15 Mar #164 – “Leading Faithfully” Basics – The Brokenness of “Business as Usual”
ESSENCE: Business as usual is broken because it reflects a broken world. It results in brokenness of work, workplaces and workers–its brokenness is breaking us. It has led to our relationship to work and our relationships surrounding work bearing little resemblance to God’s design for humanity and work in Genesis. Sadly, business as usual creates work cultures and environments that, more often than not, leave people feeling disengaged and disconnected from an activity meant to bring fulfillment and flourishing. Business as usual can’t fix itself through punishing bad actors, being ethical, giving employees more perks, creating lofty purpose statements, or “doing good” with some of its profits. We will not solve the business as usual problems with more business as usual. We need a new way–business a better way. What we need are faithful leaders with the courage and conviction to lead faithfully from a RENEWED understanding of God’s purpose for work and business. We need modern-day Nehemiah’s, because “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3).
“Leading Faithfully” Basics is about going back and re-examining the basics of leading faithfully through business a better way–business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.
Some might wonder, “What’s wrong with business as usual?” Or, “Isn’t it just a few bad players who tarnish the reputation of business as usual? We believe business as usual is broken because it reflects a broken world. It results in brokenness of work, workplaces and workers–its brokenness is breaking us.
The Brokenness of Work
One of the reasons faith/work integration and leading faithfully through business a better way are needed is because “work” is broken and business as usual has led to our relationship to work and our relationships surrounding work bearing little resemblance to God’s design for humanity and work in Genesis.
In Genesis, humanity was created in the image of a creative and productive God, work was created as a good thing before the “fall”, the world was created to actually need humanity to cultivate it, God commanded humanity to cultivate and steward His creation, and God declared all of it “good”. Work was created as an essential part of the life of a creative and productive humanity. Today, the profound brokenness of “work” can be seen even in something as simple as our obsession with “Work-Life Balance”. Even the phrase “Work-Life Balance” says that we no longer view “work” as part of “life”–we see work as something opposed to life–something that takes us from life, rather than God’s design as something that is an essential part of our humanity.
One of the key books that has inspired the thinking behind Integriosity is Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) by Jeff Van Duzer. In his book, Van Duzer identifies several types of work relationships that were broken by the “fall”. Although he goes into significant detail about each one (and we highly recommend reading the book!), we like to describe the various types of brokenness he analyzes as follows:
• God/Human Relationship
• Before the fall:
• We were created in the image of God, including his creativity and productivity
• The world was created to need man’s stewardship and cultivation in order to flourish
• After the fall:
• Work has lost meaning
• Work has become about self-protection
• Work has become an idol and a source of identity
• Human/Human Relationships
• Like the relationship between Adam and Eve after the fall, work relationships have become:
• Before the Fall
• God commanded us to steward creation
• After the Fall
• Instead of acting as stewards, we act as though business and the environment belong to us
• Before the Fall
• Work was created as a good thing
• God modeled Sabbath rest in his creation
• Because we were created in the image of God, work was part of being fully human
• After the Fall
• Work has become a burden
• Sabbath rhythm has been lost
• Maximization of profit means people have become “tools”, robbing them of their humanity
There are two quotes from Van Duzer’s discussion of this topic that strike us as particularly poignant and worth repeating here:
• In the area of God/Human Relationship, he observes: “Paradoxically, even as work seems to have less and less meaning for many of us, it plays a greater and greater role in fashioning our perceptions of who we are.“
• In the area of Human/Work Relationship, he notes: “When a business perceives its labor force as a mere cost of production, it distorts God’s original intent. In effect, it denies the humanity of its employees.“
The Brokenness of Workplaces
Sadly, business as usual creates work cultures and environments that, more often than not, leave people feeling disengaged and disconnected from an activity meant to bring fulfillment and flourishing. Employee trust and cooperation are low and both work hours and workplace stress have increased in recent years.
Although recent Gallup figures show a promising uptick in worker engagement in 2019 to the highest levels seen since Gallup began tracking engagement in 2000, engagement remains pathetically low. In recent years, roughly 75% of workers have identified as “not engaged” (in Gallup’s words, “those who are psychologically unattached to their work and company and who put time, but not energy or passion, into their work“) or “actively disengaged” (“those who have miserable work experiences and spread their unhappiness to their colleagues“).
Other studies have indicated that roughly 60% of the engaged workers do not feel aligned with their company’s mission. That suggests only 10% of workers are effectively mobilized–experiencing an essential part of their humanity. The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization.
A recent MIT Sloan study of what has been called the “Great Resignation” (or as we called it, the “Great De-Humanization”) concluded that “toxic work culture is the single best predictor” of which organizations suffered the most attrition. The study concluded that “A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover.” The other recent hashtag of “Quite Quitting” seems like a close cousin of the Great Resignation. One involves actually quitting and the other involves virtually quitting–quitting in spirit. We believe both are products of worker disengagement, which itself is a product or workplace brokenness.
The Brokenness of Workers
The United States is facing an epidemic of loneliness, isolation, confusion, distrust and dissatisfaction. While this is not an attempt to survey the latest studies or statistics (and you may be able to find even more recent figures), the following facts from recent studies are sufficient to paint a bleak picture:
• A survey of more than 20,000 adults by Cigna revealed that “nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone or left out.”
• Depression is 10x the level in 1960. In 1960, the mean age for depression was 29, and today it is 15.
• The U.S. has 4.5% of the world’s population and consumes 50% of mood altering drugs and 2/3rds of the world’s illegal drugs (and making them legal is not the solution)
• In the 1950’s, Americans had among the highest life expectancies in the world. Today, Americans under 50–when compared to a peer group of wealthy nations–had: lowest life expectancy; highest infant mortality; highest deaths from alcohol and drugs; highest deaths from injuries and homicide; highest deaths from obesity and diabetes; highest rate of teen pregnancy, STD’s and AIDs.
• Since World War II, subjective well-being is flat and joy has declined even though economic prosperity has increased dramatically.
Michael Stallard’s book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work, as well as his blog at michaelleestallard.com are excellent sources for understanding the link between workplace culture and worker health and performance.
In their book Profit with a Higher Purpose, Peet Van Biljon and James Sprouse do a good job highlighting the significant changes in the demands on workers in America over the least several decades leading to increased hours and greater stress (and the impact of those changes on health, marriages and children), including:
• The 40 hour work having broken down for various reasons they explain.
• U.S. workers taking less vacation than at any time in four decades.
• 37% of Americans sleeping less than 7 hours, mainly due to work and commuting.
A recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Sunday Night is the New Monday Morning, and Workers are Miserable” cites one study that found 62% of working adults between the ages 23 and 38 “said they felt pressure to be available around the clock through email, Slack and other work communication channels” and another survey in which 80% of all participants (and 91% of millennials) “experienced a surge in stress related to their jobs on Sunday nights.”
It is clear that business as usual is not working for much of humanity. Work is where we spend most of our waking hours, and it has moved far from its original design in Genesis as something good. In recent years, a tight labor market has prompted workers to push back and get vocal.
We don’t believe “Quiet Quitting” is a revolutionary idea. There have always been workers who have done “just enough”–they actually just did it quietly. Ironically, what distinguishes Quiet Quitting from what has occurred among disengaged workers for decades is that it isn’t actually quiet. Social media has given it a name, a hashtag, tweets, posts and virality.
Based on the conclusions outlined in the MIT Sloan article, the Great Resignation is best explained as people leaving organizations with cultures that were de-humanizing. They were business as usual cultures that failed to treat people with dignity and respect–cultures in which the WHY was probably Profit as Purpose, which means people are, by definition, tools of production.
When a business perceives its labor force as a mere cost of production, it distorts God's original intent. (Jeff Van Duzer)
Business as Usual Can’t Fix Business as Usual
Much of the debate about the causes of, and solutions to, Quiet Quitting seems to be focused on causes like “burnout” and “stress” and solutions such as an increased focus on employee well-being as the path to increased worker performance and business success.
We believe this gets at the heart of the business as usual problem and the reason business as usual can’t solve the brokenness problem–people are merely a means to the end of “business success”, which is what got us to the disengagement/burnout/Quiet Quitting/Great Resignation problem in the first place.
Worker disengagement is not new, and it has not been a secret. Gallup has been tracking and reporting on worker engagement since 2000, and business as usual has been unable to solve the disengagement problem through “strategies” like perks and purpose statements. It has failed because the “real” purpose of business as usual remains unchanged, and it has nothing to do with the people.
Business as usual can’t fix itself through punishing bad actors, being ethical, giving employees more perks, creating lofty purpose statements, or “doing good” with some of its profits. In the words of Albert Einstein, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” We will not solve the business as usual problems with more business as usual. We need a new way–business a better way.
What we need are faithful leaders with the courage and conviction to lead faithfully from a RENEWED understanding of God’s purpose for work and business–leaders who recognize that:
(1) God created work as a good thing and created people to work,
(2) business is a vehicle through which people can reflect Imago Dei, to live out the Creation Mandate, and fulfill the commandments to love God and love neighbor,
(3) people are more “fully human” when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity,
(4) the ultimate WHY of business is derived from the ultimate WHY for humans–glorifying God and
(5) God is glorified when God’s people are humanized through work (which requires making people part of the WHY rather than just the HOW–the end rather than just a means to an end of Profit As Purpose).
We need modern-day Nehemiah’s, because “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3).
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): If anyone doubts that WHY matters, just look at recent news about tech businesses pulling back on benefits and perks. The new cry from activist investors is for “efficiency”. A recent Wall Street Journal headline says it all “At Salesforce, It Is One Big Family Until Trouble Hits Home“. Co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff summed up business as usual with one phrase “Ultimately, the success of the business has to be paramount.” When push comes to shove, the real WHY surfaces.
This is not a criticism of Benioff, because I have no basis on which to judge his motives (but his lavish expenditures may have been more about ego than caring for his “family”). He may have genuinely prioritized caring for people, because it was the right thing to do. The company’s largesse (whatever its motive) was tolerated by investors because it was still sufficiently “successful”. When its profit growth began to slip, the forces of business as usual and the pressure of the markets shouted (most vocally in the form of activist funds), and Benioff chose his ultimate WHY–he chose business as usual aligned with the kingdom of the world.
The following excerpt from the WSJ article was fascinating to me:
One employee asked ChatGPT, the viral chatbot made by OpenAI, to speculate about the
effect Elliott Management would have on Salesforce culture.
“If Elliott Management pressures Salesforce to cut costs and focus solely on short-term
financial gains, it could mean layoffs, reduced benefits, and a shift away from the Ohana
culture,” said the computer-generated response.
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