Work Ethic, Workplace Issues

Work Ethic: Cultivating Perspective through Community

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.” That means that there isn’t anything happening to us at our jobs that Christ didn’t experience, Himself. Consider this: Jesus went through His adult life without a home, exposed to heat and to cold, abandoned by His friends, falsely accused by His enemies, and left to clean up a mess He didn’t make in the first place! (And you thought it was a pain having to mop up in the produce department!) The only One who was ever truly alone in any experience was Christ when He bore our sins on the cross.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” All of us have had difficulty seeing the “big picture” at some point in our lives and, in many ways, that’s what makes Christian fellowship so important – yes, I do mean church. When we take the time to associate with other Believers, we gain the added perspective of those who live outside of our own situation as well as the faithful support of those who have been there before.

According to the Apostle Paul, “…there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:20-26) When you make church and/or Sunday School and/or Youth Group a priority you’ll be tapping one of the most potent aids for “big picture thinking” with which God has provided us. Sometimes just knowing that you have the love and support of others is enough to give you the perspective that you’re lacking.

The ultimate in “big picture thinking,” however, requires us not only to let go of our struggles, but also to make a conscious effort to recognize our blessings. This goes beyond taking time to develop relationships with those who share your experience and can help guide and encourage you as you navigate the rough spots. We’ll take a look at this type of thinking next week, but for now, feel free to share about some ways that Christian fellowship has impacted your own perspective on trials in the workplace!

Work Ethic, Workplace Issues

Work Ethic: Character and Perspective Part II

In 1 Peter 5:6-10, the Apostle admonishes his hearers to, “…humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” Titus 2:12b,13 confirms this concept, commanding that, “We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.” Our momentary trials are nothing when we look at God’s Big Picture.

As difficult as it seems at times, we know that everything that comes into our lives does so for a purpose. And nothing which touches our lives does so without God’s permission. In Genesis 31:7, Jacob confessed to Rachel that, “…your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me.” While God’s idea of what doesn’t cause permanent harm doesn’t always match our own, God does promise that He will never allow us to encounter anything that He isn’t going to pull us through… and that includes serving under a difficult boss.

Instead of focusing on how frustrating the situation is, we’re better off asking God to explain the lesson that He’s trying to teach us or the character trait that He’s trying to develop in us. After all, character is like muscle: it can only be built under stress!

Romans 5:3-5a tells us that, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us – they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us…” We have the same assurance as Job that, “…he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10 NIV) The truth is, no matter how mean, erratic, or volatile your boss may be, you won’t always be in his grip. Jacob (the hero of our story) realized this and we need to as well.

There’s more to a cheerful attitude, however, than just keeping our focus on the “big picture.” Face it, sometimes, no matter how hard we try, that universal view simply eludes us. In times like this, when all we can see is how absolutely miserable we are, we need to realize that we aren’t alone.

We’ll take a look at some ways to remind ourselves of this next week. Meanwhile, feel free to share some ways in which a Godly perspective on trials has positively influenced your workplace experience in the comment box below!


Work Ethic, Workplace Issues

Work Ethic: Character and Perspective Part I

“Work Ethic”. You’ve probably heard the term before. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation… the principles of conduct governing an individual.” In other words, you may say, “A day’s work for a day’s pay,” but if you slack off every time the boss isn’t watching it will quickly become clear that this isn’t your ethic.

A good work ethic is more than words; it’s a character trait. Who you are when no one is looking matters. Setting the dictionary aside, you might define a good work ethic as, “Knowing what is right and doing it, even when you don’t feel like it.” Since you’re probably used to doing this with at least a few things in your every-day life (like taking out the trash, finishing an assignment for school or work, or paying your utility bill), it shouldn’t be hard to transfer the principle over to your paying job. At least, theoretically.

You see, a good work ethic isn’t just about our action, but about our attitudes. The question isn’t just, “Do you take out the trash each week,” but “Do you take out the trash without grumbling and complaining.” Most of us will recall that in Colossians 3:23 we are told to, “Work hard and cheerfully at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” This command is easy to remember and act upon when your work environment is a pleasant one, but much less so when the task or the person(s) for whom you are performing it are not.

While our attitudes govern our actions, it is our perspective which governs our attitudes. The result is that forming a proper perspective is the ultimate key to a good work ethic. The Apostle Paul recognized this, declaring in Philippians 4:12,13 that, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” He understood that contentment in his line of work was not the result of an individual situation, but of how he viewed that situation. And this godly perspective gave him the ability to perform at his best even in the worst of circumstances.

We see this particular perspective prominently displayed in the story of Jacob. According to Genesis 29:20, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.” While Laban’s goal was to use Jacob for his own personal gain, Jacob was able to see past this own frustration by focusing on his own long-term goal and not on his immediate situation.

You might call this “big-picture thinking.” It’s what happens when you recognize important factors like that work is only a small portion of your life and that it doesn’t have to influence you any further than the revolving doors leading into the parking lot. Like LasVegas, whatever happens here stays here… if you let it. And that requires a conscious, committed decision. (To be continued…)

Work Ethic, Workplace Issues

Work Ethic: An Introduction

One of my favorite summer activities was always the neighborhood water fight. During the hottest days of August, my friends and I would turn the entire street into a war zone. Like two armies, we’d advance against each other, sheltering between cars or trees, all in an attempt to make certain that the other side ended up wetter than we were. All of this was fun until, almost inevitably, some track star would show up with a super squirt gun that could unload fifteen gallons of water in four seconds from a distance of half a mile. You couldn’t get near him without getting rain in your face. And trying to out-strategize the quickly moving target with water in your eyes was nearly impossible. The result was the complete demoralization of just about everyone who encountered this “Moron of Mayhem.”

It didn’t take me long to discover that these sort of people continue to exist long after High School and that, thanks to their “leadership ability,” many of them find their way into positions of workplace authority. They still delight in presenting people with a moving target, constantly changing job requirements and operation standards, often without any warning. The biggest difference here, however, is that instead of a squirt gun, they have authority over paychecks, work schedules, days off, and generally anything and everything you do for the 4-8 hours that you’re in their domain.

Sadly, escaping the clutches or such people is often easier said than done. The labor market doesn’t always work in our favor and it isn’t uncommon to find oneself unable to find another job with a less controlling or irrational boss. If this is your situation, take heart. Many others have been there before.

Perhaps one of the earliest examples of this particular type of employer/employee relationship can be found in Genesis 29-31. After stealing Esau’s blessing, Jacob ran off to stay with his mother’s relatives while things cooled down back at home. No sooner had he arrived in Rebecca’s homeland than his attention was captured by the most stunningly beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her name was Rachel and she just happened to be his uncle’s daughter. After some negotiation, Jacob agreed to tend Laban’s flocks for him if he would only give her to him as his wife and, for the next seven years, Jacob busted his tail making his uncle rich. When the time was up, the wedding went through only for Jacob to discover the next morning that it was Rachel’s sister Leah who was lying in bed with him! Clearly, he had been cheated.

Not wanting to cause too much strife within the clan, Laban agreed that if Jacob would work another seven years, he would give him Rachel for his wife, as well. Reluctantly, Jacob agreed, but it quickly became clear that the “bride swap” was not the end of his uncle’s conniving schemes. During the years that followed, his uncle tried to cheat him again and again, attempting to diminish his wages no less than ten times! To say that the situation was infuriating is an understatement. It was unbearable!

So how did he make it through his commitment without his brain frying? The answer is: a positive work ethic. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at what it means to have a good work ethic… and why it matters when we find ourselves in less than favorable employment situations. Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

Salary and Finance, Workplace Issues

Paychecks and Self-Worth: An Introduction to Industry and Economics Part II

The salary offered at most workplaces isn’t a reflection of the worth of the individual performing the task, but the value of the service they offer. Minimum wage is the going rate for grocery baggers… and that is likely to remain the same whether the man performing the task is a High School dropout or a Physicist with two PhD’s. There are plenty of people who are willing and able to perform the task for the pay being offered and, as a result, most employers have no reason to pay an individual more than the going rate.

So is this a reflection on the money-grubbing, power-hungry activities of free market business men and women? In some cases, yes. But in many (if not most), it’s simply a reflection of the labor market’s equilibrium (the price at which, on average, people are willing to sell their labor and at which, on average, employers are willing to purchase it.) Simply put, it’s the free market system at work.

So what about businesses that generate millions in revenue, but don’t pass it on to employees? Is that fair? Well, to begin with, it’s important for those of us seeking higher wages to recognize that the whole point of going into business in the first place is to make a profit. If it weren’t those who currently own companies wouldn’t be risking their own time, money and effort to start a business – they’d let someone else do that while they worked for a regular paycheck like the rest of us. It isn’t unusual for those who take a risk to feel that they deserve the reward for doing so. In business, that reward is profit.

Profit drives business and, indirectly, it also drives pay. It can be easy to take a quick glance at a revenue statement that suggest a company is rolling in dough and then complain that they don’t pay their employees enough. While it’s true that some companies do underpay (and sometimes dramatically), it’s also true that a revenue statement isn’t the whole picture.

Simply put, revenue is just the dollars received in exchange for a good, service or idea. It doesn’t take into account fixed costs like the rent on the building in which the business is housed or variable costs like heating that building during the winter months. Expenses like these are often lumped together as “overhead” and they can make up a huge amount of a company’s expenditures long before labor (a variable cost) is ever factored in.

Start subtracting the cost of cleaning supplies for the bathrooms, those improvements to the company break room, and the updated parking lot security and the difference between revenue and expenses rapidly begins to decrease. The statement that shows this difference (known as “Profit and Loss” or “P&L” for short) can be very telling. It isn’t unheard of for a company to make a few million dollars in revenue, but end up in the red – having spent more money than they made.

When they do end up in the black (having actually made a profit), business owners are faced with choices, each of which is influenced by a variety of factors. While they may choose to award that profit to employees in the form of higher wages, they may also decide to reinvest it in a new computer system, the replacement of aging facilities and equipment, or in new lines of stock or alternate business ventures. The result? Low or unchanging wages – even in the face of increasing profit.

So what’s the bottom line? While there are many factors which influence the wages we make, only a few are tied to us as individuals. And most of those are influenced by the labor market, itself – what skills do we have, how high the demand is for those skills, and whether others with the same skills willing to work for less. None of these factors are tied to our worth as a human being. Our paycheck does not reflect our value.

In the end, there is only One person who was ever willing to pay what we are worth as individuals created in God’s image… and that was God, Himself. Our value is reflected in Christ’s atoning death for us.