Video: A new approach to workplace support

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/5/2007 7:31:45 PM ET 2007-04-05T23:31:45

"How's it going this afternoon?"

It is a typical office conversation with a not-so-typical worker.

"You talked about having a new routine," continues Chris Hobgood.

Hobgood is an office chaplain, making the rounds at mortgage lender Homebanc's Atlanta headquarters.

Is he trying to convert people?

"No," he says. "If they have questions about a spiritual matter, we answer those questions just like we would if they have questions about how to get their baby to sleep all night."

Hobgood's employer, Corporate Chaplains of America, is non-denominational. Eight years ago, it served fewer than 50 companies. Today it serves 450 companies in 26 states. Hobgood says his main job is to listen, no matter what the worker's faith.

"Venting, bouncing off of someone," he says.

As Homebanc's receptionist, Bonnie Focke's job is to smile eight hours a day. But family and health issues can make that a challenge, so she turns to the on-site chaplains.

"It makes a difference in that it's instant," she says. "You don't have to wait."

Though she asks the chaplains to pray with her, Focke does not see them as ministers.   

"To me it's almost like having a coach, a personal coach," she says.

Labor experts say employers who don't acknowledge their employees' spiritual sides are missing the boat — especially since today's workers spend so much time on the job.

Author David Miller says it must be offered as a resource, not a requirement.                   

"Businesses are businesses," he says. "They're not houses of worship, and they shouldn't be confused with being that."

Homebanc says the chaplain program is one reason it has low employee turnover — a $150,000 investment paying big returns for the worker and the company.              

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