CADILLAC - Employees in area workplaces have been getting onsite help dealing with personal problems from an unexpected source, Workplace Chaplains.

The business owners that hire them believe the cost of the service pays for itself in reduced absenteeism and "employee wholeness."

"We look at Workplace Chaplains as an extension of how we support employees," said Kelly Cater, director of human resources for Groupe Beneteau. "This is an internal assistance program. These chaplains not only help the 600 employees we have, they are actually covering 1,500 lives. They help to keep them actively employed and productive members of the schools and the community. That's a key part of it."

"There are times when employees are going through things in their personal lives that they are not always comfortable talking with their bosses about," said Tod Winkle, president of Don's Auto Clinic and High Point Auto with 86 employees. "We have Workplace Chaplains as a resource to give our employees professionals to turn to and work through these personal things in their lives."

Stressed on the job

In the last year, Workplace Chaplains have helped local employees deal with unexpected family deaths and suicides, substance and physical abuse and marital problems. They have directed employees to community resources for help with food and housing plus financial counseling. They have officiated at funerals, performed weddings and they get up in the middle of night when there is a crisis.

"The concept is that you have a lot of people dealing with issues outside of work," said James Martin, a staff chaplain. "So when they can talk to a chaplain on the floor, sometimes they are able to release that and stay more focused.  I also see employees that feel they are always pressed on the job, trying to do their best... and lately I have been dealing with the issue of suicide. So whether it's a work related issue or domestic issues, just being able to talk to somebody willing to listen goes a long way."

Once contracted, chaplains are assigned to visit the work site once a week, walking through to develop relationships and rapport. They don't proselytize, they listen.

"Sometimes a five to ten minute conversation can get them back in focus," said Cater."It's just enough to know that someone here cares and they can follow up later."

But sometimes, employees find themselves dealing with an unexpected crisis.

"You never plan for the times in life when you are going to need help," said Winkle. "That's what we try to do, I plan for our employees. When bad things happen, it's very emotional, so having the ability to have one phone number to contact a chaplain, it's very easy. It's for our employees. We don't add stress to the situation."

Workplace Chaplains

Recently Rich Langton, executive director of Workplace Chaplains, walked through Don's Auto Clinic to touch base with employees.

Gary Randall, an auto tech, smiled when he saw Langton approach.

"He's a good guy," Randall said. "I went through some things and I didn't know who to turn to. We sat down and talked and when we were done, I got up from that meeting and I felt better."

"The reality is that a lot of people really don't have somebody they can turn to in hard times and sometimes, even in good times," Langton said. "Our ability to be a presence really does give them an opportunity to talk to someone and share some challenges they are going through."

In 1997 Langton was on the steering committee formed by Ron Klimp and Dr. Richard Westmaas as they investigated the feasibility of a corporate chaplaincy. He also served on the board of directors. In 2000 he left the ministry to work as a chaplain and in 2010, he became the executive director.

Since its founding, Workplace Chaplains U.S. has expanded to serve companies along the western side of the state, two locations in Wisconsin and one in Illinois with a total of 17 clients in 23 locations representing 7,000 to 8,000 employees.

"As we go into these workplaces week-after-week, we talk about their kids and families, about sports," Langton said. "You develop a relationship with people and when life happens, they trust that they can turn to you. We walk through the ups and downs of life with them."

"For HR people, they see employees who come to them with challenges they aren't able to do anything about," Langton said. "There are regulations and policies about getting involved. And they don't want to be seen as showing favorites. So now they can say, 'Have you spoken with the chaplain?' It frees them up to do their jobs and gives employees an outlet."

To learn more visit: workplacechaplains.us or call (877) 972-2427

Cadillac News