Benny A. Benjamin
Career Psychologist, academic editor, and blogger

‘Not by bread alone’: Spirituality at Work

“Work to become, not to acquire – Elbert Hubbard


“He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the Lord decreesDeuteronomy 8:3.

The Israelites received their sustenance through God’s providence for 40 years in their desert sojourn. They were fed manna from heaven, a miracle food, but the guidelines governing procuring this food presented a challenge. Every morning they went out to collect the manna, appearing as a layer of dew on the ground. However, each person was allotted one portion per day. Any amount collected beyond this allocation would spoil. Because of Sabbath constraints, a double portion was provided on Friday to last until Sunday morning. These regulations compelled the Israelites to contemplate daily how God provided for them, gradually shaping their reliance on God’s provisions. Thus, their cupboards were bare, with no prospect of storing food to give them a sense of food security.

These challenges helped forge the kind of relationship with God that He had intended. This relationship complements the basic human need for bread and material possessions. They would now and forever know that He is their King and Protector. Given the centrality of providing food for their families, the Israelites were reminded daily of life’s other elements beyond bodily sustenance. They were reminded of why they were taken out of Egypt.

The “why” of work

Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn’s CEO, summarized 2021 in a post: “2021 was a year unlike any other. We call it the Great Reshuffle, it is a moment in the history of work where all of us are rethinking not just how we work, but [also] why we work.” The “why” of work has grown in importance, even before the pandemic. In his famous TED talk and 2009 book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek highlighted the centrality of why in the workplace.[1] We are often so caught up with getting through the workday that we lose sight of what a workday can offer us.

Barry Schwartz, in his book, Why We Work,[2] offered an historical perspective beyond the pandemic inspired rethinking of careers:

  • …the conditions of human labor created by the industrial revolution and perpetuated thanks in part to theories from the social sciences, have systematically deprived people of fulfillment from their work. In doing so, they have deprived people of an important source of satisfaction—and produced inferior workers in the bargain.

When evaluating our work, we are prone to focus on how much we make, our prospects for promotion and a raise, the length of our commute, parking rights, lunch breaks, bonuses, and vacation days. These important work aspects notwithstanding, we likely dwell on these with ourselves and others because they are tangible and measurable. But other factors are the ones that probably determine if we had a good day at work or one that we are happy to wind up.

Facilitating job search-focused workshops exposed me to the intangibles people value at work––those that can make a huge difference in how you evaluate your workday or even your job. The workplace can offer benefits that cannot be monitored monthly in your bank account. Work benefits can include many intangibles: filling out your identity–– how you see yourself and how others see you; providing a platform to express your creativity and other motivated skills; offering opportunities to experience the satisfaction of surmounting challenges and resolving problems; the pleasure of social interactions, including brainstorming and collaborating; and feeling pride in one’s accomplishments after a job well done. A job can enable you to exercise your passion, connect with your values, and facilitate a sense of meaningfulness and purpose in your daily efforts.

Spirituality in the workplace is not about religion; it taps the intangible features that can make or break a workday. Many have sought to define this growing trend in the workplace. One such effort:

  • Spirituality at work is the recognition that employees have an inner life that nourishes and is nourished by meaningful work in the context of community. Thus spirituality at work has three components: the inner life, meaningful work, and community.”[3]

Employers find these intangibles may generate a spiritual commitment to organizations whose benefits can weather short-term organizational setbacks. “Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it.”[4]

Career tips:

  • For the manager: The former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, instigated the company’s mission to strive for Performance with Purpose as a way to retain workers, enriching their lives as well as the globe’s. PepsiCo sought to move from junk food to healthier products, redesigned its packaging to reduce waste, and promoted sustainable production. Her confirmed vision held that workers needed more than a paycheck to feel well-being. They needed to feel part of a community that promotes values consistent with those important to them.

  • For the employee: Ryan Rolansky, LinkedIn’s CEO we mentioned earlier, shared a valuable exercise to help focus on what you want from work.[5] When he poses the question, “What are the two most important things that matter to you in your career?” he often gets a blank stare or a laundry list of work aspects. What matters can be anything, including paychecks, being chosen employee of the month, acquiring new skills, or maintaining a work-life balance. Narrowing the list to two things can be challenging but worthwhile. The next step is to evaluate your satisfaction with your current job on these two measures.

  • Try this: Once you have determined your two highest career priorities (see the previous Career tip), plan how these can be maintained (if you are satisfied) or how they can be achieved or enhanced (if less than satisfied). Whether performed privately or in consultation, this step can make a difference in designing the rest of your career.

For more Torah-career insights and tips, visit: The Bible at Work.

[1] Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin. [2] Schwartz, B. (2015). Why we work. Ted Books. [3] Ashmos D. P., & Duchon D. (2000). Spirituality at work: A conceptualization and measure, Journal of Management Inquiry, 9(2), 134–145. [4] Sinek, S., Mead, D., & Docker, P. (2017). Find your why: A practical guide for discovering purpose for you and your team. (p. 7). Penguin. [5] Rolansky, R. (2022). What matters to you most when you show up to work? LinkedIn.

About the Author
Dr. Benjamin was born in Israel, raised and educated in the US, and is a veteran resident of Jerusalem. His doctorate in counseling psychology is from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He has taught and trained psychologists and counselors at US and Israeli universities. His long-time position as the head psychologist of the Israel National Employment Service provided him with the foundation for understanding the workforce in all its diversity and appreciating the challenges individuals face at all career stages. His professional foci of the last decade has been career coaching and academic editing. Aside from his family, this blog reflects his two passions–Bible study and career development–and he is pleased to include you in this journey that links these passions.
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