And it's not just happening in the Bible belt states of the South. One proponent lives in the more liberal-leaning Northeast. "We have seen the movement grow pretty dramatically in the past 10 years," said Drew Crandall. He runs a nonprofit group, Northeast Christians at Work, and notes, "there has been a change in the culture here and it's not perceived to be as out of whack as it used to be."
Crandall is convinced that following the basic religious tenets of the Ten Commandments will help any business flourish because it dictates that employers and their staff deal honestly and fairly.
The chaplaincy programs do not all have such an obvious religious overtone, but their role in coming to work is also intended to help the bottom line. Klimp said that while his organization stems from a Christian orientation he writes it into the contract that he "will not proselytize or evangelize, we're there to help the company succeed," said Klimp.
The chaplains are on-call 24 hours a day, visiting employees in the hospital and even conducting weddings and funerals when asked. They include men and women, and they are typically trained in Christian denominations, although not exclusively. Tyson Foods, which considers itself a faith-friendly company, employs 112 chaplains in 70 locations and recently hired a Muslim chaplain in Tennessee.
Klimp occasionally refers staffers to clergy of different faiths, but has not had enough demand to warrant employing them. He visits job sites weekly and has found that the process of developing personal relationships is key in helping a staffer deal with a trauma like a divorce or an illness in the family.
"Everyone is healed to get through the process more successfully, which means they get back to work more quickly," said Klimp.
While many companies offer Employee Assistance Programs to provide psychological counseling for their staff, one of Klimp's clients said his employees turn out in larger numbers for meetings with the chaplain because they are literally bringing the support to their job site and could not afford to do the same with a mental health professional.
"It's like bringing in better food in the vending machines," explained Dale Rosser, vice president of human resources for Avon Automotives, based in Cadillac, Mich. "Employees are so valuable so you have to provide multiple services."
While some offices turn to chaplains as a source of psychological support for their staffers, there is always the potential for the religious thinking to encroach on the workplace.
"I think you have to be careful as an employer in doing a good job of assessing what the approach of the workplace chaplaincy program is going to be in your area," said Rosser. "I have to assume that different chaplains come at it with a different fervor."
Dubensky recalled learning of an incident this past Christmas where a chaplain sent an e-mail to the staff of a client encouraging them to "believe in Jesus." She agrees there can be benefits to hiring chaplains, but cautions human resource managers to look for those who "understand and appreciate religious diversity.
"There are employees who are atheists and agnostic and all of them need to be treated respectfully," she said.