Working: Prayer plays a silent role in the office

By Vickie Elmer
Monday, February 14, 2011

Prayer often has a bigger role in the workplace than many people realize.

Jeanna Ray, a Web site manager for a professional organization, is among the 61 percent of Americans who say they pray every day. She prays at work to ease anger and frustration, and to seek great decisions for her employer, the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Arlington. She believes prayer makes her more professional and a better manager.

"A lot of people don't know" that she's praying, said Ray. "I have a little thing on my bulletin board -- a prayer card my mother gave me. It's not that visible. But a lot of time, people come into my office and say, 'It's so peaceful here.' "

Many people who pray on the job do so in ways that are all but invisible to their bosses and coworkers. They are careful to keep their religious views out of their coworkers' or clients' eyes.

Executive and career coach Diane Cohen doesn't usually share her faith or prayers with clients, though she sometimes will carefully bring it up when their assessment shows a strong spirituality. "I really feel strongly it is a private matter," she said.

Cohen grew up in a Jewish household, keeping kosher and attending services regularly in Lancaster, Pa. She moved away from her faith when her father died, but came back after her mother's death two years ago. Now she prays morning, noon and night, giving thanks and asking for assistance with her clients' needs and for the world's problems.

"I'm big on gratitude," she said with a small laugh. She asks God for help too. "If something terrible comes up, like the [the shootings] in Arizona, I just instinctively start praying," she said.

More than eight in 10 Americans believe in a God who answers prayers, according to a 2010 Gallup poll conducted with USA Today. Slightly more than half of those in the annual Gallup poll say religion is very important in their lives, down from 60 percent in 2002.

These days, prayer at work may seem more practical -- whether it's a plea to be hired, to hold onto your job or to get someone else brought into your department to help with heavy workloads. And it can be a request to remain civil or to know the right things to say.

Prayer helps Ray focus and keeps her grounded -- and reminds her to be appreciative of her team and their contributions. Yet she finds it especially valuable when challenges confront her. "It keeps me from crossing the line," from yelling or getting upset, she said. "It keeps me on an even keel."

Ray used prayer a lot when she worked with a "very demanding" executive on a project last spring and summer. "It is a humongous challenge with this person," she recalled. She prayed daily about the situation, asking that she maintain her customer service mindset and not become insubordinate. Yet she did eventually talk to him about his attitude and approach, and, she said, he improved. "Now there is as much respect as he can give," she said.

"I ask for assistance in situations so that I can keep a great working relationship, yet resolve the issue at hand," said Ray.

Cohen also uses prayer for her clients and herself. "If things are going terrible, I might stop and say, 'Help me here. Give me strength,' " said Cohen. "I pray for me that I do the best job possible."

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