than that. One of the HR executives I interviewed told me what differentiates great HR is [asking], “How do we nourish the souls of our employees?” They saw employees holistically — mind, body, and spirit.
What are some examples of that?
Salesforce has this huge conference each year, Dreamforce, and they brought in over 25 [Buddhist] monks to participate and essentially, in a sense, minister to participants. For other companies, it’s not just teaching people how to breathe; they might read poems of religious and spiritual texts.
I interviewed one former Catholic priest who has become an executive coach, and he said there’s nothing different.
Wouldn’t employees rather show up from 9 to 5 and then practice spirituality on their own time?
You don’t work just eight or nine hours in Silicon Valley. If you work 50 hours, that’s a light week. Most people I interviewed were working 60. If you’re working 60 hours per week, you don’t have time to take care of life. The solution to that work-life balance for [tech] companies is, “You show up for work and we’ll take care of life.”
In a way, Silicon Valley offers a great solution to this, but they also created the problem. There’s something deeply wrong with this picture in the first place. … People will continue worshiping work if they don’t have anything else.
Work Pray Code is available now.