Tyson Foods chaplains dispense "chicken soup for the
soul" amid spiritual revival
Tyson Foods chaplains dispense
"chicken soup for the soul" amid spiritual
Â» Faith or Foe?
Â» The Role of HR
Â» Diversity and Tolerance
In the nation's Bible Belt, America's spiritual
revival has spilled from houses of worship into the
workplace—posing both a delicate management challenge and
an opportunity for human resource professionals to
Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, Inc., has taken
the lead on advancing a growing movement involving
chaplains who informally counsel employees on everything
from family problems, stress, and abuse to immigration
concerns, illness, and death.
The world's largest meat processor, which has about 120
production facilities, was the chief sponsor of the first
national conference on workplace chaplaincy last summer at
The event drew 120 attendees, including businessmen,
clergy, and theologians. It is now one of about 30
conferences on spirituality and the workplace.
"The view is, if you can talk about football and
basketball on Monday morning, then you should feel free to
talk about your religion," observes Larry Hopkins, Tyson's
vice president of recruiting, education, and retention.
Adds Director of Chaplain Services Alan Tyson (no relation
to the family after which the company is named): "There
have been some estimates that anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000
people are doing workplace chaplaincy, and an increasing
number of companies have their own internal programs like
Those organizations include ServiceMaster and Ukrops, as
well as Yum! Brands Inc. units Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, and
Wal-Mart subsidiaries. Some turn to nonprofits such as
Market-place Ministries in Dallas, Texas, which deploys a
team of chaplains in 415 cities in 38 states.
Faith or Foe?
While mixing religion and politics is almost always
combustible, religious expression in the workplace has been
described as synergistic. University of Southern California
Marshall School of Business Professor Ian I Mitroff once
said, "Spirituality could be the ultimate competitive
advantage." When considering the impact of chaplain
services on employees, the thinking is that they could
become happier, healthier, and more productive
The Fellowship for Companies for Christ International
estimates that 10,000 bible and prayer groups meet
regularly in the workplace, while 48% of Americans
responding to a Gallup poll say they talked about their
religious faith at work that day.
Yet, that is not to say that everyone is comfortable
with this phenomenon—or that there are no potential
pitfalls. While private companies have more leeway than
government to introduce religion into the workplace,
Americans United for Separation of Church and State in
Washington cautions that land mines remain, and employers
need to be aware of them. "If employees feel pressured by
management to take part in religious activities against
their will, or if evidence surfaces that employees who
share a supervisor's faith get benefits like promotions and
better treatment, it's guaranteed that lawsuits will
result," says Rob Boston, a spokesman for the organization.
"The idea of a chaplain in the workplace might seem like
having a man on the moon," admits David Miller, executive
director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale
Divinity School, which hosted the Tyson forum, and
assistant adjunct professor of business ethics. "On the
other hand, like a lot of innovative and breakthrough
ideas, it may seem incongruous. As a culture, we've become
comfortable thinking about clergy or chaplains in hospitals
and prisons where people are dealing with pain and
suffering, which some would argue is also evident in the
While Miller stresses that corporations are meant to be
places of business and not houses of worship, he believes
that, with the right corporate culture in place, "it has
the potential to play a very fruitful role in today's
bottom-line-focused world." The challenge is to respond to
employee needs without crossing inappropriate boundaries
relating to religious identity.
Bearing in mind that atheists, agnostics, or others may
be uncomfortable with religious expression in the
workplace, employers may want to consider also making
available psychologists or social workers alongside
chaplains, notes Thomas W Dunfee, the Joseph Kolodny
Professor of Social Responsibility in Business and
professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at the
University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
Still, he believes that chaplains may be capable of
providing support for certain employees "in a context that
no other type of social intervention can provide quite as
effectively if there's a death in the family or
The Role of HR
At Tyson Foods, 127 chaplains assist employees in 77
production facilities as part of a larger effort to become
a faith-friendly company. For the most part, the group is
comprised of - Tyson employees who double as part-time
members of the cloth. The program, which is strictly
voluntary and free of charge to employees, dates back
to2000 just before the company acquired beef and pork
powerhouse IBP, Inc.
In terms of logistics from a human resources standpoint,
Hopkins does not see any significant obstacles and
considers the chaplain program an excellent communication
tool at a time when vice presidents of HR are hard pressed
to find time for personal interaction with employees. Tyson
notes that many HR professionals who initially were
skeptical became some of the program's greatest supporters
once they had a chance to see how employees benefited from
this spiritual outreach.
"We just ask that clergy spend time on the factory floor
and report to the plant's personnel manager," he says. "We
do not expect a report from them as to what they
specifically see. So, if they know that someone is having
problems, we feel comfortable that the chaplains will
While monthly activity generally is tracked, details
from conversations are never divulged given the
confidential nature of this highly personal information.
Exceptions are made when an individual is determined to
pose a danger to himself or others. There is also a legal
and moral responsibility to report any harassment or
illegal activity that puts the company at risk in keeping
with Tyson's code of conduct.
The number of chaplains per plant may vary from one to
five, depending on the size and needs of the workforce.
Spiritual foot soldiers undergo orientation training to
learn more about Tyson's HR policies and benefit plans,
using their working knowledge of insurance issues to help
field inquiries about employee assistance programs (EAPs)
or local community resources pertaining to drug, alcohol,
financial, marital, and emotional issues. About 85
chaplains recently were trained at company headquarters for
two and a half days as part of an annual exercise that has
occurred in each of the past four years.
Chaplains essentially offer a short-term pastoral care
approach and are able to make referrals for long-term
assistance, but there is more to the scope of their
services than meets the eye. For example, they are able to
officiate at weddings and funerals for employees and their
families, as well as counsel trauma victims in the event of
plant emergencies or other accidents.
"It's good to have that arm for HR professionals who
know we can get them a chaplain if one is needed," Hopkins
says. Yale's Miller believes traditional HR programs or
EAPs may lack the time or hands-on touch needed for matters
of the human soul.
Tyson employees appear to have developed an appreciation
for the chaplain program. "I know they're extremely happy
to have that service available to them and, anecdotally, we
hear stories about how people are using the service and
chaplains are making a difference in their lives," Hopkins
notes. "It's also one more factor that enhances our effort
to retain team members by providing a positive work
environment for them or, as in this case, a faith-friendly
Diversity and Tolerance
While federal law bars religious discrimination both in
and out of the workplace, federal lawmakers recently took
precautions to protect this form of expression. The
Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2005, introduced in both
the House and Senate as H.R. 1445 and S. 677, is patterned
after the Americans with Disabilities Act in that it would
require businesses to accommodate religiously observant
Although Tyson Foods operates where Christianity is the
predominant faith, the program attempts to foster tolerance
of multiple religious beliefs and expression. Only
chaplains who are open to ministering across both
denominational and faith lines are chosen to walk through
the company's production facilities, break rooms, hallways,
"We're very diverse and have lots of different
religions, with a Muslim imam and Catholic nun as
chaplains, and anyone's faith is welcome," Hopkins reports.
In plants where there are a number of Muslim employees,
steps also have been taken to accommodate the faith's
required prayer times.
"They're not there to force their faith on anyone,"
Tyson says of the company chaplains. "If people want to
avail themselves of our service, we make ourselves
available and, if a non-Christian has religious or
spiritual questions, we certainly would ask a chaplain to
put them in touch with a religious leader of their faith
community, if we don't already have [one] on the chaplain
team at that plant."
Meanwhile, the chaplain program at Tyson Foods is
expected to grow. "We're adding chaplains every month when
plants come online and want the service," Tyson says.