Work: That Other Place "Work," the word itself gives rise to many visceral connotations, mostly independent of and often in opposition to the word "Life." This is reflective of the amount of time and effort we have put into building and reinforcing the wall between our time at work and the rest of our day-to-day life. As we toil for our income we learn to categorize work as a necessity that competes for our time and attention. Common phrases like "Finding the perfect work / life balance," and "That's my job, not me," are examples of our acceptance that a pervasive conflict exists between our personal lives and our work lives. Thus, we opt to treat them as distinctly separate facets of our lives, which results in us trying to live a dual-purpose life governed by opposing values and beliefs.
The forces that motivate us to park our faith at the door as we leave home for work are very powerful. They are also very damaging to our real value as both Christians and employees. By forcing distinction between the two, we actually limit the potential we have to fully enjoy the benefits of our strongest asset, our faith. Even when we find our faith central to our family's wellbeing, we have a tendency to interpret secular society's desire to maintain complete separation between religion and work as a need to also keep our internalized faith dormant at work. As a result, we choose to err on the side of mirroring the established culture of the organization instead of finding the motivations for our actions in the values and beliefs espoused by our faith.
Whether driven by a hunger for advancement, a desire to be liked or the influence of situational pressures, we become chameleons and adopt the colors of the group with whom we work. At other times we may feel we are under the aegis of senior leadership, so we surrender control of our work environment and personal actions to the corporate powers that be in order to be seen as good employees. Accepting direction from above makes it easier to blend in without accepting full responsibility for the consequences, or so we rationalize.
In the early 1960's, psychologist Stanley Milgram performed several experiments at Yale University that illustrate the negative potential of this latter course of action. In his research, Milgram structured an experiment in a lab where the test subjects were ordinary citizens who were seated at a fake electric shock machine and told to shock what appeared to be participants in a memory test every time they got an answer wrong. For each wrong answer, the voltage applied increased by 15 volts until after 30 mistakes the subject delivered a maximum shock of 450 volts to the helpless victim. Fortunately, the memory test participants were really actors and the electrical shock was only imaginary, but the willingness of the subjects to mete out severe punishment on command was very real. In the end, 65% of the test subjects completed the entire test, weathering the actors' screams and pleas to stop the experiment and continuing to increase the voltage even after the actors fell silent.
When asked why they would knowingly inflict increasing levels of pain to the innocent participants despite their obvious fear and distress, the rationale of the people delivering the punishment basically came down to acceptance of authority. All it took was a white lab coat and the right situation, and someone they had just met got them to set aside their conscience. (reference: Stanley Milgram) Stanley Milgram's experiments and others like them help demonstrate that otherwise good citizens will willingly participate in abhorrent behavior given the right situation. This ability for us as humans to rationalize a disconnect between what we know to be right and our actual actions has been replicated in other controlled studies following Stanley Milgram's efforts (reference); however, because of the adverse effects the tests had on the participants, many of whom suffered lasting depression and guilt, such tests are no longer allowed to go to the same extremes to prove we are capable of adopting evil on command. (Reference) Instead, we just have to look to the world around us to understand how fragile the line is between obeying our own conscience and joining someone else's nightmare.
Evidence abounds of broadly supported genocides throughout recent times, including the Jews during WWII, (Reference) Tutsis in Rwanda (reference), Kurds in Iraq (reference) and Bosnian-Muslims in Serbia. (reference) And the list still goes on. Were all of the people that participated in such atrocities devils, or did they categorically set aside their values due to external influences? Evidence supports the latter. These are extreme examples, but they are mentioned to raise our awareness that we have to be vigilant and remain focused on internal counsel to guide us when we are subject to external influences, especially in situations where we might easily act upon flawed inclinations. Otherwise, we risk erroneously adopting that which is thrust upon us regardless of its nature. The combination of authority figures and pre-existing cultures that exert pressure to conform, coupled with our natural desire to belong puts us at extreme risk of exiling our internal counsel when we enter our workplaces. Each job is different and the challenges undoubtedly vary, but we are each surrounded with choices we can make to lead or be led every day.
If you think about it, you can probably come up with several personal examples in your own job where you have allowed yourself to step out of your Christian belief system into an existing framework that is incongruent with your stated set of core values. Consider your answers to the following questions: •
- Do you ever apply unrealistic pressure on people, internal or external to your company, in order to hit a number or meet a deadline you've been given?
- Have you ever said "That's their job," as an excuse not to lend a helping hand?
- Do you participate in gossip or slander concerning fellow employees?
- Do you approach associates at work with an attitude of what they can do for you instead of what you can do for them?
- Do you try to stay under the radar in order to just get by?
- Do you measure your personal success through raises, bonuses, promotions, titles or awards?
How you answer the above listed questions helps define how others presently perceive your leadership potential and personal influence at work. Your actions betray your most dominant values and beliefs to those who are around you so it is important that you be aware of what you are communicating about your underlying motivations as you interact with others throughout your day.
- Are you acting out of faith-based or self-defined motivations?
- Do you endorse existing flaws in the culture or model a different choice?
The point is that proactively fortifying the internal beliefs and values which naturally give rise to positive behaviors as a reflection of your faith is the path to opening your faith-based potential at work. Lasting direction is not found by seeking to directly address your behaviors or habits. You have to go one step deeper to build sustainable resolve. If the values are good the response will also be good: Romans 8:28 " 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Good leaders know that painting a good vision of success and establishing clear objectives and rewards are imperative to motivating the team to move forward in a coordinated manner. As a Christian, you just need to remember that everything you are doing at work is subordinate to your life's overall vision of success: Colossians 3:23-24 "23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the