How do you define work? In American culture today, most people define it as "gainful employment."
But this definition is backward because it emphasizes wages and profit, which are only the by-products of work. Rather, the essence of work is the actual product or service being produced, and that should be the focus. The "gainful employment" paradigm has contributed to the creation of jobs that are inherently meaningless and alienating. Does the Bible have anything to say to us here? Indeed, it does.
A biblical view of work starts with calling, not wages. Our Creator has given every one of us a unique blend of gifts, personalities and passions. He calls each of us to work as a craftsman for whom work is the natural expression of our gifts. Esteemed British author Dorothy Sayers shows this is a major shift, as the "craftsman lives to do the work he loves, but the factory hand lives by doing the work he despises." Indeed, our Lord Himself was a carpenter well before His public ministry started and much longer than its duration. I doubt the Father saw that as a waste! I believe Jesus was a first-rate craftsman.
So what should we make of this? God cares about how we do our work. Usually we think all the church has to say to the worker is that he should exercise morality and attend services, but Sayers notes that to the craftsman, "the first demand that his religion makes on him is that he should make good tables."
In my 24 years in business, I have found that deep down all employees want to do good work, but when work is not meaningful, they become disengaged. A 2015 Gallup poll revealed only 33.2 percent of the American workforce is engaged in—or involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to—their work and workplace, and millennials are the least engaged at 28.9 percent. Gallup suggests this is because they are not "working in jobs that allow them to use their talents and strengths." Successful employers will do what they can to give meaning to their employees' jobs and help them utilize their talents on the job.
Employers should understand that every job is critical to the corporate mission and celebrate the role each team member plays. In modern, efficiency-driven division-of-labor models, work is taken further away from the final deliverable, leading to alienation. Employers should seek to give each job a meaningful deliverable, a sense of what it means for employees to work at the highest level of their craft and why their role is important to the corporate mission.
Every job should allow the employee to creatively express himself in some way, something that is possible even for the most mundane jobs. For instance, few jobs are more mundane than that of a hotel maid, yet we find that maids at the best hotels fold the toilet paper into a triangle, place chocolates on the bed and leave a nice note telling us they hope we are enjoying our stay. These creative touches not only give the guest a better experience, but the maid gains satisfaction in knowing she participated in a meaningful way to the successful operation of a world-class property. Creativity goes hand in hand with employee engagement and is a good measure of it. Leaders should cultivate this craftsman-like creativity wherever they can.
Because work is the expression of natural gifting, employers need to exercise proper pre-hire due diligence to make sure prospective staff are a good fit for the position. This starts with a well-defined job that accurately matches the skills needed to the candidate, followed by testing to ensure he has the right gifting and personality for the position and then the necessary discipline to make sure the right hire is made. But this is harder than it sounds. The pressure to hire quickly to fill a need rather than wait for the right person can overwhelm the best intentions. At one point in our company, we found ourselves consistently hiring people because they had experience even though, in retrospect, these hires were poor personality fits for the jobs.
It's easy to define work in terms of monetary considerations because it is the culture's default measure of success, but be careful to avoid this paradigm. The essence of work is the product or service being produced, which is the expression of who we are and how we are created. Successful leaders will use this biblical truth and create organizations with highly productive and engaged employees.
Mark Tedford is a partner at Tedford Insurance, a second-generation insurance brokerage, and has business interests in transportation and real estate. After obtaining a Master of Business Administration at Tulsa University, he went to Biola University to broaden his studies and received a Master of Christian Apologetics degree. A regular speaker for business organizations, he serves on several boards and is chairman of the Oklahoma Apologetics Alliance.
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