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Houston Chronicle Article

Industry leaning on Marketplace Chaplains for guidance, support

By: ANDREW WHITE, Associate Editor – August 2013

Sometimes events occur in our lives where we need someone to turn to for guidance or help. Since 1984, Marketplace Chaplains USA has provided chaplains to serve and care for the employees and family members of public and private companies across the United States and abroad as a personalized and proactive employee care service.

Today, Marketplace Chaplains has a staff of more than 2,700 that supports over 550 companies in 23 different industries. Chaplain Walter Swaim works with several of the company’s clients in the oil, gas and chemical industries throughout the Houston area. The chaplains, like Swaim, aren’t on site to promote an agenda or push any particular belief. Instead, they spend most of their time encouraging and calming people, offering emotional support or providing referrals to social service agencies or employee assistance programs.  If employees want to talk about religion, the chaplains do so, but only if asked.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do as a chaplain is listen,” Swaim said. “I’m there to be a friend and someone who that person can talk to. Whether they’re about a personal matter or job related, the conversations I have with these individuals are 100-percent confidential and voluntary.”

The chaplains develop trusting relationships with employees through regularly scheduled, weekly worksite visits. Swaim has been working with Marketplace Chaplains for five years and said increased productivity, retention, attendance and safety are all positive results of companies having chaplains on site.

“We can be a help to the overall morale,” he said. “For example, I visit one chemical site twice a month and attend a regular safety meeting. I’m asked to close the meeting with a positive message usually about teamwork or another subject. Employees are also able to vent about their personal problems during visits, increasing morale and decreasing distractions.”

Swaim said chaplains will do whatever is required to serve a company on site whether it’s wearing PPE, acquiring TWIC cards or receiving additional training or certifications.

“Anything that makes it easier to meet a plant or site’s needs we’ll do so we can be there,” Swaim explained. “What’s unique about being a chaplain in this industry is many of the employees I interact with work in high-risk areas. They’re not baking cookies; they’re working in a plant or refinery.”

Chaplains are not only available 24/7 to respond to the crises and tragedies in life but are also there to provide support and encouragement for employees or family members.

“I’ve assisted and attended … company lunches and crawfish boils where I can chat with employees and build relationships,” Swaim said. “We become part of a family a lot of times at a site. We’re reserved for those areas where employees are in a relaxed time to make sure we’re not in the way and don’t interrupt work.

“Also, sometimes management has so much on their plate, such as being responsible for the overall project, they can’t give employees the personal attention they want to. The feedback I get is it’s great to have this outlet where a chaplain is on site and part of the team yet still kind of outside the team.”

In addition, if a family member of an employee needs a chaplain in another part of the country, Marketplace Chaplains can provide one in that area.

“We have the networking for someone to accompany that person in a time of difficulty,” Swaim said. “I’m also bilingual so I’m able to communicate with those Spanish speaking employees and their families.”

The chaplain and the press brake technician

A compassionate approach to workers’ personal problems

By Tim Heston – March 15, 2013

Everyone has personal problems at some point of their lives, and those problems can affect productivity at work. In this sensitive area, workplace chaplains may be able to help.

Consider this hypothetical situation: A fabricator’s best press brake operator shows up late for work. When he does come in, he looks dazed, unfocused. A few hours later, he looks down at the workpiece in his hands and realizes he just formed a flange backward, along with the 40 flanges before it. Then a supervisor from the assembly department comes running. A batch from earlier in the shift was formed out of tolerance and somehow slipped by quality control. The brake technician grows tense, closes his eyes, and looks down.

Not today. Please. Not today.

He may have been incredibly productive for years, with an uncanny eye for detail and quality workmanship. Then one day he comes in late and starts producing bad parts. A typical investigation might point to “operator error,” and scores of root-cause-analysis experts have developed methods that move the conversation away from finger-pointing. When conducting an exercise like the “five whys,” the experts steer away from the blame game and toward the objective process side. They don’t ask who screwed up, but concentrate on what happened and how, and how the process can be improved to prevent the problem down the road. It’s all about the process, not the person.

But hypothetically, just as a mental exercise, what if those five whys took another path—a personal one? Why did the operator bend the parts backward? Because he was having a bad day. Why was he having a bad day? Because his mother is ill, and no one is at home to take care of her. Why can no one take care of her? Because she doesn’t live near immediate family or close friends. Why doesn’t she have family nearby? Because they all moved away. Why did they move? To find work.

Such a direct, personal inquiry lacks so much tact and professionalism that it borders on the absurd. It’s an impersonal approach to a personal problem. All the same, it does reveal that, yes, a personal problem exists. And no matter how good working conditions are, an employee’s personal life can affect workplace productivity.

To address this, many companies offer employee help lines, such as 800 numbers workers can call in times of crisis or of personal strife. It’s a valid service, but one that Gil Stricklin, a retired U.S. Air Force chaplain, thought lacked a human touch. So in 1984 he launched Plano, Texas-based Marketplace Chaplains USA, which provides workplace chaplains on a contract basis.

Many are ordained clergy, but their roles as chaplains differ from that of a pastor or priest. Considering the founder’s background, it isn’t surprising that their role borrows from some basic ideas behind military chaplaincy. Marketplace’s chaplains aren’t active evangelists. They do talk about religion, but only if the people they’re talking to ask about it first. They primarily offer workers a listening ear and compassionate conversation. They’re there to talk through tough problems and refer or recommend social service or assistance programs, if needed.

“It’s also a voluntary service,” said Art Stricklin, Marketplace’s vice president of public relations. “No one has to interact with the chaplain.”

“From the start we meet with the company leadership and let them know we are a neutral party. We do not represent the company, the HR department, or the CEO. We need that sense of neutrality when we’re talking with employees about their personal concerns.” So said Tim Presson, division director who oversees the western Texas region, where the company sends chaplains to several metal fabricators on a regularly scheduled basis.

“They first may just talk about the big game and chat informally,” Stricklin said. “But eventually they may come up and say, ‘Hey, I need to talk to you about my son.’”

Stricklin added that “a chaplain can’t get you promoted; he can’t get you fired. And the boss doesn’t know who’s talking to the chaplain. It’s voluntary, it’s confidential, and it’s nondenominational.”

Shop floor workers can’t just leave the machine they’re tending to talk to a chaplain. So when chaplains arrive, they may walk the shop floor, wave, say a few brief pleasantries, and, if the employee wishes, schedule a more in-depth meeting during breaks or after the shift ends.

“We’re very conscious of not interrupting their productivity,” Presson said. “We realize they’re paid to do a job. So if the discussion is of a personal nature, and they need to visit with a chaplain beyond what the brief visit there at the work site would accomplish, then we set up a meeting outside of work or during breaks, at their convenience.”

Workers also have the chaplain’s cell phone number and e-mail address. “If there is a crisis or something employees need to talk about, then they have direct access to the chaplain,” Stricklin said.

Chaplains consult workers of the same gender and ethnic background as themselves. A shop with Hispanic, Spanish-speaking workers will be sent a Hispanic chaplain who speaks Spanish. Female chaplains work with female employees; male chaplains work with male employees.

As Presson explained, if an employee tells a chaplain he will cause harm to others, the chaplain is required to report that information. But besides this and a few other exceptions, a chaplain offers a confidential ear. He added that chaplains aren’t there to act as employee advocates, either. If a workforce wants to unionize, for instance, the chaplain remains a neutral third party.

Sources added that employees usually aren’t complaining about management or workplace problems. For the most part, it’s personal. If managers bring Marketplace Chaplains onboard in the first place, they probably have a good relationship with workers already. More often than not, the workplace is safe, and workers are engaged. And the shop often has procedures in place to tackle objective, process-based problems, be it a fishbone diagram analysis, the five whys, or anything else. But the workplace is more than just a collection of processes performed by automatons. People have personal problems, and this is where the workplace chaplain may be of help.

Marketplace’s chaplain services also tap into a national network. Consider again the hypothetical press brake operator having a bad day because of his ill mother. He can talk to his workplace chaplain who, in turn, can contact another workplace chaplain near where his mother lives. The chaplain can’t cure his mother’s illness, but he can knock on her door, just to check in. It’s not much, really. But as sources explained, to a worried press brake operator hundreds of miles away, it can mean the world.

The Rise of the Corporate Chaplain

By Mark Oppenheimer on August 23, 2012

Roger Burdick knows how to sell cars. Driver’s Village, his gigantic sales outlet in Syracuse, N.Y., is housed in a former shopping center, Penn-Can Mall, which went out of business in 1996. Four years later, Burdick bought the 80-acre property and in 2003 moved his dealerships to the building’s perimeter. As you circle the former mall you encounter one showroom after another, 360 degrees of cars. You can buy an Audi, BMW, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, or Ford—and that’s just through the letter F. Inside the facility there are now about two dozen “shoppes,” including car rental agencies, a driving school, and law offices.

On her morning rounds, the Driver’s Village head chaplain, Elise Bissell, the 54-year-old wife of a Southern Baptist preacher, hands out her business card to employees who don’t know her yet, offers hugs to many who do, and listens intently as people whisper their troubles in her sympathetic ear. Bissell works for Marketplace Chaplains USA, an agency that provides chaplains to more American businesses than any other provider, but most of her time is spent at Driver’s Village, and her heart belongs to its workers. This is more than an assignment to her.

Workplace chaplains like Bissell can be found at more than 1,000 companies in the U.S. and Canada. These chaplains are a rising regiment of corporate America’s human-resources army, as employers have found that a pastoral touch is often more appealing to workers than an impersonal hotline of the sort included in many benefits packages. A 2008 study by the Families and Work Institute found that more than 97 percent of companies with payrolls larger than 5,000 offer employee assistance programs, with anonymous counseling and referrals available by phone. Yet employees are “dramatically” more likely to use workplace chaplains than standard mental-health benefits, according to preliminary results from an ongoing study by David Miller and Faith Ngunjiri of Princeton University’s Faith & Work Initiative. At least half of 1,000 employees surveyed have used the services of a workplace chaplain—far more than those who use standard assistance programs.

Marketplace, founded in Dallas in 1984, supplies chaplains to businesses—including Roger Burdick’s car dealerships—on a contract basis. Marketplace employs 2,700 chaplains, up 50 percent since 2005. Its part-time chaplains, such as Rene Luevano and his wife Ada, serve 500 companies, including Pilgrim’s (PPC), the U.S. branch of the world’s second-largest chicken producer, and McDonald’s. Another Marketplace client, Austaco, which owns 77 Taco Bell restaurants, receives spiritual help from chaplain Beth Howard, who has been counseling fast-food employees in West Texas since 2003 the two largest nonprofit agencies, the chaplains are evangelical Christians.

Employees say they appreciate, or at least aren’t offended by, the chaplains, who are usually ordained ministers. (Female chaplains from denominations that do not ordain women may be Sunday-school teachers or other church workers.) And employers like the regular reports chaplains provide, which can reveal the level of employees’ concerns about everything from salaries and overtime to troubles at home. Because chaplains are proactive, doing outreach rather than waiting for complaints to filter up, they hear more, and sooner, than do typical human resources professionals. “When gas first went over $3, the financial stress was showing up in the chaplains’ reports,” says Daniel Jones, chief executive officer of Encore Wire (WIRE) in McKinney, Tex. So one day, as employees were leaving work, they got $25 gas cards. “It didn’t cost a lot,” Jones says, “but it meant a lot to them.”

Chaplains haven’t replaced human resources departments; rather, it’s often HR leaders who invite chaplains to work alongside them. Miller says chaplaincy is a natural extension of HR. “In the old days, companies didn’t want to know about your personal baggage,” Miller says. “You were just supposed to show up and do your job. HR offices all say we are now treating people holistically. They want people to bring their whole self to work.” In a country where, according to Gallup, more than 90 percent of people say they believe in God, bringing one’s whole self to work means bringing religion, too.

Talk to Gil Stricklin, and he’ll punch you in the arm. Not in a mean way, but in a how-ya-doin’, power-of-positive-thinking, manly American way. Before founding Marketplace in 1984, Stricklin was a military chaplain, a Southern Baptist preacher, and a motivational speaker. For about seven years in the 1970s, he was the man the legendary Zig Ziglar sent on the road when he got too busy to accept yet another speaking invitation.

“How ya doin’!” Stricklin says at the door to his conference room, throwing a signature arm punch. On the wall are portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee praying with chaplains. For our meeting, Stricklin invited Bonneau, the sunglasses man, who was his first client and is now a board member, to join us. The pair trade lines like an old married couple.

“I met Gil when he was speaking at a Zig Ziglar conference,” Bonneau says. “I got him to come out to our company and do some things, and then he came out to our church to do some things. One day we were having lunch, and he said, ‘I have this dream.’ ”

Stricklin interrupts, “I’d like to point out that I said, ‘I’d like to buy you lunch,’ and he said, ‘Well, I’ve never had a minister buy me lunch!’ So, on the 17th of December, 1983, we had lunch.”

At that lunch, Stricklin, just retired from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told Bonneau his idea for importing a model of military chaplaincy into the workplace. Bonneau was impressed by Stricklin’s proposed ministry. “He’d come in and help if people had death, or divorce, or problems in the family,” as Bonneau recalls. “He had a passion for doing it in a company. And I had a company that had kinfolk in it, friends in it, and we’d gotten really big.” Bonneau, who worried his small company was losing its personal touch, was sold. “I butted in and said, ‘Gil, that is exactly what I have wanted to do, and I don’t care what it costs.’ ”

So Stricklin started coming by. For the first couple weeks, nothing much happened. He hung around a lot. Finally he said to Bonneau, “Why don’t you give me a job?” So Bonneau put him to work in the warehouse, packing sunglasses. “And that was magic,” Stricklin says. “It made the preacher real.” Another month went by, and a worker approached him. “You’re that preacher,” she said. “My mother had a stroke, and I can’t go see her until tonight. Can you go see her?” The employee’s mother died two weeks later, and Stricklin officiated at the funeral.

Death is straightforward work for a chaplain. Things get trickier when an employee wants to talk about addiction or an abusive spouse. While Marketplace says its chaplains observe a code of strict confidence, there are exceptions. They are legally mandated to report certain types of information, such as when an employee threatens to harm herself or others or reveals a case of child abuse.

Marketplace does not let women minister to men or vice versa. Separate chaplains are assigned for gents and for ladies. In May, I sat in on an orientation session conducted by a trainer named Dan Truitt. He was talking with seven of his chaplains, three by teleconference, about confidentiality. After discussing standard legal exceptions to the confidentiality policy, he offered the kicker, that final exception, which is “when harm to the client company or its well-being is about to occur.”

And the chaplains, professing “neutrality,” are careful not to get in the middle of worker/management conflict, which may be the primary source of stress in the workplace. When asked what she would do if an employee were being mistreated, Bissell, the Driver’s Village chaplain, said, “I’d probably go with them to the employer or encourage them to. Otherwise I wouldn’t get involved. It’s not my place.”

Back in Syracuse, Bissell is finishing her rounds. These quick chats are not when the most important chaplain work takes place, Bissell says. They’re just preludes to the longer conversations on breaks or after hours. “I got a call last night from a woman who was let go,” Bissell says, as she strolls the mall’s interior. She said she would keep up with the ex-employee.

Circulating among some clerical workers in a Driver’s Village office, Bissell has a quiet conversation with a young woman excited to show off pictures of her children. The chat then takes a dark detour, as the woman confides in Bissell about her marriage. “We fight and then we get over it,” she tells the chaplain. “It takes a day or two. I have to cool off. And I want him to be in the right frame of mind, because he can be a little hot-headed.” Bissell nods sympathetically, then leaves the woman to her work.

The chaplains help productivity—that’s another reason company executives who have hired chaplains are often ecstatic. Sometimes it’s the CEOs themselves who benefit from the chaplains. Several years after bringing in Marketplace, Daniel Jones, the Texas wire baron, found himself using their services. “My father died in 2003,” Jones says. His mother was distraught. “Her three sons, we’re racing to the hospital, we show up, she’s hysterical. I called the chaplain on my cell phone, and I said, ‘My dad just died—what do I do?’ He said, ‘You do these three things, and I’ll do the rest.’ ” And Gary Martin, a Dallas venture capitalist, says his chaplain from Marketplace helped persuade an employee’s husband not to commit suicide. “And he’s alive,” Martin says, “and they’re living happily ever after.”

Louisville Courier Journal

June 25, 2012

By Peter Smith

The Texas-based Marketplace Chaplains contracts with more than 500 companies nationwide to send chaplains on weekly visits to work sites such as Mark’s Feed Store. Often, workers will confide about divorces, children with drug problems or other crises.

“A lot of folks in the workplace today are not connected to a church or have a pastor to provide them care,” said Doug Dunn, area team leader for chaplains in parts of Kentucky and neighboring states.

“We have just had a phenomenal experience” with chaplaincy, said Mary Stebbins, operations manager for Mark’s Feed Store, which contracts with a chaplaincy program for weekly visits to its five Kentuckiana outlets.

Dunn, himself a former business manager, said he recognizes that employers are not looking for a chaplain to start a church on premises — but rather to help workers in need.

“A happy employee is a good employee,” he said.

Emergency Alaska Preacher: The “EAP” of the Last Frontier

May 7, 2012

In Alaska, where long, dark winters and a sense of isolation are piled onto everyday work-life stressors, one employer is taking the unusual step of bringing chaplains into the workplace.

Houston-based Hilcorp Energy Co. enlisted Marketplace Chaplains USA to provide in-house chaplain services to its 150 workers in Alaska. Marketplace Chaplains, which was founded in 1984 and operates in nearly all 48 lower states, serves more than a half-million employees and their families.

Greg Lalicker, president of Hilcorp Energy, says the chaplain service is “a great way to promote well-being among our employees.”

Hilcorp has an employee assistance program in place, but Lalicker says such plans may not be able to react quickly enough, given the remote settings.

“Our people can rely on the chaplain service to be there in situations where a traditional EAP wouldn’t be able to help,” Lalicker says.

Jennifer Linnell, one of the chaplains working at Hilcorp, agrees.

“An EAP comes in after a crisis,” Linnell says. “Chaplains can be there to head off a crisis because we are on-site prior to things happening. If there’s trouble in a marriage, it can be talked through before a divorce.”

A chaplain has been on-site at Hilcorp offices in the Alaskan cities of Kenai and Anchorage about once a week since February. The chaplain typically gets acquainted with workers and offers counseling to those who seek it out. The chaplains also attend monthly all-staff meetings.

Chaplains in Alaska serving Hilcorp say the response from workers has been positive.

“They are stunned that the company would provide this,” Linnell says. “People aren’t used to receiving care so freely.”

Linnell, who before becoming a chaplain worked in human resources for another oil and gas company in Alaska, said there are unique challenges to living in the Last Frontier.

“Moving to Alaska, there are things you have to deal with,” she said. “You can’t drive to the next state, for instance.”

There are the long, dark winters, as many as 24 hours of daylight in the summer, the remoteness and the transient nature of many residents who move in and out frequently, Linnell and other chaplains say.

Many employees at Hilcorp in Alaska travel off-site to remote locations to work on oil and gas pipelines, far from family, for weeks at a time.

“Oftentimes folks that work in remote locations cannot be with family in times of need,” Lalicker says.

That’s where the chaplains come in. The chaplains are available around the clock to employees and family members.

“Having the chaplains available any time and anywhere allows them to offer comfort and assistance to their loved ones when he or she may otherwise be unable to do so,” Lalicker says.

Marketplace Chaplains, which is based in Plano, Texas, charges on a per-employee basis of about $5 to $10 per worker, depending on the size of the company, according to a company spokesman.

Brian Horner, division director for Marketplace Chaplains, said the chaplain service fills a gap that traditional EAPs may not be able to fulfill.

“The reality is people don’t have connections they once did with a pastor, rabbi or priest,” Horner says. “Here comes a person with no agenda except offering counsel, to lend an ear.”

The chaplains also are attuned to business-world concerns, he adds. “We know what it means that a person has to get out payroll or meet a deadline.”

Teresa Cappell, another chaplain working at Hilcorp who previously counseled women in prison and correctional officers, said the remoteness of Alaska causes immense pressure. “Here in Alaska, so many workers have to take long flights and spend two weeks or more away from their families. It’s a big stressor.”

The first day at Hilcorp, Cappell heard about illnesses, concerns for other employees and questions about different belief systems. “Generally it was getting to know them and building trust,” she says.

Being a familiar face around the workplace is important. “Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything; you can just be a presence,” she says. “Listening is one of the biggest parts of our jobs, and asking questions that will bring out what the real issue is.”

The chaplains interviewed for this story said that some employees questioned whether they were there to proselytize, but such worries were quickly eased when the purpose of the program was explained.

“The reception is very warm and welcoming,” says Levi Smith, a pastor in Anchorage for the past 12 years who recently signed on with Marketplace Chaplains. “People seem to be impressed that the company cares about them to this degree.”

Lalicker says he hopes the service will benefit employees.

“We all have challenges in our lives,” he says. “If having the chaplain service helps just one employee—and it has—we feel it’s an important part of our organization.”

Lay Your Burdens Down on Company Time

October 31, 2011

When Johnnel White got married this month, he didn’t have to look for a minister, even though he doesn’t attend church.

White, a salesman for Herr Foods in Hampton, knew a guy from work who’s “always positive. Even if you’re having a bad day, he has words of wisdom to cheer you up, so you’re not down 24/7.”

That guy was the Rev. Walt Kriner, who isn’t full time at Herr’s but stops by weekly to check on the workers. That was enough for White to establish a bond with him. “During the service, it felt like he knew everybody and everybody knew him,” White, 27, said.

Kriner works for Marketplace Chaplains USA, which sends more than 2,560 chaplains to nearly 485 businesses, including the Herr distribution center in Hampton.

A small but growing number of companies are employing workplace chaplains like Kriner – not, managers say, to bring  religion to their workers but to provide comfort during crises “Everybody has problems that can carry over into the workplace,” said Richard White, senior vice president for human resources for Herr’s in Pennsylvania, which deploys 25 chaplains to its work sites. “If we can help them in any way, we believe the program is good for the employees and for business.”

God is in the House

October 2011

Companies that foster faith-based or faith-friendly culture say employees, suppliers, customers – even competitors- benefit.

Hatfield, L&H and Brown Packing all contact their services through Marketplace Chaplains USA which always names poultry processor Pilgrim’s Pride in its promotional material.

For more than 10 years, L&H has provided nine part-time chaplains at three meat packing plants and two composting facilities. Leonard says that while not the only factor, the program has contributed to a decline in employee turnover.

“We meet people where the rubber meets the road. When an employee has something on his mind, it’s best for him to get it off his mind so he can focus on work,” said Brown Packing Chaplain Carroll Hutcheson.

Spirituality Goes to Work

October 10, 2011

Faith friendly companies are common, reshaping the workplace.

Now companies, in some cases, letting workers approach their jobs as a type of faith in action. Marketplace Chaplains USA, a Plano, Texas, company that makes ordained ministers available to employees, that has grown its client base by 13 percent so far this year and now offers chaplains … free of charge to employees at nearly 2,500 work sites nationwide.

Meeting with the Chaplains is optional for workers (Rudolph Food CEO Rich Rudolph) Rudolph says. Rudolph finds the Chaplains’ presence helps build trust in management as lives are changed for the better.

Worksite Chaplains Answer a Calling

May 22, 2011

Caroline Landwehr wished it was a nightmare, but it was real life.  Three days before Halloween, she was awakened by the police, calling to tell her that her younger sister had been in a bad car accident and to get to the hospital immediately.  Her sister died not long afterward.

“I was in shock, lost and didn’t know what I needed to do,” said Landwehr, who was “forever grateful” when Bruce Ingram showed up at her mom’s house.

Ingram is her pastor – at work.  He is employed by Marketplace Chaplains to serve a growing list of companies in Oklahoma City, including the 460 employees of G.E. Oil & Gas Electric Submersible Pump (formerly the Wood Group) where Landwehr leads the import/export group.

“Bruce provided so much support for me and my family,” Landwehr said.  He helped with everything from towing her sister’s car, the police investigation and funeral arrangements, she said, to linking her with a grief support group and locating a roadside cross.

Hundreds Using Service

Reports indicate hundreds of workers are using the service every month, said Ron Cordell, vice president of human resources, G.E. Oil and Gas ESP, with the oil pump company who contracted Marketplace Chaplains a year ago.

“We realized people are coming to work with the rest of their lives on their shoulders,” Cordell said.  “Whether it’s a death, illness, child with drug addiction or another problem, they’re endless in a group our size.”

Chaplains, Cordell said, give employees the support they need, so they can deal with problems and come to work.