24 Jun #022 – Blue Pill Brokenness – Work As Usual – Burden
A third key aspect (in addition to Idol and Identity and Money and Power) of toxic “work as usual” that leads to “work” becoming something far from God’s good and live-giving design in Genesis is that it has become a Burden rather than the blessing it is was designed to be. We believe employee “engagement” is a helpful proxy for assessing whether work is perceived as a Burden or a blessing, and as explained in an earlier post, studies suggest only 10% of workers are effectively mobilized–experiencing an essential part of their humanity. The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization–work as a Burden rather than a life-giving blessing.
As we have noted in earlier posts, “work as usual” problems and “business as usual” problems feed each other. Is it any surprise that work as usual would become a Burden (and a substantial majority of workers would not be engaged) when business as usual is characterized by Scarcity-based and Self-Interest-based behavior in a hierarchical pyramid of people who have all been reduced to tools of production being motivated/manipulated by those above them in order to ensure their personal success/survival in a culture designed around Profit as Purpose?
You may think this sounds harsh–even unfair or inaccurate. After all, employee engagement is getting a great deal of attention, managers are actively taking steps to improve engagement, and there have been signs of improvement. But we think it is important to dig down to “Why”. Managers are themselves “workers” who exist in the same business as usual culture, subject to the same toxic assumptions (Scarcity and Self-Interest) and motivations (Idol and Identity and Money and Power) and driven by the same end–Profit as Purpose.
“Why” do businesses pursue employee engagement? Is it because caring for workers is their purpose or because caring for workers has been shown to be an effective strategy for achieving the purpose of profit? How effective can “caring” be if it comes from a “so that” of higher-level managers succeeding and from a “to what end” of maximizing profit?
Further reinforcing work having become a Burden, in a prior post we noted the significant changes in the demands on workers in America over the last several decades leading to increased hours, reduced vacations, insufficient sleep and greater stress (and the impact of those changes on health, marriages and children).
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil. (Psalm 127:2)
Our cultural obsession with finding “Work/Life Balance” is perhaps the best indicator that work has ceased to be the blessing God intended and has become a Burden. We no longer view work as part of our life–part of the rhythm of life. Because it has become all-consuming and spiritually unfulfilling, we see it as something that keeps us from life–an oppositional force. Is it any wonder that people long to “retire” and spend their remaining years as far from God’s life-giving gift of work as possible. At Integrous, we believe this is because the work we are escaping barely resembles the work God designed to bring us life. We are escaping work as usual, which is a by-product of business as usual. That helps explain why many people actually do turn to creative and productive activities in “retirement” that fit a broader Biblical concept of work, but they do not think of it as work.
SPOILER ALERT: The goal of Integriosity is to understand God’s purpose for work and business (RENEW); with that understanding, to begin to imagine what work and business looks like with a new “Why” (RE-IMAGINE); with that new vision, to begin to transform work as usual and business as usual into work a better way and business a better way; and then to watch people come alive in their work as a part of life’s intended rhythm (RESTORE).
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I first heard the “to what end” question in 2007 when Bob Buford asked it of Jim Lane, a founder of the New Canaan Society, and I first heard the “so that” formulation on September 30, 2011, when Bill Hybels mentioned it at Movement Day in New York City as something you should add to the end of each prayer (why do you want the thing for which you are praying). I have found both to be profoundly sharp razors for cutting to the real WHY behind an organization (as in the case of Buford’s question) or our actions and prayers (in the case of Hybels formulation). If we keep asking “to what end” or “so that” until there is nothing left, we will have come to the heart of the organization or the action. Too often, the “to what end” or “so that” of getting workers more engaged or treating people with more dignity or providing higher wages or better benefits has nothing to do with people or relationships or flourishing or beauty or Biblical principles or God–even in organizations led by faith-inspired leaders. If that is the case, I believe it will ultimately fail.
The secular company SAS Institute has often been named one of the best places to work, and in 2019 it was honored as one of the top 10 places to work in the world. In 2017, Mike Stallard interviewed Dr. Jim Goodnight, the founder of SAS. Stallard wrote:
Earlier in his career when he worked for a NASA subcontractor on the Apollo program, he observed the dismal environment of employees working in cubicle farms and how it contributed to annual employee turnover of around 50 percent. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative effect that work environment had on organizational performance. From the start, he treated SAS employees as he had always wanted to be treated.
Whether or not he made the connection, Goodnight built the culture of SAS by applying a simple but powerful Biblical principle–the “Golden Rule” of Matthew 7:12–treating people with the care and dignity with which he would have liked to have been treated. It has worked.