We all have things that could be better in our workplaces. Policies that could be fairer, systems that could be more efficient, team relationships that could be healthier. If you don’t believe me (where do you work? Err…can I have a job?) I challenge you to observe downtime conversation for a week and I’m sure you’ll pick up on people grumbling about something.
But as a junior employee, it’s tempting to think “That’s not my remit right now, I’ll do something about it later when I become a manager.” It’s legitimate to be cautious of treading on people’s toes, but the trouble is we can always find a reason not to act. At first it’s maybe because we feel too junior. But then as a middle-manager we might think we’re better off waiting until we’re a senior manager. Then as a senior manager we can find ourselves fearful of misusing our power. We can always find a reason not to act, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Dangerous things can happen when we reduce our sense of responsibility for the common good as so many of the recent, high-profile workplace scandals have shown us.
As Christians, the gospel compels us to live out a public faith. Jesus taught us to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” If we understand the fullness of this good news, that the kingdom of God is here now and not just to come, our faith must be more than a private belief. We can’t just focus on personal piety, but must take seriously the call to be active agents for good in the world. God’s pattern is always to involve humans in his work in the world. It’s an exciting opportunity, but it can feel overwhelming especially with the hierarchy and bureaucracy in so many workplaces. So, here are three ways I would suggest we can start:
1) Get your head down and work with excellence Actually, getting your head down and doing your job well is not a bad place to start. People are not going to listen to you if you come in all guns blazing with ideas of how to change things, but haven’t got a grasp on your own workload. As a teacher, I know I could probably get away with handing in my reports a few days late – so many other staff do – but to me, being on time is part of modelling godly character. Consistency and integrity matter – they build credibility and earn you a right to speak up.
2) Look at the opportunities for influence on offer and step up Many workplaces will have posts that offer pathways for positive influence. In my school, for example, staff morale was low (so low that 40 staff left at the end of the same school year!) so it was decided that the teachers and support staff should each have a representative. These two representatives would have the role of presenting issues and complaints confidentially to the senior management. In my eyes, this was a mediation role, a chance to act as peacemaker and bring about change for the better. It sounded like kingdom work to me, so I put my name forward. Another teacher also put their name forward, so it went to vote (crumbs, I felt vulnerable) and somehow I was voted in (crumbs, now I have lots of additional meetings to go to). It’s taken time, effort and hard work, but it has meant that rather than just having a moan in the staffroom, something positive can be done.
3) Taking the initiative where opportunities are at first less obvious Sometimes we have to be a little more creative to influence the culture around us. Before training as a teacher, I worked as a scientist in a large pharmaceutical laboratory. The culture there was so depressing. We each worked in isolated lab spaces and worked all day without talking to a soul. I could see this was not good for us both as humans and as workers – if I got stuck on a problem I’d have to sweat it out on my own. I decided to bring in fresh coffee and cookies every Friday and emailed round to say I’d be in the kitchen at 11am. It was a bit risky – what if no-one turned up? – but it soon paid off. A few people came, and soon it was a weekly tradition. Relationships improved, and our work improved too as we tackled problems as a team. I’ve seen that community around food changes things – so now, as a teacher, I take all of the staff in the science department out for tea and cake at the end of every half-term.
Small things can make all the difference. What might you do to bring a little kingdom flavour to your workplace this week?