Beckett: What to do When the Workplace Gets Tough, Part 1

Just like in many other situations, it is not an easy task to act Christlike when things get stressful in the workplace. Having served in the Army, I experienced this far too often, and there were other factours that made it even more difficult to be Christlike in and outside of work. The battle I’ll be discussing is maintaining a Christlike attitude in the workplace when work gets busy and stressful and the people become a nuisance. Everything I’ll be discussing in this two-part series can apply to other things in life such as college, family, normal social situations, whatever the case may be. Considering the context of this two-part series, I’ll be specifically focusing on the workplace with an emphasis on management positions.

Biblical Direction

Fortunately, God’s Word gives us direction when we face every day problems such as workplace dilemmas. Colossians 3:23-25 says, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord—you serve the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favouritism.” This is simply a reminder to maintain your enthusiasm for Christ in everything you do, and that includes your job, whether you like it or not. But this is easier said than done, isn’t it? Some may find this enthusiasm rather odd, but you’re not doing it for man; you’re doing it for Christ. We carry out our different vocations in our lives: brother, sister, cousin, friend, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, student, employee; there are multiple vocations God has placed us in that we must fulfil, and that includes our role as employee. You may not enjoy your job, but God put you there. We’re always so focused on what we don’t have that we forget to be grateful for what we do have. The best way to show God you’re grateful for your job, whether you like it or not, is to be enthusiastic in it. If not for man, then for Him. If you hate your job so much, then make the necessary plans to find a job you know you’ll enjoy. If you aren’t taking those steps, then you have no reason to complain. It won’t happen immediately, so it’ll require some patience and arduous effort.

We remain enthusiastic because we know by faith God will reward us with the inheritance of His kingdom, for we are servants and co-heirs of Christ. As Christians, we know the promise God has made for us in the life to come, so why not be enthusiastic in all our work as that promise approaches? We ought to remain enthusiastic for the Lord when things get tough because the alternative—doing wrong—will just come back to pit itself against us. To us, it may not seem wrong for a while, but anything against God’s Word is wrong; there is no grey area because there is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11). Every time we claim a grey area exists in the Word of God, it is when we are too indolent to distinguish the black from the white.

I realise it may be difficult at times to be enthusiastic in your work. I’ve experienced that a lot in my past jobs and every now and then I experience that in my current job as an academic tutor. This may not be the best method, but in order to counter the feeling of not wanting to be enthusiastic, just fake it. Again, it may not be the best method, but drawing from my own experiences, that’s what I do. In the Army, my NCOs always said, “False motivation is still motivation,” and there’s some truth to it. Whenever I don’t feel like tutoring a group of college students, I honestly just fake it, and I’ve found that when I do that, my genuine enthusiasm actually starts to come back. It works every time, at least for me. I may be too tired to tutor a group of students, so that’s the last thing I want to do, but as soon as I start faking it, getting into the gritty details of the subject I enjoy (e.g. the genealogy of Christ in the Old Testament or aorist verb endings in Greek), my enthusiasm returns. You can try faking it if you want to see if it works for you. It works for me, but perhaps you have better insight than I do in how to conquer unenthusiastic feelings. If so, feel free to leave a comment with your method.

Encourage Your Co-Workers

Encouraging people brings a smile to their face =)

Next to maintaining enthusiasm, another method to consider is to encourage others in the workplace. First Thessalonians 5:12-15 is our focus passage for this first part of the blog series, which says:

Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labour among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are lazy, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.

There are several principles listed in this passage, and the context is about the Church, but we can still take these principles and apply them to the workplace. First of all, it’s important to given recognition, or appraisal, to people in the workplace (whether positive or constructive criticism), especially those in a lower position than you are. An effective strategy HR personnel use within an organisation is performance appraisal and evaluation. It is a formal system for evaluating an employee’s job performance. Appraisal results are used in making decisions about who will be promoted (or demoted), transferred (or dismissed), and the amount of raises given to employees. In addition to this, HR personnel may also utilise what’s called the 360º performance appraisal, where every employee is evaluated not just by their supervisor, but also by their peers and subordinates. This is highly effective because your peers and subordinates work more closely with you than your supervisor does, so they have better knowledge of your work performance and attitude. This HR system can give some negative feedback about an employee’s performance as well, which when used constructively, it can be used to encourage better performance. (Only in the worst case scenario does it lead to termination.) When used positively, it has an enormously positive impact on the employee.

That’s just a formal example. Informally, letting someone know every now and then they’re doing a great job, no matter how small or large of a task it is, will mean a lot to them that someone has noticed their efforts, which will ultimately boost their morale. This informal method is perhaps easiest to do when management coaches and mentors are in place.

It doesn’t matter whether someone is a janitor or holds an executive position at a company—every single job has its place in society and each organisation, no matter how lowly or glorious. If a job had no purpose, then it simply wouldn’t exist. Would you like to clean all the bathrooms and every room in the building you work in? Of course you don’t; that’s why you’re not a janitor. (If you are a janitor and you’re reading this, thank you for what you do. It’s a humble job and the organisation couldn’t do it without you.) Therefore, they are necessary, and recognising somebody’s labour with such a job, or any job, is a way to shine Christ’s kindness upon them.

Be at Peace Amongst Yourselves, Warn the Lazy

teamworkThe passage continues to say we must be at peace amongst each other. This is a huge topic to discuss, but I won’t be expanding on it much because of the purpose of this two-part series. But for reference, Romans 12:14-17 gives us a list of principles on how to live in harmony with one another. Anyway, Paul writes in our focused First Thessalonians passage that we must warn the lazy and correct them and guide them into diligence. Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.” Advise the indolent. Let them know they lack what they crave because, well, they’re lazy—they don’t work hard for it, and only then will they become fully satisfied in what they do.

Hard work pays off because hard work is the only way to pay for success. You can’t succeed if your’e lazy. As manager, “Know well the condition of your flock, and pay attention to your herds” (Proverbs 27:23). As manager, this includes even those who aren’t Christians. Don’t neglect someone from God’s grace just because they don’t believe; it’s just that much more important for them to experience it. Jesus, after all, came not for the righteous, but for sinners (Luke 5:31). Thomas Merton one said, “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” And we are all sinners, even the “best” Christian (which is a myth). I’m not saying to go right up to a lazy employee and start spouting verses at them or put your hand on their forehead and begin to pray; that’s the wrong approach because it’ll just make them uncomfortable, and also because they may file a potential lawsuit for workplace discrimination against their religion (or lack thereof). It all begins with your actions, and when they ask questions then you can tactfully bring up God, but don’t push Christianity onto them. Be meek (James 3:13).

Comfort the Discouraged

comfortThe next thing the passage says is to comfort the discouraged. If someone is discouraged at work or just about his or her abilities in general, then recognition and leadership and guidance are of the utmost importance. If you notice it and do nothing, their work productivity will decrease and they’ll probably end up losing their job. From a business perspective, this could be good for the business since they’ll hire somebody who will efficiently and enthusiastically get the work done. Yet we’re in the business of God here, not man. Besides, technically it’s not good from the business perspective because such cases increase their employee turnover rate, which is a bad thing. The business we work for as managers and employees may be that of man, but every aspect of our lives belongs to God, including our professional vocation. Therefore, we cannot tolerate discouragement and a lack of self-esteem anywhere, even in the workplace.

All they need is simple encouragement, recognition, and direction via coaching and mentoring; it doesn’t have to be formal like the HR strategy explained above. By coaching and mentoring, you can let them know their work is noticed and important, which is really encouraging and motivating for employees. Give them a reason to believe that what they do makes a difference in the workplace and even peoples’ lives, and that what they do is important and therefore necessary for business success. Give them specific examples of what they do well. If there are some things they do poorly and that gives them plausible reason to be discouraged, then help them get better! Don’t just stand idly by and watch them crumble into disaster. The antithesis of love is not hatred; it is indifference—it is apathy. Hatred is simply the absence of love. Help is the ultimate form of encouragement, and that is exactly what heals their discouragement. The most diligent and successful organisation is one where its employer takes care of its employees and its employees take care of each other.

Before I continue, as a reminder, when you encourage and help people in the workplace, it would be wise not to go around preaching. (This is different if you work for a Christian non-profit organisation, for example, in which case spiritual encouragement is likely necessary and expected. For example, as an employee at Geeks Under Grace, we pray for each other all the time.) In a secular business, doing such things will only turn people away from Christianity because they’ll find you ignorant of other peoples’ beliefs, arrogant of your own beliefs, and forceful on them, even if you’re not. However, you may have a close enough work relationship with someone where you talk about God, in which case you may use your discretion in talking about God and praying for them. In the Army, I served with many brothers and sisters in arms who were also brothers and sisters in Christ. The advantage of the military is that you grow close to the people you work with, and they tell you things they normally wouldn’t tell anyone else. In my relationships with my Christian brothers in arms, we often talked about God and would pray for each other, which made it appropriate in the workplace. However, we wouldn’t do it where everyone in the workplace could hear us because it wouldn’t have been appropriate then. We still had to remain respectful of other peoples’ beliefs, even if they weren’t respectful of ours.

Again, as I said earlier, it begins with your actions. Just show them the kindness and love of Christ in the way you act and speak and there is the potential that they will individually come to ask you why you do what you do and how you do it, and that’s the opportunity where you can say something along the lines of, “Honestly, it’s because of the man [or woman] God transformed me to become by His grace alone,” so long as it’s honest. They can’t be mad at you for an honest answer. Well, they can, but if they are mad then they shouldn’t have expected you to be honest.

Help the Weak

disability-workplaceThe next thing is to help the weak, and this varies depending on the situation. For you men, where a woman is having difficulty lifting heavy materials, be a gentleman and help her. Also, for you women, I understand you love your independence and take pride in it, but don’t be too prideful (it is a sin, after all). If you’re being completely honest with yourself, it is a biological fact that men have more muscle than women and women have more fat than men. It’s not your fault that it’s harder for you to lift heavier objects than men; that’s just how the female sex was designed (in other words, that’s how God designed it to be). So if a man asks if you need help with lifting something heavy, whether you’re having trouble or not, don’t be prideful and dismiss his help in that snobbish, modern feminist manner. And don’t assume he’s insulting your ability to be independent. When a man asks you if you need help, he’s not being misogynistic; he’s just being a gentleman, which are all too rare nowadays (thanks to modern feminism, not man himself). It’s perfectly fine to be an independent woman, but strength comes from admitting your weaknesses, not hiding them and pretending they don’t exist. Two are also stronger than one.

Also for you men, if a younger and smaller in stature male is having the same difficulty, help him. Don’t be a jerk and just stand there and think to yourself, “Oh he’ll get it eventually because he’s a man!” That has the potential to lead to injuries. In fact, such a situation is exactly what led to my injury when I was in the Army. One particularly morning in 2012, my unit was doing PT (physical training). We were working on our upper bodies, so we were lifting a lot of heavy objects. One of the exercises we were doing was lifting a tire that used to belong to a 5-ton truck, so you can imagine how heavy that is. During the exercise, I couldn’t quite handle the weight anymore (and yes, throughout the entire exercise I was lifting with my legs; I’m not an idiot). Before this, I was already experiencing back problems, so I told the NCO in charge I couldn’t lift anymore due to the pain, but he ordered me to keep lifting, saying I would get it since I’m young; and that’s when my back gave out. The NCOs of that unit at the time learnt a valuable lesson: young people are not superhuman. It turns out I’ve had mild lumbar spinal stenosis (which is genetic at such a young age), and the strenuous exercises throughout my years in the Army exacerbated the condition, and even more so when the NCOs chose to ignore my pain. At that particular time, the exercise caused one of my discs to slip and pinch my sciatic nerve, developing sciatica along my left leg as well as additional problems in my feet. So now I’m a disabled veteran. What this all means is that I have a narrow spinal canal and the joints in that part of my spine are really weak. So weak that it caused the disc to slip and puncture my sciatic nerve, which caused my left leg to be in pain all the time, which has affected my feet as well. Currently, I’m in the late stages where I can’t even stand for more than 30 minutes at a time without feeling extreme pain in my lower back, feet, and left leg. Also, my sciatica is in the late stages where my left leg will cramp for no reason when I’m in a resting state. Poor management can lead to injuries, and the poor management that led to my injuries not only affected my health, but it also ruined my career.

Help the man or woman with a physical condition that prevents them from doing something you’re clearly capable of, whether they’re handicapped or temporarily injured (e.g. a broken limb, strained muscle, etc.) or something more underlying that you can’t see, like my injury. My condition is something within my body, which causes me to be unable to lift heavy objects without it hurting my back. You can’t see this underlying condition, so it becomes my responsibility to let my co-workers know so they understand why I can’t do something, and then they are responsible for ensuring I don’t do anything that pushes me beyond my physical limits (especially the supervisor or manager).

For everyone, there are tough jobs that require you to come to work in spite of illness (or simply due to one’s own stubbornness), which weakens and tires the body as well as the spirit and stresses the immune system even more, so help someone who is sick at work. Or, as manager, if someone calls in sick, don’t be a jerk and tell them to come in anyway. They need rest and they could infect other employees. (However, if they have a strange pattern of supposed illnesses, I believe it’s permissible to suspect they’re lying. Use your discretion wisely.) These are all simple things to do and it’s just simple generosity and compassion. All you have to do is…


Be Patient with Everyone

Next, we have to be patient with everyone. This is also easier said than done. Patience is highly important when it comes to admonishing someone in the workplace, especially if they’re discouraged. Depending on someone’s level of discouragement and their psyche, they’re not likely to quickly get back on their feet and start working productively and enthusiastically again, so it requires a lot of patience. God is extremely patient with each and every one of us, so we are likewise to be patient with discouraged colleagues and employees to come around and become encouraged and enthusiastic. As human beings, we like to dwell on our negative emotions, especially when we’re discouraged and/or depressed, so it takes a lot of time for that to change—some more than others. This is why patience is so important.

Do Not Repay Evil for Evil

This is what we call vengeance. Things happen in the personal lives of employees after work that will often cause enmity in the workplace, whether it’s a trial in their personal lives or is caused by interaction with one another after duty hours (or even during), and that’s not healthy for the organisation or the human being. You don’t have to be a leader in the workplace to make sure this doesn’t happen either (although as manager, you have the most influence). If employees never looked out for each other, then all hell would break loose. So look out for your colleagues. I’m going to repeat something I said earlier because it’s really important: The most diligent and successful organisation is one where its employer takes care of its employees and its employees take care of each other. See that no evil spirit enters the workplace. Evil spirits don’t just supernaturally float around as an invisible black orb of smoke and make a man spontaneously go berserk. It is an insidious time bomb that invests in the human mind, heart, and spirit, so it is vital to keep a watchful eye. By paying attention to detail and looking out for your colleagues, you pursue “what is good for one another and for all” (v. 15).

To be continued in Part 2… 

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