By Karen Axelton

Do chaplains belong in the workplace? A growing number of companies think that they do. While the concept of workplace chaplains is not new (tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds had a full-time chaplain on staff from the 1940s to the 1990s, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), the human struggles born of the recession seem to have spurred growth in this concept. Recently, NewsOK reported on several Oklahoma companies that were using chaplains, either full-time employees or contracted from services that provide chaplains.

While the concept of mixing religion and the workplace may raise some eyebrows, it really shouldn’t. Other institutions, like the military and college campuses, have long provided chaplains to help members of their “community” at times when they need guidance. And in the same vein, most companies that use workplace chaplains find that employees, while at first leery of the idea, eventually embrace the service.

It’s illegal for any company to require employees to interact with chaplains. Instead, companies simply provide the chaplains as a resource for employees to connect with—or not—as they wish. The chaplains work with employees of all faiths, and don’t even broach the subject of religion unless employees do. Chaplains say that a big part of their job is simply being friendly, developing relationships and building trust so that employees feel comfortable coming to talk to them. All discussions with chaplains are confidential, unless employees have broken the law or are in danger of harming themselves or others.

Chaplains and employers say the programs help employees deal with personal issues such as family problems, stress or life crises and get the support they need so the problems don’t interfere with their work or their productivity.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that there are about 25 U.S. companies providing chaplain services to employers. Corporate Chaplains of America, Workplace Chaplains and Marketplace Chaplains are a few of the companies doing so.

Clearly, most of the firms providing this service are big companies. But I think it’s interesting—and heartening—that companies are stepping in to help employees deal with the growing stress that affects workers in an era where we’re all working harder, making less and facing constant uncertainty.

Even if you can’t hire a chaplain, is there a way you could make your employees feel a little less stressed and a little more supported and cared for?