Between leaving full-time education and retirement we’ll spend about 90,000 hours in the workplace. Work is a hugely significant part of life, but one that we don’t talk about all that much, let alone hear much teaching on at church. This mini-series tackles the top 10 myths about work – common things that we can all fall into believing when we lose God’s perspective on our work. Join the debate – let’s break the silence. The series has been put together by Sarah-Jane Marshall of LICC.
It’s not going well in the call centre. Demand is higher than usual, staffing is less than planned and a lot of people are waiting for their calls to be answered. I know, because in my office, there’s a live display board and it’s showing the numbers. I watch the call handling manager come into the room. He looks at the board, stops and says just two words: “Jesus Christ!”
I say nothing.
That was six years ago. This morning, however, I accepted a professional services role in London that takes me one rung further up my career ladder. In those six years, I’ve come to believe that speaking about my faith at work is not the career-killer I thought it might be.
When I think back, I realise that there was a lot of unnecessary fear in my silence. I feared people might think I was naïve and a pushover, or worse: an opinionated Bible-basher. Instead, I got to know people and find out about them. I showed an interest in them and respected them; they respected me back. I worked hard and was good at my job; that was recognised. In my experience, these things – whether I was sociable and whether I did my job properly – mattered far more to my colleagues than whether or not I believed in God.
Of course, there are some very easy ways to express faith unsociably and unprofessionally. If a friend tells me he’s buying a new TV on Sunday, he’s not asking for a lecture on the Sabbath and I don’t give him one. And, if I’m asked to do something by my manager, I don’t tell them that I’ll do it because of how I interpret Romans 13. I just get on and do it.
We get paid to do a job and, yes, sometimes we’re expected to do something contrary to what we believe is right. There’s a skill in discerning both when and how to speak about these things, but that’s a separate topic in and of itself. More often – maybe most often – my faith encourages me to exhibit the behaviours my employer and co-workers want out of me: to do a good job.
As for speaking, I’ve found there’s a middle ground between brandishing my faith like an offensive weapon and hiding it altogether.
I talk about my faith as a part of my everyday life. Just as I might say I belong to a music group, love the concerts, but am frustrated that one person isn’t learning their part properly, so I might mention that I go to a church, love the community, but wish the service style would be different. It’s an easy conversation to have and I’ve never found it to get people’s backs up.
Then there are the times that speaking makes a difference.
Sometimes an off-the-cuff comment has shown I hold a fundamentally different perspective to what people expect. One sweltering summer’s day, a colleague took off her shoes in the middle of the office and sprayed her feet with deodorant. Now, she didn’t have a brilliant amount of self-esteem even on a good day and I doubt she enjoyed this extra public indignity! But the scent caught me and without thinking I got talking about the beautiful story in John’s gospel where a woman pours perfume over Jesus’ feet. The look my colleague gave me was one of amazement. This very natural reference to Jesus wasn’t a ‘liability’ to my career; rather it diffused an awkward situation and made an embarrassed colleague feel more at ease.
There’s also the statement of principle. I gave some senior managers some bad news that was entirely my fault. I could have hidden it, but instead came clean. When word got round, one of my colleagues told me he’d rather have died than do what I did. I replied saying I feared God and had to do the right thing. The reputation for integrity I consequently earned among my colleagues is one I highly value.
Then, there’s the request for understanding. The call handling manager in my old job habitually used Jesus as an expletive, as did most of the department’s senior management team. My difficulty had been that people weren’t doing it deliberately to offend me and so I was afraid that if I mentioned it they would think I didn’t like them rather than what they were doing. But there came the day when I mentioned it to someone I trusted and who was in position to speak on my behalf. What I said wasn’t framed as a demand, but rather a request for more consideration, and it was taken seriously. Just before that manager retired, I told him how much it had meant to me that he’d completely (yes, completely) changed his habits. He said I’d made his day.