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Spiritual guidance... in the workplace?

Companies that hire workplace chaplains find that besides helping employees, they may help their bottom line, too.

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In the middle of a winter night last year, the family of a forklift operator in Danville, Ill., suffered two devastating blows. In a fire that destroyed their home, the Kemps also lost their youngest child. While the family had no pastor, priest, or rabbi to turn to, someone came to their aid immediately: the chaplain at McLane Co., David Kemp's employer.

Cleveland Taylor arrived amid the fire trucks, helped the family get clothing and meet its needs over many weeks, and held the funeral service for the baby.

As fewer Americans attend houses of worship on a regular basis, more people are receiving the compassionate help one might expect of a minister from corporate chaplains - professionals hired by companies to be a listening ear, a quick responder in crises, an arm to lean on through difficult challenges.

It's not that businesses are trying to take on a religious role. Corporate chaplains serve people of any or no faith, and the use of their services is voluntary. But business leaders increasingly recognize that employees who face crises often can't help bringing their personal difficulties to work, and job performance can suffer. Making provision to care for their workforce becomes a part of good business practice.

Bringing chaplains into the company "takes issues away from managers that they don't know how to handle and gives them to those that do," says Tim Embry, CEO of American LubeFast Inc., based in Duluth, Ga.

As a result, many employees are getting support that can make a significant difference in their lives, while companies say they're seeing a more satisfied, even more productive workforce.

When Coca-Cola Bottling Consolidated of Charlotte, N.C., tested a pilot program for chaplains at its Nashville, Tenn., plant, it measured changes in productivity, safety, quality, profitability, and employee perspective. "All objective criteria got better," says vice chairman Ron Pettus Jr. Along the way, "two people were talked out of suicide and are leading productive lives; several rocky marriages were reconciled; and many were helped out of financial problems and to resolve issues with their children."

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