When James Swanson works his way through Adams Thermal System Inc.’s plant, he greets employees and takes time to engage with anyone who wants to talk.
To the untrained eye, it looks like Swanson might be cutting down on the plant’s productivity by distracting workers from doing their jobs, the Argus Leader reported. But to management at the Canton manufacturer of engine cooling systems, the time shared bringing Christ’s message of care to those working the production lines benefits both the business and its employees.
Pastor James is a corporate chaplain.
For more than seven years, he has brought a listening ear and Bible studies to nine area businesses that see his quiet, unassuming approach as an important company benefit in workplaces that put faith at the forefront of company culture.
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“We believe that without God at the center of our lives, life can be very difficult,” said Mike Adams, owner of Adams Thermal. His goal is to offer an on-site benefit that allows people a chance to talk to someone about their faith in Christ and life’s bumps in the road. “We want to really be able to treat people holistically and really see them flourish.”
When employees struggle with financial, medical, marriage, parenting and family difficulties, it can show up in the workplace as a loss of focus, productivity and creativity. Knowing there is someone there to talk to confidentially helps people, Adams said.
Pastor James started meeting with workers at Adam’s Thermal more than seven years ago after he talked with Adams at church. Swanson was the pastor at First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux Falls, and started working on his day off as a chaplain at the plant.
In October of 2013, he took the growing business full time calling it Corporate Care of the Sioux Empire. These days, he has help from one other part-time chaplain, and they serve up to 900 employees.
Swanson said he saw a need for spiritual care for people on their jobs, where they spend a third to half of their waking hours. “It’s a huge blessing to be able to meet people where they’re at. That’s what fed my heart,” he said.
The chaplain benefit for employees comes on top of other traditional benefits the company offers, including health care, vision care and in Adams Thermal’s case, access to an outside counselor, if needed.
Click Rain, a Sioux Falls-based online marketing company with 35 employees, added Corporate Care as an employee benefit in June. Because the company focuses on balance with faith, family and work in that order, the chaplain program seemed like a natural next step, said Carissa Schoffelman, vice president of administration.
“He is much like an employee to us and an extension of our team,” she said. Employees are getting to know the chaplain and using his services.
“Part of our heart and mission at Click Rain is to care for the employees God has entrusted to our organization. So, we are always looking for creative benefits and ways to make that happen,” she said.
Click Rain also has devotionals and scripture readings at staff meetings, Bible studies, traditional wellness benefits and the opportunity for employees to go on an overseas mission trip with extra paid time off and part of the trip being covered.
At first Shannon Nordstrom with Nordstrom’s Automotive, a family owned business near Garretson, wasn’t sure he needed to offer a chaplain at work because workers and customers all know that Nordstrom’s is run on Christian principles.
But he met with Swanson and invited him in the doors where about 75 people with various beliefs and cultures work. He saw Swanson’s role as an extension of what the company is about and made a donation, effectively hiring on a chaplain.
“He’s got free rein to talk to my people,” Nordstrom said. “I don’t tell him what he should say.” Likewise, Swanson doesn’t tell Nordstrom what employees talk about. He does share general categories of concerns in a weekly update.
“People who embraced it, loved it,” Nordstrom said. Those who weren’t interested tended to scatter when Swanson came around. But Nordstrom now sees his decision to bring Swanson to his business as a way to bring the church to work, an extension of the company’s message of “Praise the Lord Always,” or PTLA, which is on business cards and company pens.
“We’ve always been willing to proclaim our faith in our business place,” Nordstrom said. “They look at it as an employee benefit. I look at it as taking the church beyond the walls.”
Overall, workers at the companies Swanson serves have been open and receptive to talking with him. It’s a no pressure, get-to-know you first approach that seems to work, he says. But the chaplain care also works because as humans, people have needs, and Swanson doesn’t judge.
“These employees get used to having someone who says, ‘How are you doing?’”
Rick McClung, an Adams Thermal welder from Canton, said when he found out his mother was dying, he worried about everything. It distracted his mind, and he found talking about it helped.
“James tried to explain that the lord is here for you. I didn’t need to carry the weight,” McClung said. And when his mom eventually died, there was a relationship in place that helped then, too. “I could talk to James.”
Ronda Thompson, an administrative assistant from Canton who has worked 30 years at the company, said she faced similar grim news when her mother had cancer. She found comfort when people prayed with her at work, and in the process of having a chaplain in house, she started to learn more about the Bible. It’s made a difference in her personal life and at work, she said.
“I think I’m a lot nicer. I have a lot more empathy. I’m a lot kinder,” she said.
For Larry Bone, a supervisor in the tool and die area, and Katie Pauly, who sits at the front desk where people enter the company doors, being allowed to openly share faith at work makes a huge difference in their contentment.
Pauly, who has worked at Adams Thermal for a few months and commutes from Baltic, said she came from a Christian organization and was excited to find that focus at her new job. “It just made my transition into the workplace easier,” she said. “We just hold each other accountable, know we’re all here to do God’s will.”
In other workplaces, Bone from Brandon has felt that he has had to shy away from even mentioning religion. “A lot of places I’ve worked, you just don’t go there,” he said. He likes the open freedom at Adams Thermal. “You don’t have to hide your faith and beliefs.”
Both bosses and employees know that not all workers share the same faith, and some may not have a faith at all.
On any given day on the manufacturing floor or at other businesses that Pastor James works for, he hears joys and sorrows of life as he makes his way from employee to employee, helping to care for their hearts while they’re on the clock.
“It’s remarkable how open people are,” he said. “I have opportunities to talk about some pretty significant things even as they work.”
He never knows exactly what the day will bring or in what ways he will be needed. “There’s a lot going on when you accumulate experiences and events of that many lives.”