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Problems With Your Boss? Try A Chat With The Office Chaplain.

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Problems With Your Boss? Try A Chat With The Office Chaplain.

Religion

Problems With Your Boss? Try A Chat With The Office Chaplain.

Problems With Your Boss? Try A Chat With The Office Chaplain.

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/370022521/370022522" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Chaplains have long been present on college campuses and in the military but increasingly they can also can be found in the workplace, specially trained to help employees offload office frustrations.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's a change in corporate human resources - more companies are hiring chaplains. These are the same kinds of people with religious training you find in the military or on college campuses. Chaplains work in companies to help people talk through office frustrations. Here's Lauren Silverman of our member station KERA in Dallas.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Every week, Chaplain John Eaton knocks on the doors of employees at Purdy McGuire, an engineering firm in Dallas.

(KNOCKING)

CHAPLAIN JOHN EATON: Hey Scott. How's it going, man?

SILVERMAN: How's it going is more than a greeting, it's part of Eaton's job. He talks with employees about anything - sports, church, problems at home. Scott Brown is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon faith. He likes the check-ins.

SCOTT BROWN: A lot of times, you know, we're dealing with deadlines and stress and things like that, so it's nice to have somebody come in and just unload for a minute and get away from it.

EATON: Our job is, a lot of it, just to help them see that there's hope.

SILVERMAN: Eaton visits 30 companies every week. He works part-time for Marketplace Ministries, the nation's largest provider of workplace chaplains. The Plano-based nonprofit is huge. With an annual operating budget of $14 million, it sends thousands of chaplains into high-rises and factories across the world, from Pilgrim's Pride to BNSF Railway.

EATON: Some places, you know, they're more reserved and it takes a long time to build credibility with the employees. I've had people brush me off for three years and three years and a day goes by - they want to talk. We don't have an agenda. We're not here for ourselves. We're here for you.

SILVERMAN: Almost all workplace chaplains are Christian. Eaton is a pastor at his own nondenominational church, but he only talks about religion when asked about it. Otherwise he keeps it secular and social.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Y’all take it easy.

EATON: You too, have a good week.

The idea is not really a new one, it's just gaining a new resonance in corporate life.

SILVERMAN: David Miller, with Princeton University's Faith and Work Initiative, is writing a book about workplace chaplains. He says embedding missionaries goes back centuries, from English factories during the Industrial Revolution to the U.S. military.

So what's brought clergy from the battlefield to the board room? A desire to make employees happy.

If a chaplain can help keep anxiety down and workers on task, productivity goes up. Still, there are risks to mixing religion and work.

DAVID MILLER: What signal are you sending to the employees? Is your business a house of worship, or is it a house of work? With chaplains running around, some people might feel a little awkward.

EPHRAIM KARP: Generally, the professional chaplain is not out proselytizing or trying to convince people to have a relationship with God. Chaplains really are less about talking and more about listening.

SILVERMAN: Ephraim Karp is a rabbi and president of Neshama, an Association of Jewish chaplains. He says the industry is starting to adopt common standards, and growing fast. That's certainly the case at Marketplace Ministries. When Gil Stricklin started the nonprofit 30 years ago, he had trouble getting a single client. Now he has chaplains in a thousand cities and maps of his operations in China and South Korea hang on office walls.

GIL STRICKLIN: We're there to take care of everybody, no matter if you're Buddhist or Baptist.

SILVERMAN: Stricklin, who's 80 years old, was an Army chaplain for decades. He's worn patrol caps, hard hats and cowboy hats to work sites. Chaplains, he says are kind of like a pickup truck - you might not think you want one, but there comes a time when you'll need one.

For NPR News I'm Lauren Silverman in Dallas.

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