I first heard about workplace-based chaplains last fall when I was facilitating a State of Manufacturing® focus group. Greg Flint, president of Coldspring, and Joe Plunger, president of Midwest Metal Products, discussed chaplains in the context of employee retention. The conversation intriguingly touched on employee wellness, workplace morale and the competitive job market.
A little follow up revealed that companies across the state are either adding chaplains to their staffs or contracting with companies that send them to the workplace at regular times. We assigned writer Robb Murray to take a closer look for the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine.
These employers care about the folks who work for them. They want to give employees opportunities to have what can often be difficult conversations, the kind of discussions that are personal, and supervisors or coworkers are not equipped to manage, nor should they. Marketplace Chaplains, one organization that provides these employee wellness services, places part-time chaplains in workplaces across the country as well as in Canada and Mexico. Chaplains are trained and eager to visit with employees about issues ranging from marital problems and financial struggles to depression and anxiety.
The idea makes sense, particularly given the combination of the ongoing worker shortage with an alarming decline in key mental wellness statistics.
Today’s competitive labor environment compels employers to take bold steps to keep employees happy and healthy – both physically and mentally. Offering this kind of benefit shows that employers care and it can serve as a tremendous retention tool.
Leaders also recognize that employee well-being has taken a hit in recent years. National health data shows both mental health diagnoses and substance abuse rates rose during the pandemic. Suicide rates have also climbed – and continue to rise – since the onset of the pandemic.
The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in February that 38% of adults ages 35-49 reported having symptoms of anxiety and/or a depressive disorder. For younger adults — those ages 18-24, that number is 49%. Those ages represent a substantial chunk of a manufacturer’s workforce.
I applaud companies that recognize how employees might need an extra hand. At Midwest Metals, the idea to bring on a chaplain grew organically when various managers noted that a number of new or veteran employees needed the kind of 9-help the company wasn’t qualified to provide. “The description one or two people in my group used was ‘They could use life coaches,’” Plunger says.
Not long after that discussion, Plunger says he heard about manufacturers using chaplains to offer that kind of help. He contacted Marketplace Chaplains and signed a one-year contract for a chaplain, Jeff Hoch, to come to Midwest Metals several times a month.
“The idea was to find a resource that could handle those questions that are beyond the capabilities of us as an employer,” Plunger says. “We’re not marriage counselors. We’re not financial counselors. And some people are too proud or too embarrassed to talk to a manager or a co-worker. So we give them an outlet.”
At Coldspring, Flint says the pandemic revealed that some employees were struggling in certain areas, including social and spiritual well-being.
The question for Flint became: what’s the best way to help these employees? “That’s when we realized we need to bring in someone else who is skilled in those other areas,” Flint says. “And that someone else is a chaplain.”
Coldspring now has a staff chaplain who helps employees sort through personal issues. He’s also on call to help in moments of crisis, such as the death of a family member, or a cancer diagnosis.
When they offer extra support, leaders like Plunger and Flint aren’t just making a good business decisions; they’re committed to taking powerful steps to help them. We talk often at Enterprise Minnesota about how proud we are to work with companies that treat their workforce as family. This is one more example of that mindset.
Read more about workplace chaplains in the next issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine. Visit our website to subscribe.
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