Correction Appended

In their zeal to become more competitive, American employers have turned increasingly to motivational gurus who say they can change how employees think. But now employers are encountering resistance from workers who assert that many of the training programs use ''mind control'' techniques or promote values alien to their religious views.

Defenders of the training techniques contend that raising workers' self-esteem and making them more independent, assertive and productive is essential if American corporations are to survive in a world of heightened foreign competition and increased rivalry at home brought on by deregulation.

Business school professors at Stanford and other universities have endorsed some of the techniques. But critics are asserting that many companies are forcing employees to attend seminars in group therapy style that they say pry into their personal lives and shape personalities and values off the job, often under the influence of occult precepts and mystical principles of Eastern religions.

Among the techniques some critics object to are meditation, relaxation, self-hypnosis, inducements to trance-like states or instructions to visualize events in the mind. Complaint at Naval Shipyard

Last month James L. Baumgaertel, an inspector at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Wash., alleged in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity officer at the base that his First Amendment rights had been violated because he had been ordered to attend training programs using meditation, ''guided visualization'' and other techniques that ''can change a person's view of reality and religious beliefs.''

In an interview, he said, ''These are psychotechnologies that are meant to induce altered states of consciousness. They are trying to reprogram the subconscious.''

William Gleaton of Albany, Ga., said he was discharged as manager of human resources at a Firestone Tire and Rubber Company plant in Albany three years ago after refusing to carry out what he described as a New Age training program offered by the Pacific Institute of Seattle, Wash. He said he had objected because the program ''was in conflict with the value system in our community.''

Mr. Gleaton said he adhered to the Christian view that human fate is dependent upon the will of God. In contrast, he said, the course ''focused everything on the self; the self was the center, the source of energy; the self had the ability to deal with any problem in life, you were capable of anything.''

Firestone, which reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr. Gleaton after his dismissal, has declined to comment on the matter. Mystic's Teachings for a Utility

In another case, the California Public Utilities Commission recently opened an investigation of training practices by Pacific Bell, the state's largest utility. The commission said it had received complaints that employees companywide had been required to attend seminars based largely on the teachings of a mystic, George Gurdjieff, who was born in Russia and died in 1949.

Mr. Gurdjieff and many others are often associated with a disparate collection of organizations stressing human potential and quasireligious sects. These segments of what has been collectively called the New Age movement attract many followers around the country, often with an appeal based on a combination of Eastern mysticism, the occult and a Norman Vincent Peale style of ''power of positive thinking.''

William Ahern, a senior official at the California utilities commission, estimated that Pacific Bell might be spending as much as $100 million a year on the Gurdjieff-based training program in an effort to ''change its corporate culture'' in its transformation from monopoly to competitive business. The cost is being passed to telephone subscribers on their monthly bills.

Mr. Ahern said that the investigation would determine whether it was appropriate to require subscribers to bear these costs and that the commission would evaluate employee complaints, which he said could range from '' 'Gee, this thing is useless,' to, 'It's an intrusion of my personal belief system.' ''

Spokesmen for Pacific Bell have defended the course, saying it had improved communications among employees and had otherwise helped the company. Motivation, For a Price

According to specialists in employee training, most of the nation's major corporations, many small companies and numerous government agencies have hired some consultants and purveyors of similar ''personal growth'' training programs in recent years.

Curtis E. Plott, executive vice president of the American Society for Training and Development, an organization of training professionals, said no statistical breakdown was available of expenditures on such programs. But he noted that, in all, businesses spent about $30 billion a year on training and that a small but growing portion was now going to outside specialists who offer courses to motivate employees.

Although many corporate executives say they are pleased with the results of the new programs, some acknowledge the growing resistance.

Among the largest operators of corporate training programs that critics have accused of having links to the New Age Movement are Insight, the Pacific Institute, Edge Learning Institute, Lifespring, Actualizations: Charles Kroll, a Carmel Valley, Calif., entrepreneur whose program is used by Pacific Bell; and Transformational Technologies of Sausalito, Calif., which franchises a program developed by Werner Erhard, founder of EST, the psychological training program that was popular and controversial in the 1970's. Defending What They Do

Representatives of these new training programs, which are descendants in some ways of the ''encounter groups'' of the 1960's, all deny there is anything sinister about the methods they use, and they say they can change a company's way of doing business in a hurry.

''The traditional approach to bringing about change is less than effective, because traditional change takes a long time,'' said James Selman, executive director of Transformational Technologies.''We are looking for ways to speed up change; when people challenge their basic assumptions, they see possibilities they hadn't seen previously.''

But Richard Watring, personnel director of Budget-Rent-a-Car in Chicago, who is a leading critic of these training programs, asserts that many are dangerous because they seek to ''induce a trance-like state'' that is intended to clear the mind so that new thoughts and ideas can be implanted that will lead to modification of a person's behavior.

He compared the techniques to the ''brain washing'' practiced on captured American prisoners of the Korean War. Mr. Watring asserts that ''this manipulation of the mind'' changes not only work habits but also individual values and personality.

Although operators of the new programs, including Mr. Selman scoff at this view, some independent observers disagree.

Jerry Poras, a professor of organizational management at Stanford University's Graduate School of Management, said:

''In my experience, the new behavior and sensitivities people learn are first applied at home and then tried in the workplace. Any training that improves problem solving will affect people's personal lives; what happens at home if someone becomes more open? If the spouse is not tuned in to that kind of relating, that can cause problems.'' Does Training Invade Mind? In February, Steven A. Hiatt, a Pontiac dealer in Tacoma, Wash., filed a suit against a former employer, the Walker Chevrolet Company, charging that he was wrongly discharged as sales manager after refusing to participate in a program offered by the Pacific Institute of Seattle. He objected to the program, ''New Age Thinking to Increase Dealership Profitability,'' because he contended its teachings were inimical to his religious views.

His former employer has denied any wrongdoing. And Pacific Institute has emphatically denied that its programs have a religious content and says it is related in no way to the New Age Movement. It and other groups ascribe the recently criticism largely to ultra-conservative religious groups.

Jack Gordon, editor of Training magazine, an influential trade publication, said the programs were likely to spread because more and more corporate executives, looking for easy answers to their business problems, were responding to ''people who make the most dramatic claims.''

He recalled training programs in which executives were asked to walk on burning embers as proof they could do anything.

''Fire walking was popular'' in some corporate training circles two years ago, he said. Now, Mr. Gordon said, businesses were responding to sales pitches ''that say, 'Let's invade the employee's head and see if we can adapt the employee's basic motivation.' '' He added, ''When they accept this, then the training tends to become guru-driven instead of concept driven.''

photo of William Gleaton (NYT/Alan S. Weiner)