Karma Yoga: Intelligent Action in the Modern Workplace

Ajinkya Navare and Ashish Pandey reflect on their article, “Karma Yoga: Scale development and studies of the impact on positive psychological outcomes at the workplace,” which was published in The International Journal of Cross Cultural Management.

The world is facing fierce competition and employees are expected to work more and more to maximize output. The diminishing connection between the inner spirit of the people and the work they are doing is evident. As a result, modern workplaces are periled by issues like burnout, depression, and job stress. Is achieving performance and employee well-being a zero-sum game?

The answer to this question lies in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a dialog between Krishna – a master, and Arjun – a disciple. The disciple is lamenting about the colossal war happening between the members of the same family. Arjun is shying away from the duty of fighting the war. Krishna encourages Arjun to take up righteous action by enunciating the secret behind achieving excellence without falling prey to burnout. This secret of intelligent action is called Karma Yoga. Is this ancient skill of intelligent action applicable to the modern workplace?

Actions are an inevitable part of human life. Actions can happen at gross (e.g., physical activity) or subtle (e.g., thinking) levels. Each action renders results that bear a seed of future actions. In other words, actions bind individuals and take away the freedom of choice. In the modern workplace, people tend to operate in the ‘auto-pilot’ mode where employees work with minimal autonomy and freedom. The special skill of Karma Yoga can help employees to regain their faculty of choice in the action and revitalizes the connection between the work and the inner spirit.

Headshots of professors Navare and Pandey.
Professors Ajinkya Navare (left) and Ashish Pandey

Our paper on Karma Yoga decodes this special skill of intelligent action in the modern workplace context. We present a conceptual model of Karma Yoga and a psychometric assessment to measure it. We further examined the relevance of Karma Yoga in the modern workplace context by assessing its impact on Psychological Capital (referred to as PsyCap). The previous research has shown that PsyCap is an important determinant of employee performance. Our research showed that Karma Yoga enhances PsyCap and reduces job burnout.

Our research addresses the fundamental reason behind work misery and provides a new approach to work, drawn from the wisdom tradition of Indian culture. It reconnects culture and modern management theories to better understand human behavior and address the menace of job stress. It is a step in integrating ancient wisdom and modern work practices for a better future.

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Ajinkya Navare and Ashish Pandey

Dr. Ajinkya Navare (pictured) is an assistant professor in the Science of Spirituality Area at the S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR).

Dr. Ashish Pandey is an associate professor at the Shailesh J. Mehta School of Management, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB).

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