Is an employer responsible for the spiritual well-being of an employee? How far should they go to provide resources?
Welcome back to WorkMinus, where we talk about what we need to drop in how we work, and quick pivots you can make to get closer to a better future of work. Today our guest is Henry Kaestner. He’s the Co-Founder and Managing Principal at Sovereign’s Capital and this episode is Work Minus Faithless Benefits. Hi Henry, how are you?
Neil, I’m doing great – thank you. What a great treat to be with you guys this morning.
It’s exciting to have you on. You are a man of diverse passions and lots of things going on. But today we want to talk about something very interesting to, I think, a lot of our listeners.
So, everyone is struggling with talent right now, or trying to get the best people, trying to find a way to make our offices very attractive to people coming in. And there’s all sorts of benefits and perks that going out to different people. But one thing that many people may not have heard of is something you’re an advocate for, called ‘corporate chaplaincy.’ Why don’t you tell us about the first time you heard about this idea?
Oh good. So the first time I heard about corporate chaplaincy was probably in a Bible study, about a dozen years ago. A friend of mine from my neighborhood, a guy named Jay Harris, was talking about corporate chaplaincy. I think he may even have been on the local board of Corporate Chaplains of America. And he suggested that we should have one at Bandwidth. I hadn’t heard of the concept before. We were about 10 years into Bandwidth and we thought…faith was a very important part of who we were, and it was part of our foundational values: faith first, then family, then work, and then fitness. And we kind of hesitated and struggled with the idea of a chaplain. It felt like, well maybe this is bringing an evangelist into the workforce. We had a fitness start with doing a Bible study, and it was something we decided to stop doing early on, because it created an us-versus-them type of environment and culture. So when I heard about chaplaincy, I was intrigued by it. But my first reaction was, I don’t know if that would be a great fit for us or not. But that was the first time, about a dozen years ago.
So let’s jump into this us-versus-them thing. Because, when I talk about corporate chaplaincy, mostly we think of: this is a Christian minister coming in to do all sorts of Christian things in the office. When you first introduce the idea of a corporate chaplain, how do you introduce that to your staff who might come from various different faith beliefs?
Well this was the big challenge, and this was one of the reasons why we didn’t bring one on board for a while. So, I had known about chaplaincy for about two years before we brought it on board. And part of the reason for not doing that is because we just thought it was going to be too over-the-top and was going to almost be creating a ‘holy huddle’ within Bandwidth. And we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to make sure that everybody from different faith backgrounds felt welcome. At the same time, we also want to make sure that everybody knew why we did what we did.
And that David and I were very seriously motivated by our Christian faith. It was the ‘why’ of who we were, and what we did, and doing business for the glory of God. And so we didn’t do anything on it for a couple of years, and then we finally decided do something. And one of our general managers came to us and said, listen I think this is actually a lousy idea – I get the fact that you guys are motivated by your faith, everybody around here knows it, but I think a chaplain is too much. So that kind of sent us reeling a little bit, if I’m candid. For about a week and a half, two weeks, we thought about it, we prayed about it some more, and then just started doing it anyway.
And this gets to your question…the question was: so how’d you roll it out? Well, what we decided to do was to say, look we’ve got like 25 different benefits, and we’re very, very proud of the benefits package that we offer different people. Or everybody, rather. And included among them is a benefit that if you have an adoption, if you adopt a child, you get $10,000 that goes to defray the costs of adoption. But that doesn’t mean that we pressure you to adopt a child. It’s just an à la carte benefit that we offer.
So it was in that spirit that we rolled out chaplaincy. We said, we want to introduce you this guy named Jeff Brown. Jeff’s going to be our chaplain. And if you ever need a chaplain, you got one now. And he’s going to be around, he’s going to come around and visit the office every second Friday morning, and say hi to folks – and you never need to meet with Jeff. But, he’s around if you need him. You can go get coffee with him, he’s got an expense account to take you to lunch, or take you to coffee, if you ever want to talk to somebody. That’s how we rolled it out. It was key that it was something that we weren’t pressuring people to, that they knew they could opt into it, and that it was another one of the benefits that we had, along with a whole bunch of other ones.
Tell us how it how it went. You’ve had it for several years – what are some stories, some good stories and some also struggles that you had along the way?
Well I think the struggle is the beginning part. There’s some amount of awkwardness of this guy now just kind of walking around every second Friday morning for the first couple months. Some people were really welcoming, and some people were probably a little bit on their guard. But Jeff is such a great guy. And of course any chaplain coming from a place like Marketplace Chaplains or Corporate Chaplains of America are trained super well, and understand some of the awkwardness at the beginning. But that was it. That was the only kind of challenging experience we ever had, if it could be said that way.
Three or four months in, we had the daughter of one of our key employees was hurt very, very, very badly in a car crash. And then, Jeff was ‘on.’ Jeff was on in the emergency room, and he was loving on that family, and loving on the coworkers. Unfortunately, the girl ended up dying. It was just a tragic situation. And he was there. He was there during every part of it. And it was done with such a class, and dignity, and respect, and love, that he earned the respect of all the employees. It was a big deal. Fast forward to another five or six months, and one of our employees died. Died during a lunch break, on a lunch run. Just a really, really tragic circumstance. And then again, he was on, and he did such an incredible job. Especially loving on the coworkers that were thinking about what this 32-year-old guy had gone through.
It was so much so, that the guy had come to us originally and said: listen, I don’t think that this is a good idea – came back to us and said, you know what? I think Jeff is maxed out. I think we need another one. It was just a beautiful turn of events, because he saw how Jeff was able to love on people and to be able to really add value to the team. And any good manager, any good general manager understands that that you need to love on your team. You need to really invest in culture. It was really in the application of what Jeff did, and how he loved on people, that made this guy feel really comfortable in coming to us and saying, listen we need more.
I’m really intrigued by the timing of all this, just in our current national culture. You know, a corporate chaplain is not a normal thing. But if you look around the rest of the culture, a lot of times young people aren’t staying in the same job for a long time. Maybe five years, seven years, at the most. So their friend group mixes up a lot. A lot of times they move away from parents, and a lot of times they’re they’re not active any any kind of faith community or anything like that. So in a lot of ways, people are much more isolated than maybe they were before. And whereas forty years or fifty years ago, people knew what that small town preacher was supposed to be doing, and being at all the funerals and the weddings and someone to talk to. Now that role just isn’t there in a lot of people’s lives. So, do you feel like, in some ways, that this is kind of a resurgence of that role of someone to talk in these hard times that’s trusted?
Yeah, I think it is a part of that. I think that, of course, there’s no substitute for a local church, and a local faith community, and people of all different generations. I think that we have a tendency to want to gravitate to just our friend or our peer group. Because they ‘get’ us, and they’re reading the same things, and they’re watching the same things, and processing the same things together, same age and stage. But a local church is still extremely important. But yes, I do think that, particularly at the beginning part of somebody’s career, before they have a family and before they more naturally fit into the local church environment, or seek that out – I think that a good start is to be able to have somebody to talk to that is accessible. And that is one of the places that a workplace chaplain comes in.
They are able to do all those functions and to be where the person is. We wanted to be able to love people, where they are. And we’re now at work five or six days a week. And we should be able to have somebody who is accessible, who understands our workplace culture, understands the particular stresses. When we talk about needing to launch a product in three weeks, that person knows what product it is, and knows who else is on that team. And to be able to pray specifically for whatever that person is going through. I think it’s really valuable. I think it’s really helpful. So it’s just somebody to talk to. To begin to process about like, what in the world is the meaning of life? What am I doing? Why am I feeling this stress? And what’s it all about anyway?
We talked a little bit about people coming from different faith backgrounds, understanding that that makes…let’s talk to a business owner who who doesn’t come from a Christian background, comes from a Hindu, a Muslim or just a non-religious faith aspect, but who still feels like, yeah I can see where handling people’s spiritual needs is also something that’s important to them. What kind of advice would you give to someone in that position?
I think that we’re coming to understand that it’s important to take care of the whole person, at work. And there are some great great examples here, from the world of sports. Pretty much every professional sports team has a chaplain. The Warriors do, and The Mavericks, and the Pacers and everybody does. And I think it’s a function of the fact that the general managers and the owners of these teams, they all understand that you need to be able to provide for four things for your team.
You need to be able to, number one and this is super important of course, you need to be able to provide great vocational opportunities for the person on the team. If they’re a basketball player, a football player, they’ve got to be able to compete for a championship. If you’re on a team in business, you’ve got to be able to work on really neat technology, or innovation, or be able to deliver a product and a service and delight your customer. The vocational “red meat to chew on” is extremely important. That’s the biggest benefit that we’ll ever provide our employees. God created us to do work. And that just super important. So that’s number one.
Number two: we need to be able to pay people well. And that’s the financial part. Again, when people think about benefits, a lot of times they miss number one. How important meaningful work is. So: meaningful work. Number two: pay people well. Number three: you’ve got to take care of their health benefits. If you’re a professional athlete, you need to be able to give them access to world-class trainers. If you are an employer, you need to be able to take care of them on the healthcare benefits side. Extremely important.
And the number four thing – that secular general managers and owners of sports teams have figured out – is that you need to be able to take care of somebody’s spiritual life. You need to be able to give them somebody that they can talk to. ‘Cause you get a 23-year-old who’s up on the free throw line with ten million people watching him – that person has got to be in a good spot. They’ve got to be in a good spot in their mind, in their soul and their spirit. Others have understood if that’s a benefit that they need to be able to provide for, for their employees.
You know, sports teams are a pure play on human capital. But so are our businesses. We have people that are getting out there and gone in slaying dragons and going to battle every single day. And maybe there aren’t ten million people watching, but they’re making important decisions about the rollout of a product or a service, or talking to a customer. And these are things that are super important for somebody to bring their whole selves to. So, if you’re a secular business owner, there’s some great pragmatic reasons to roll out chaplaincy. Just follow the model of sports GMs and owners.
So let’s talk a little about practicalities. When it comes to confidentiality, privacy is a big deal, how does that apply to corporate chaplaincy?
It’s extremely important. We found out that Jeff Brown has been involved in saving marriages. That was one of the biggest shock’s for me. It was four or five months into Jeff’s tenure at Bandwidth, and I find out how many marriages were on the rocks. It shocked me. I thought I would have known. I thought I knew the employees, and their wives, really well. I knew all their names. I mean, they’re all coming to the Christmas party. And we wanted to make sure that we were loving on our employees. A big deal for us was being able to send our employees home at six o’clock so they could be home with their families. Family is the second part of our foundational values. Faith first, then family. Then work and then fitness.
Of course, all of these things are completely confidential. I have no idea whose marriages were saved. On occasion, we find somebody would come to us and say, listen, I’ve got to tell you that Jeff has been so instrumental in the way that I’ve seen life. But with those exceptions, it was completely confidential. And it was only because the employee volunteered that information. So all the other things that were going on, we never knew a thing. And that’s a big part of the chaplaincy model.
What are some other tips you can give to somebody who wants to create a safe space for someone to come in, to make this chaplain seem like it’s a good option, to ease the burden of your employees, to talk to them. What are some ways to even that out and make a straight path?
Well I think the key thing – and we addressed this a little bit earlier – is just how it’s presented. This is an option, this is a benefit for you, and if you ever need somebody, or want to talk to them, this is something that I want you to be able to seek out. Here is Jeff’s contact information, here’s his email, here’s his phone number. He’s available 24/7, in the event of emergency. And then also, he’s got an expense account. So if you want to meet him for breakfast some place outside of the office, near where you live, on the way to work or something like that, you’ve got that. You’ve got that ability. And I think that creates something that’s really safe. I think that people can understand that here’s a guy that’s accessible. And if I’m going to see a chaplain, then this isn’t something that other people at the workplace are going to necessarily know. Some people won’t have a problem with it, other people might. So for them to know that there are multiple ways to access Jeff is really key.
Let’s close up with this idea of taking care of the spiritual person. You talked about how that’s an essential job than an employer has. Other than having a corporate chaplain, what are some other things that the employer can do to make sure that they’re caring for not just for the physical side of somebody, and for their financial side, but also for their spiritual side?
Great question. And I surely don’t have the definitive list. And chaplaincy is surely not the only answer. There’s so many different things to being able to take care of somebody’s spiritual health. The first one, I think, is to make sure that the business owner is taking care of their own spiritual health. One of the things that a business owner runs into all the time is an identity problem. And you’ll know that you’ve got an identity problem if you find yourself having some significant issues with anxiety at work. Anxiety betrays something. It betrays that something is wrong ultimately with their identity. It betrays that they’re afraid of something or afraid of failure. When we come to understand that there’s a God that loves us and that we’re a beloved child and that He actually doesn’t need us for anything. He can take five loaves and two fish and feed five thousand, He can create abundance out of nothing. So He doesn’t need us to do well in our business. And we can’t earn our own salvation. When we come to understand that, and just really bask and seep in this doctrine of grace and how blessed we are – that’s a big part toward our spiritual health, that then spills over to our employees.
Our employees want to see us do well. They want to see – and think of it in the family – is not too different. Children are going to do well when their mother and their father are in a good place spiritually and physically and healthwise. They look to that. They want to be able to see a steady rock. They want to be able to see a leader, that is vulnerable and transparent, so it can betray the fact and show the fact that they are going through challenges from time to time. They want a real leader and at same time, they want to see one that is stable. And that comes from us, for business on that really comes from our personal relationship with God.
So our own personal discipleship is number one. Number two: it’s really important, I think, that we’re praying for employees. I think it’s important that we’re praying for them by name. I think it’s important that we are able to respond to our employees, that when we see that they’re going through some level of crisis, and be able to ask them if we can pray for them. And that is universally well-received, by the way. I’ve never had an issue with that. We have an office in Jakarta, Indonesia. It’s the largest Muslim city in the world. And we get to pray with Muslims, when we find out that they’re in the middle of crisis. And again, universally well-received. That’s a mistake I made. The first ten years at Bandwidth, I didn’t pray with anybody who I didn’t know shared my faith. And then somebody came in my office and said, look I’m going to be late for work on Tuesday, my dad’s got chemo and I’m going to take him to treatment. I said, can I pray for you and your dad? And he said yes. And I did. And he took it for me loving him the best way I knew how. So, a bunch of different things. That’s an incomplete list. I’d love to hear from your audience about other things that they see as well.
It’s a great concept. I think people are generally moving in that direction, to recognizing: yeah, this is a part of it, and an employer can a large role to helping people out, and making sure that they are whole as a person, and taking care of them in that way. So this is a great idea, it’s great great concept. I hope a lot of people can can think about it and think about how, in their own way, they can address the spiritual needs of their employees.
Henry how can people stay in touch with you?
Great question, thanks for asking. We have created, on the side, a project that we’re having a lot of fun with called Faith Driven Entrepreneur. A lot of it was born of the fact that we have a fund called Symons Capital that invest in faith-driven entrepreneurs. But we can’t invest in 99 out of 100. It’s just great businesses, people really motivated by their faith, really great stories. But it’s an industry we don’t know well. Or it’s at a stage but it’s the wrong stage for us. Or it’s difficult geography, or something like that. And so, we created a site with a daily blog, a weekly podcast, and a monthly newsletter to encourage faith-driven entrepreneurs from around the world. And it’s been a lot of fun. So that’s a great way to to stay in touch with us. My contact information is on the site, you can reach out to us there. Thank you for asking!
Yeah, absolutely. Well Henry, it’s been great to have you on the show. I wish you the best and look forward to chatting again soon.
Thank you Neil. Thank you for your time and your interest, I really appreciate the time.