Don’t Undermine Your Christian Witness in the Workplace
by Dr. Paul White
For our book, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace, we surveyed hundreds and interviewed dozens of employees (and leaders) from a wide range of organizations, including ministries. We found that the most toxic organizations had three problem areas that, when combined, made the workplace incredibly unhealthy, unpleasant, and even dangerous to the well-being of those who worked there.
Unfortunately, some of the most unhealthy workplaces were either Christian ministries or businesses with Christian leaders. As followers of Christ, we need to be alert to the potential of engaging in negative behaviors and interactions that don’t reflect the character of Christ.
The three primary problem areas we discovered included:
When we use the term “dysfunctional,” we are being descriptive, not just putting a label on people. “Dys” means ‘problem’; dysfunctional people have serious difficulties in functioning in daily life.
They tend to blame others and make excuses, rarely accepting responsibility for their actions. They withhold or distort information and communicate indirectly through others. And they are masters of creating conflict and tension within the workplace.
Poor Policies and Procedures
A toxic workplace can feel like a combination of chaos, incompetence, or anarchy. How anything gets done seems to be a mystery.
Some organizations have incredibly poor communication. Communication is sporadic and incomplete (or non-existent). A second variation is when there are no written, standardized ways of doing things. The third common expression is when people “go around” the policies that exist. The policies are there; it is just that no one follows them.
It is important to note that a toxic leader doesn’t have to be at the top of the organization—they can occur at a department level, or supervisor. We identified ten common characteristics of toxic leaders. To summarize, toxic leaders may be very competent (in their skillset) but their motives are askew. They essentially are totally focused on their interests and achievement, and will use others to get what they want.
Toxic workplaces exist in every sector of the marketplace, and Christians work in virtually all of them. Since organizations are comprised of individuals who have weaknesses, deficits, and areas for growth, every organization is at risk for developing unhealthy patterns of behavior.
But I firmly believe that every person in a work setting has the ability to make a significant difference in their workplace. Why? Because we know that, just like physical health, the health of an organization is based upon a few foundational principles. And when people start to implement and practice behaviors that are based on truth—dramatic change can occur.
If there is one thing that any follower of Christ can do to make their workplace healthier, it is to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Why? Because one of the most direct ways to lead an organization to dysfunction is for people to not speak the truth, or to communicate in a non-loving manner. Let me get to the point.
We are to:
Speak, NOT: Say nothing.
NOT: Talk around or through others.
The Truth, NOT: Withhold information.
NOT: Distort information.
In Love, NOT: In anger, judgment, or condescension.
NOT: Through fear, resentment, jealousy, hurt,
(or other non-loving motivations).
If Christian leaders and employees apply this one principle to the best of your ability in your interactions with others, I guarantee you that the health of your work relationships will begin to improve.
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