Tag Archives: Christians in the Workplace

The Team Player: The Ideal vs. Reality

1 May

“I want to live what I believe.” It’s a sentiment to which most of us can relate. The phrase expresses our desire to be clearly identified as the person we think we are. And it makes evident our conviction that a person can genuinely believe one thing, but live in a manner contrary to that belief.

The Bible, however, paints a different picture. In Matthew 12:34,35 Jesus tell us that, “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” And again, in Matthew 7:17,18, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” It is what we actually believe, not what we hope we believe, that dictates how we behave.

For many of us, accepting this truth is a challenge. After all, I don’t know many people who want to think of themselves as liars, thieves, or hypocrites. It’s much easier to justify our regularly recurring faults as “innocent slips of the tongue” or a “momentary lapses of judgment”.

Instead, the Bible asks us to address such repetitive sins as what they are: outward symptoms of a corrupt pattern of thought. That doesn’t mean that no one ever just slips and behaves in a way contrary to their convictions. But it does mean that when those “slips” are a regular feature of our everyday lives, it may be a sign that we don’t really hold the beliefs we think we do. And few places are as well designed to expose the difference as the workplace concept of “the team”.

Ideally, “the team” is a group of individuals dedicated to the tireless pursuit of a single goal. But the ideal isn’t often the reality. Each of us have been assigned to teams which resemble petty, bickering groups of individuals rather than a well-honed machine. We have experience with the free-riders who contribute just enough to get by. We’ve lived with the frustration that arises when individuals are unwilling to consider the potential of any view other than their own. We’ve had our fill of the petty dictators who label others as “poor team players” simply because they refuse to be mindlessly obedient drones. On occasion, we may even have been guilty of being these things, ourselves.

If we’re honest, being a team player isn’t always easy, simply because there are as many definitions of the phrase as there are people in the workplace. Some view a team player as someone capable of carrying out detailed orders. Others argue that the best team members are creative thinkers, willing and able to execute grand visions. And still others would suggest that the best team players are capable of collaborative work in which everyone shares the load equally.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at how the Bible defines a “team player”. We’ll be examining the thought process behind these concepts as well as a few of the actions they lead to.

Meanwhile, feel free to share your own teamwork experiences or dilemmas in the comment box below!

The Team Player: Defining the Term

10 Apr

Living what we believe comes naturally. Unfortunately, acknowledging that we live what we believe often doesn’t. Our ego can get in the way of our ability to accept our imperfections or address our sins for what they are. It has the ability to block us from recognizing the difference between a genuine slip in our behavior and the repetitive patterns that arise from misshapen beliefs. And few things are as good at exposing the gap between what we hope we believe and what we actually believe as teamwork.

Of course, one of the greatest challenges we face is that not everyone defines “team” in quite the same way. Is it a group of people capable of following the vision of another? Is it composed of individuals willing to cast a vision and take the initiative? Does it find its roots in equal work and equal say? By some of these definitions, the Founding Fathers and the French Resistance were equally lousy team players. By others, they were among the best.

So what does the Bible say? According to Romans 12:4-10, “just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”

The Church is a team and we work our best when each of us gives our best – even when our best looks different from someone else’s. Each of us is a specialist in our own right, but it takes all of us to accomplish the goal of proclaiming Christ to the world. It’s the stuff that the high-performance teams in today’s market place are made of: individuals contributing their best in the pursuit of a single vision.

Unfortunately, not every team is high-performance. Not every individual (either in the Church or in the workforce) gives their best. Not every player embraces the same vision. Not every worker pursues the same goal. Not all of us are inspired by the same future.

Next week, we’ll start to take a look at some of the difficulties we face as members of a workplace “team”. We’ll explore some ideas for dealing with our frustrations when others don’t play like a part of the whole. And we’ll examine some ways to live our faith when we are the ones who don’t share the vision.

Boss’ Pet: Avoiding the Tangle

6 Feb

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored the subject of injustice in the workplace. We’ve talked about what happens when one employee is favored over others. We’ve explored some of the emotional reactions such preference elicits. And we’ve delved into a few of the Scriptural principles that can help a Christian thrive when equity is nowhere to be found.

That said, while most of us don’t like other people being the boss’ pet, most of us do like holding that position, ourselves! A word of caution: while it’s great to have the approval of those in authority, it is far better to live at peace with God and our fellow men.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do our very best with ever assignment. It does, however, suggest that when those efforts lead us into a favored position, we shouldn’t take unfair advantage of the situation. Remember that we are commanded to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:3-8)

Some special privileges are earned rewards. Others are a sign of favoritism. The best way to tell the difference is to take note of whether those privileges are being extended to other staff members who have performed to the same level you have. If they aren’t, do the right thing and don’t accept them.

Seeking peace requires discernment – an ability to recognize injustice before it becomes injustice. While that can at times be a challenging task, it’s well worth the effort. As believers, we are called to be peacemakers. The Psalmist commands, “Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:14) Never let hurt feelings or an inflated ego get in the way of doing what is right!

Whether you’re the least favored employee or the most honored, humility, kindness, and a desire to treat others well will go a long way. Do your best to praise what it good and acknowledge the hard work and positive efforts of others. It’s amazing just how much stress can be relived both in our lives and in the lives of others when we follow Christ and seek peace.

Boss’ Pet: Playing Peacemaker

30 Jan

In Hebrews 12:11-15, the Apostle Paul explains that, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” Again, in Romans 12:17-21 he commands us to, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Jesus, Himself, emphasizes the importance of peace in the Beatitudes saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

The choice before me was clear: I could continue to fruitlessly pursue justice (an act which would only encourage further dissension amongst the staff) or I could accept the injustice for what it was and learn to be the kind of peacemaker Jesus wanted me to be. (I’ll let you guess which of the two was the hardest to do.) I had been given an opportunity to develop my character under adverse circumstances. And in doing so, I also had the opportunity to be a positive influence upon the thoughts and actions of others.

Instead of focusing on the rules our new hire broke or the many ways in which he failed to function as a part of the team, I chose to center my thoughts and words on the opposite. I took the time to point out to the other staff members the ways in which the boss’ pet did act as a team player. I refused to take part in conversations devoted to running him (and the manager who favored him) down. And I went out of my way to encourage the new hire when he did make right choices.

Much to my surprise, the atmosphere at the workplace began to change. While our “Joseph” never did lose his position of importance, taking the time to continually and vocally focus on the positive went a long way towards defusing a tense situation. What had at first struck the staff as a terrible injustice began to appear almost comical. Our mood lightened and our frustration with the favoritism dissipated.

More importantly, by pursuing actions which led to peace rather than trying to hold on to what was “rightfully mine” through an unending quest for justice, I was able to reflect Christ’s love to everyone involved. In the end, that’s what being a Christ Follower is about.

Boss’ Pet: A Biblical Parallel

23 Jan

Our new employee had quickly become a favored son. While our boss had high expectations for the rest of us, our new hire seemed to get away with everything. If he didn’t like the rules, he broke them. If he didn’t like when he was scheduled to work, he didn’t show up. If he wanted to leave early, he just left. While the rest of us would have suffered the consequences, he didn’t.

After weeks of watching our manager knowingly avert his gaze, the situation was beginning to grow volatile. Explaining our frustration about the unequal standards hadn’t resulted in any change either in the behavior of the new hire or in our boss’ treatment of him. It was clear that the problem couldn’t be met head-on… but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a way for the rest of us to rise to the challenge and benefit from the experience.

As the senior member of the staff, I soon noticed that my own attitudes towards the players in our little drama affected, if not the feelings of my coworkers, at least their expression of those feelings. I was in a surprising position of influence. And I was determined to use that influence for good.

It was at this point that God brought Reuben to mind. While the elder brother of Joseph was hardly of sparkling moral character (you may recall that he forsook his blessing as the firstborn when he decided to sleep with his father’s concubine) his role in the story of Joseph was an admirable one. Scripture tells us that, “When they [Joseph’s brothers] saw him [Joseph] from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! “Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben further said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? “Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt. Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” (Genesis 37:18-30)

While the other brothers were set on killing the boy, Reuben played the role of peacemaker. He had attempted to do what was right before God without giving way to his own resentment. And, as Christians, we too, are instructed to pursue peace, even in the face of injustice. (To be continued…)

Practical Jokes and the Workplace: Tips for the Victim

9 Jan

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been examining reasons to avoid playing practical jokes both in the workplace and elsewhere. While it may be a good idea for us to avoid engaging in such activities, however, that doesn’t mean that others won’t try to pull us in. So what do you do if you end up the victim of a poorly timed, poorly executed practical joke?

To begin with, recognize that a mean prank may not have had a mean intent – it may just have gone wrong. The timing may have been off or someone failed to think their joke all the way through. Whatever the reason, it’s best to give the benefit of the doubt and show a bit of mercy. After all, which one of us hasn’t done something that sounded good at the time, but was, in retrospect, a terrible idea?

That said, some pranks really are intended to be cruel. Just because you happen to find yourself a victim of such a joke doesn’t mean that you have to stoop to the level of the prankster… or even be embarrassed that they pulled one over on you. Jesus commanded His disciples in Matthew 5:38-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

We’ve all done some evil things in our lives and, even though you may never have been a bully, you’ve probably intentionally done something at some time knowing that it was going to cause pain to another – and you were very likely forgiven for it (even if it was only God who forgave). We’ve all received mercy at some point (and if we’re honest, multiple points) in our lives, so it’s worth the effort to extend some mercy to others.

Secondly, remember the admonition of Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.” The prank may have hurt and you may have been embarrassed, but the best thing you can do is often nothing. Pranks are usually played with the intention of getting a reaction from the person upon whom they are played – so if you don’t react, the fun will wear off pretty quickly and the prankster will usually move on to his next victim.

Thirdly, learn to laugh at yourself. Sometimes even a nasty joke can be defused if the person it’s played upon is able to see the humor in it, themselves. As human beings, even the most noble and honorable among us sometimes do silly things or act inconsistently with our beliefs. Learning to recognize that and laugh along with others can go a long way towards gaining some credibility for ourselves and rescuing us from feeling endlessly the “victim”.

Finally, take the time to recognize genius. As terrible as the prank may have been, perhaps it really was brilliantly engineered. Sometimes people just want to be noticed… and if they can’t gain that recognition through seemingly ordinary means, they resort to the extraordinary. Go ahead, see what happens if you pay tribute to the genius of the prankster – you may end up turning an enemy into a life-long friend.

 

 

Practical Jokes and the Workplace: Four Points to Consider

2 Jan

Last week in “A Caution”, I shared the story of a practical joke gone wrong… and advised that the best way to execute a prank in the workplace is not to execute one at all. This week, I’ll be explaining that advice in more detail as I share four important things to consider before attempting to play any prank on anyone, anywhere!

1. You can’t control the timing. Everyone knows that when it comes to a sense of humor, timing is everything. While you have control over this factor when zinging someone with a one-liner, more often than not, practical jokes won’t allow you that luxury. For example, at one place where I once worked, a staff member hid a rubber snake in a bin of washers. The intended victim came across the inanimate critter and made the quite reasonable mistake of assuming that it was real. (So far, so good.) Unfortunately, aside from nearly wetting her pants, she also let out a string of expletives that would have made a sailor blush… and did make several customers turn quite rosy. The truth was, thanks to its poor timing, a joke that could have been a real hoot proved an embarrassment both to the staff member who got nailed and to the company.

2. Does this cause property damage. I think all of us have heard about someone super gluing their boss’ gear to his desk or nailing someone’s boots to the floor. While these hijinx are amusing on television, they are often less so in person. Again, there is a timing issue (if your boss is reaching for his pen, it’s likely that he intends to use it), but there is also that little issue of property damage. That antique oak desk won’t look quite the same, even after the super glue has been removed and those boots won’t be quite as weather proof after the nail has been taken out. If your prank has the potential (even the slight potential) to cause permanent harm, don’t pull it. Remember, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12) You’ve worked hard for the things you own don’t want people taking risks with it, so don’t take risks with their property either.

3. What may be funny to others often isn’t funny to the victim. Okay, it’s confession time. I used to be a superb practical joker. I could nail just about anyone given the time and opportunity. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to such visual pranks is that they are often performed at the expense of someone else. One of my least noble moments was when I pulled a miniature nickel out of my pocket and, displaying it to an employee who wasn’t all that bright, moaned about having forgotten to remove my change before I washed my laundry. “It really shrunk it?!” she exclaimed. Of course, everyone laughed. Everyone, that is, except her. In getting a giggle from others, I took advantage of someone who Christ loved enough to die for. Any joke that makes sport of someone, even unintentionally, isn’t worthy of a follower of Christ. All of us were made in the image of God and deserve to be treated as persons of value.

4. Pranks tend to multiply uncontrollably. Maybe you’ve heard of the law of escalation. Basically, the principle is that someone plays a prank, then the person who got nailed with the prank has to get even. While this can sometimes be funny to watch (I once had a coworker who claimed he could outdo me in the realm of practical jokes and the two of us got into an all-out war, each prank becoming more and more outrageous until we discovered that most of the pranks had been played by other staff members who were getting a hoot out of pitting us against one another), they can often degenerate into competitions over who can be the nastiest or most destructive. Don’t wait until the game gets mean to call it quits – don’t start playing to begin with.

While practical jokes can be great source of humor and even serve as a form of stress relief, the negative aspect of such hijinks often outweigh the positive benefits. With that in mind, the best rule of thumb for pranks in the workplace is this: don’t. No amount of fun is worth the risk of damage to people, property, your job, or your reputation.

 

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