DOES YOUR WORK MATTER?
Does your work matter? Maybe you feel like it does. And maybe you don’t.
It’s about eight o’clock in the morning. I’m about to start work and to be honest, I’m not feeling it today. And there’s a good chance you’re not feeling it today, either. In fact, a 2013 Gallup poll showed that 70 percent of us are could care less about our jobs.
Given the amount of time we spend in the workplace, that’s a problem. So, here’s the question: Does you work matter?
We need our work to matter.
On a typical work day, more than $123 million Americans wake up, get in their cars and drive to work.
For some of us, it’s pretty easy to see how our work matters. For example, if you’re an ER doctor or the leader of a charity that feeds the poor, you know why you go to work every day.
But what about the rest of us? What about the cubicle dwellers and the store clerks and the guy who mops the floors at the local supermarket? For people like us, work can seem like one of the most pointless parts of our lives.
The good news is that most of our jobs aren’t nearly as dangerous or backbreaking as they used to be.
But a safe working environment and a cushy office chair aren’t enough.
Although what we do for a living doesn’t determine who we are as individuals, our work needs to feel significant. We need to know that somehow our work matters.
There’s dignity in work.
Even if it doesn’t seem like our work matters to anyone else, it should matter to us. Here’s why …
For starters, work pays for things like food.
But just as importantly, work is one of the ways that we participate in God’s creation. There is dignity in work because it allows us to become actively involved in something beyond ourselves.
If you’ve ever been out of work, you know what I’m talking about. There’s no substitute from the feeling you get when you receive an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.
Everyone deserves the chance to experience the dignity of work.
But unfortunately there are millions of full-time workers who put in an honest day’s work but don’t receive a honest wage.
- In 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the U.S. were classified as low-income jobs. Today, low-income jobs represent more than 40% of the job market.
- One in four Americans work a job that pays $10 an hour or less.
- More than a third of the entire U.S. workforce falls into the category of the working poor – workers who aren’t paid enough to properly care for themselves or their families.
The Bible is filled with references about how workers should be paid fairly and receive a living wage. And in James 5, it says that people who have become rich by taking advantage of their workers sin against God.
The minimum wage and the fight for income equality are about making sure that everyone has the opportunity to experience the dignity of work.
So even if you hate job, when you go to work today, thank God that you can experience that dignity.
And every once in a while, stop and think about those who can’t.
Welcome to the New Economy
The American economy is changing. Full-time, salaried positions are disappearing. They’re being replaced by one-off projects and short-term work contracts — the kinds of jobs that exist in what many are calling the “gig economy.”
Is it scary? It can be, especially for workers who are used to the security of a traditional nine-to-five desk job. But as someone who worked in the gig economy for several years, I can tell you that the freelance work model can also open the door to a more spiritually rewarding way of life.
How Big Is the Gig Economy?
According to a recent Forbes report, there are currently about 53 million workers in the U.S. gig economy. By the year 2020, it’s estimated that 50 percent of the workforce will earn at least a portion of their income through freelancing.
While some of the people that are being added to the gig economy work low-paying seasonal jobs (like Amazon warehouse jobs during the holiday rush), others are year-round professionals with expertise in design, coding or (in my case) writing and content marketing.
Why Is the Gig Economy Growing?
There’s no denying the fact that the gig economy offers a more cost-effective labor model for employers. In addition to reducing the cost of benefits, companies now have the flexibility to hire more workers during busy periods and fewer workers during slow ones.
But employers aren’t the only ones clamoring for more freelance opportunities. More and more workers — including scores of millennials — actually prefer contract work to traditional employment because it gives them the freedom to create lifestyles that accommodate their personal, professional and even spiritual needs.
3 Ways the Gig Economy Can Be Spiritually Beneficial
Financial security is a concern for freelancers. But in some ways, the gig economy actually protects workers by providing income from multiple sources. If one employer drops you, you still have several other employers to fall back on.
Just as importantly, the freelance work model can provide several important spiritual benefits:
1. It forces you to engage in community.
At first glance, freelancing seems isolating. Many freelancers work from home and don’t have the kinds of daily interactions that exist in a traditional office environment.
But successful freelancers know they can’t survive alone. They have to participate in communities (online and face-to-face) of like-minded freelancers to find gigs and receive professional support. These communities aren’t unlike spiritual communities — they require openness, selflessness and mutual respect to thrive.
2. Non-traditional work schedules are no problem.
Combining spiritual routines with traditional work routines is no easy feat. From morning prayer and meditation to volunteering and small groups, making time for spiritual activities can be challenging when you have to punch the clock for eight to 10 consecutive hours a day.
The gig economy allows workers to create their own schedules and work routines. If you want to serve lunch at a soup kitchen or meditate from 10:00 to 10:30 each day, you can. It’s up to you whether you work in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. And if you want to take a few days off to travel or go on a retreat, it’s not a problem — provided you can afford to miss the work or take your work with you.
3. You have to exercise faith and trust.
Traditional employment scenarios create a false sense of security. If you’ve worked at the same full-time job for several years, it’s easy to believe that it will always be there — when in fact, the company could downsize, be acquired or go out of business with little warning.
Freelancers don’t suffer from those illusions. They have to constantly exercise faith and trust: faith that their next gig is just around the corner and trust that God will provide for their needs.
Non-traditional work routines aren’t right for everyone. But as the gig economy grows, there will be even more opportunities to create your own work life — a life that’s big enough to accommodate the spiritual activities and commitments that matter to you.
The Dignity of Work: Why Your Job Matters to God
The dignity of work is a fundamental part of the American story. From fields to factories to cubicles, hard work forms the backbone of our national narrative and fuels what’s left of the American dream.
Benjamin Franklin said:
“It’s the working man who is the happy man. It’s the idle man who is miserable.”
That’s sage advice for anyone. But it’s especially relevant for those of us who are trying to follow Jesus. Why? Because the dignity of work isn’t an American invention. It’s a centuries-old Christian concept — a belief that sometimes gets lost in the chaos of better titles, bigger paychecks and fatter profits.
Jesus and the Dignity of Work
Your job matters. I know that’s hard to believe sometimes. When your boss is giving you the stink eye or when a coworker gets the promotion you deserve, work feels like a futile calling.
But it is a calling and in Jesus’ vision of the world, your job is a sacred thing because it allows you to achieve fulfillment as a human being. The dignity of work is a fancy way of saying that your work provides self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth.
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
In Matthew 20, Jesus tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the CliffsNotes version:
A vineyard owner (who represents God) needs help in his vineyard. So, he hires some workers in the morning, some at noon and others in the late afternoon. At the end of the day, he gives all of the workers — regardless of how many hours they worked — the same wage.
Understandably, the workers who were hired in the morning and at noon weren’t pleased. Although they received the wage they were promised, the morning workers felt more deserving than the Johnny-come-latelys who started working near the end of the day.
I imagine that the workers hired at the end of the day must have been desperate. When the vineyard owner saw them standing around in late afternoon, he asked them why they had been idle all day. Their response:
“Because no one has hired us.”
By hiring them at the last minute, the vineyard owner recognized their personhood.
By paying them a full day’s wage (the same wage as the other workers), the vineyard owner (a.k.a. God) communicated that their worth and value was no less than anyone else’s — regardless of the fact that they were having a hard time finding or maybe even holding down a job.
That’s good news for all of us because it says that you and I are just as valuable as everyone else on the planet. Maybe we’re not curing cancer or solving global crises, but our jobs are important because they are symbols of our personhood and worth.
The dignity of work means that our jobs are important our spiritual well being — even if no one else acknowledges the contributions we make in the workplace.
Jesus ends the parable with the well-known phrase:
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
In the Christian tradition, the dignity of work goes hand in hand with the right to work. In the kingdom of God, every human being has the right to work and earn a fair wage in the process. Unemployment and underemployment are offenses against God because they deny people the dignity of work.
So, the next time you shuffle into the office to endure another day of boring, monotonous or seemingly meaningless work, do it with a smile on your face. Your job matters because you matter — and in God’s eyes, you’re no less valuable than the guy with the big office down the hall.
Summer jobs have always been a part of the American teen experience. Part-time, hourly jobs give teens a preview of what the real world is like while helping pay the bills. But what happens when a generation finds that summer jobs are vanishing?
The Era of the Vanishing Summer Job
Our oldest daughter just finished her freshman year of college. This past year has been one of transitions and firsts, and we all assumed that this summer would also bring her first summer job. Although she started looking for jobs in March, she’s received few calls and even fewer interviews.
You might think that she’s being too picky or not looking hard enough. But she has applied for everything from fast food to blueberry picking. And she’s not alone. Her friends are finding it equally difficult to find summer jobs. Jobs that they need to cover college expenses.
Even when she uses our network of family and friends, our daughter is finding that employers don’t want to invest in short-term summer employees. It seems that we’re in a new era of the vanishing summer job.
Where Have All the Jobs Gone?
Frankly, employers don’t have to hire people for the summer. Forty percent of the unemployed population are between the ages of 18 and 29. So, the kinds of low-paying jobs that youth typically do are now being filled by older, college-educated millennials who are underemployed. Why hire and train someone for a few weeks in the summer when employers can hire someone who will be there year-round?
Technology is also impacting the job market – particularly lower-paying jobs that require fewer skills. Consider the number of automated kiosks we use. Each kiosk reduces the need for a human being to provide customer service. Or what about the self-checkout line at the grocery store? One person can monitor several checkout lines while the customers do the work that teens and young people used to do.
What Are We Losing with the Vanishing Summer Job?
Young people lose more than a paycheck when they can’t secure a summer job. They lose the opportunity to gain the professional experience and skills that prepare them for future higher-paying careers.
They also miss out on the dignity and personal wholeness that comes with working. Catholic social teaching puts it this way.
The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.
The issue of the vanishing summer job (or the lack of jobs for any would-be worker) has as much to do with personal and spiritual satisfaction as it does with money in the bank.
The Vanishing Summer Job and Human Dignity
The truth of the matter is that our economy encourages businesses to create efficiencies that reduce the number of workers for the sake of increased profits. Workers and human dignity are discarded as a cost saving measure. In many cases, it comes down to greed.
Scripture is filled with teachings about creating a just economy — one that that doesn’t oppress the poor or the needy. And Jesus specifically taught us to avoid greed in Luke 12:15.
Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
When we have been entrusted by God with the means to provide livelihoods for others, let’s always choose to put people before profits.
Hard work is a virtue. But are you working too hard? Maybe. Especially if you’re pouring your heart and soul into your job for the wrong reasons.
Working too hard is an American pastime.
Hard work is in America’s DNA. We take comfort in the murky belief that if we work hard, we’ll get ahead in life. And when others aren’t as well off as we are, we assume it’s because they aren’t working as hard as they should be.
Work is a common theme in the Bible.
Dozens of biblical passages talk about work. Here’s a sampling:
- Genesis describes God’s work in creation. It also describes Adam and Eve’s commission to live as workers in Eden.
- In Ecclesiastes 9, the writer tells us to do whatever we’re capable of doing with all of our might because there’s no work in the grave. (That’s an encouraging thought.)
- In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul takes the work ethic a step further, warning that anyone unwilling to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat.
Although these and other passages can be taken out of context to support faulty theology about work and our responsibility to the poor, it’s clear that work is a biblical virtue. Work provides for basic needs like food and shelter, and gives our lives purpose and dignity.
But what happens when work becomes more than a vehicle to provide for our needs?
Even worse … what happens when work becomes the way we gauge success and measure our worth as human beings?
Signs You’re Working Too Hard
By necessity or choice, many of us are living work-centered lives. Work is an insatiable beast. If you let it, it will consume your time, your thoughts, your hopes and your dreams.
If you’re feeling burned out and beat up by your job, here are a few signs that you might be working too hard — and working for the wrong reasons:
1. If Work Is a Way to Keep Score
Last year, Melissa and I watched the History Channel’s The Men Who Built America — a series that profiled Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller and other titans of American industry.
One of the series themes was that these were wealthy men who were obsessed with making money, even after they had millions in the bank. To increase their earnings, they did terrible things to each other and their workers — not because they needed cash, but because money was the way they kept score.
Sound horrible? It is. But we do the same thing when we use work as a way to keep score and rate our success. Whether you’re a retail clerk or a corporate VP, it’s easy to see your career as a zero sum game with winners and losers. When that happens, it’s a sign that you’re working to feed your ego — not your family.
2. If You’re Working Harder to Pay for a Bigger Lifestyle
Ever feel like your income has increased, but you have the same amount of money left over after you pay your bills? It’s called lifestyle inflation — the tendency to expand our lifestyle as we earn more income — and we’re all susceptible to it.
Instead of working to live, we’re literally living to work because lifestyle inflation is driving us to make more money so we can buy a bigger house, a better car or a vacation home on the lake.
It’s sad, but our culture actually encourages and rewards this mentality. For some people, working too hard to buy bigger and better stuff has become the definition of the American dream.
But if you’re a slave to your job, you’re no longer free.
That’s not American at all. It’s not spiritually authentic, either.
3. If Your Life Goals Are All Job-Related
Over the years, I’ve developed professional and personal relationships with people at every rung of the corporate ladder, from entry-level workers to CEOs of large companies. Here’s what I’ve learned: way too many people are working too hard because they have life goals that are exclusively job-related.
It’s fine to have career goals. In fact, your employer might even require you to update your vocational goals at regular intervals. But when job-related goals are your only (or primary) goals in life, it’s probably a sign that your using work as a substitute for more important things like relationships, family or a spiritually healthy lifestyle.
Promotions and career advancement happen when you do your job well. But there’s nothing patriotic or admirable about working too hard and dedicating your entire life to advancing your career.
You weren’t created for work. You were created to live a well-balanced life that includes work. If you’re working too hard, maybe the problem isn’t your job — maybe the problem is that you need to re-evaluate your relationship with work and start working for the right reasons.
What if you did the same job as the person next to you, but received a lot less money in your paycheck. The gender pay gap is real. But should you care?
The gender pay gap is real.
It’s the end of another 40+ hour workweek and you’re exhausted. As you stumble to your car, you strike up a conversation with a coworker and discover that you earn a lot less for your efforts.
On paper, your qualifications and workload are identical. You both have the same job title, the same responsibilities and you’ve worked for the company for the same amount of time.
The only difference is that one of you has a Y chromosome.
Wait a minute … gender discrimination in the workplace? That doesn’t exist anymore, does it? Unfortunately, it does. Study after study shows that the gender pay gap is real and it continues to be a problem in the American workplace.
U.S. government statistics show that the median pay for women is 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Critics argue that the government’s statistics overstate the gender pay gap and they may be right. But according to a recent report by Mike Meyers in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, even after you factor in variables like education, work experience, family leave and “risk,” women still earn 5 to 7 percent less than men.
Does 5 to 7 percent sound negligible? It’s not. Try this on for perspective:
Imagine that your employer decided to keep $1,000 for every $14,285 dollars you earn each year.
Does the gender pay gap sound negligible now? Probably not.
Would Jesus care about the gender pay gap?
As 21st century Christians, we mentally distance Jesus from these kinds of issues. We tell ourselves that if Jesus walked the earth today, he wouldn’t care about the size of our paychecks.
In fact, wouldn’t Jesus tell us to stop comparing our salaries and be thankful for what we have?
Maybe. But I don’t think he would have ignored the gender pay gap . While it’s true that gratitude is a prerequisite for a spiritually sustainable life, Jesus was very conscious about the disparities that existed between men and women in the first century.
In the gospels, we see a Jesus that went out of his way to defend the rights of women.
- The woman at the well (John 4).
- The woman accused of adultery (John 8)
- The woman who begged for crumbs from the table (Matthew 15).
When you look beyond a superficial reading of these passages, you find that:
Jesus went against the social mores of his day to take a stand for the rights of women in a society that considered females to have less value than men.
In the parable of the workers (Matthew 20), Jesus tells the story of an employer who gave the workers who showed up at 9 am the same pay as the workers who showed up right before quitting time.
Predictably, the people who worked the entire day protested about wage inequity. But the employer essentially told them to mind their own business. In his workplace, he would decide what to pay his workers.
I’m sure some critics of of gender pay equality use this parable to justify the existence of workplace disparities. But here’s what they’re missing:
- At the end of the day, everyone in the workplace was paid the same.
- The parable isn’t really about paychecks. If anything, it reaffirms Jesus’ commitment to women and people who are devalued in our society.
In God’s economy, “the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).
The “Scandal” of the Gender Pay Gap
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis called the gender pay gap “pure scandal.” He called for Christians everywhere to close the gap and take a stand for men and women to receive equal pay for equal work.
Granted, the words sound a bit hollow coming from the leader of an institution that is stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to gender equality. But Francis wasn’t wrong. Catholic social teaching affirms the dignity of work:
“Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.”
Work is a basic human right and a source of human dignity. But when a gender pay gap exists, women don’t feel dignified. They feel devalued.
Paul reminds us that we’re one body with many parts. When one part wins, we all win. When one part loses, we all lose.
And when one part is devalued, we’re all devalued.
The gender pay gap doesn’t just devalue women — it devalues all of us. By standing up for equal pay in the workplace, we affirm that we all have value and that our participation in God’s creation matters.
If you’re an employer, take a closer look at your pay scale. If you’re an employee, speak up when opportunities arise. Whenever you can, in whatever way you can, affirm the importance of equal pay for equal work.
Because at the end of the day, gender pay equity isn’t just the right thing to do … it’s the Jesus thing to do.
Conflict at work is inevitable. But are you part of the problem or the solution? We all have some level of influence in making peace at work.
No peace at work?
If you were a fan of “The Office” you’ll remember that many episodes included some form of workplace conflict.
Angela was upset that Pam didn’t invite her to her wedding. Meredith was the subject of office gossip. Pam and Jim ganged up on Dwight, and Dwight was a tattletale. The HR guy Toby had his hands full and his unhappy face showed it.
While we laugh at many of these scenarios, the sad thing is that art really does imitate reality. If you find that your workplace is less than peaceful, remember that the only person you can control is you.
Scripture talks about personal responsibility for peaceful living in Roman 12:18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
So, stop waiting for someone else to create peace at work. Start with you.
Tips for Making Peace at Work
Here are a few practical ways to exercise your faith and start making peace at work.
1. Don’t gossip.
Office gossip can range from talking about embarrassing antics at an office party to whispers about who made mistakes that cost the company money.
Gossip is a trap.
One story leads to another and suddenly you find yourself listening to or spreading rumors about people and situations that don’t concern you. Worse yet, you probably don’t have all the facts, so spreading gossip may also mean spreading misinformation and negativity.
When others share gossip with you, don’t delight in the details. Let the story end with you and avoid offering additional “facts.” If people pry for information, shut them down by asking, “Why do you ask?”
Make peace at work by discouraging gossip and encouraging respect for all people.
2. Don’t take sides.
Taking sides in an office conflict goes hand in hand with gossip. We tend to believe that the stories we’ve heard or that our own observations tell the whole truth about a person or situation.
But more often than not, our perceptions are just that — our perceptions. They usually don’t include all the facts or capture the reality of a situation.
When a co-worker has a grievance, it doesn’t need to become your grievance, too.
You can bet that there are two sides to the story and the truth lies somewhere in between. If you’re a professional, then you’re way too old to act like you are in junior high. Be an adult and just walk away.
Make peace at work by caring for all of your co-workers and recognizing that your perceptions don’t represent the entire truth.
3. Be faithful.
You represent more than just yourself when you are in the workplace. You represent Christ, too.
When you’re at the office, you have to allow God to work in you and through you to bring peace where there is conflict.
Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.
Make peace at work by being an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Making peace at work may not be easy, but it’s a spiritual discipline. As you make changes in the way you respond to gossip and conflict, you will find that others will begin to notice.
Go ahead, get noticed at work! But let them notice you for being a positive influence and a peacemaker.
Statistically, three-quarters of women in the U.S. struggle to find a work-life balance. We live jam-packed days that include family, career, housework, and a fair amount of stress. But no matter how hard we work or how carefully we plan, it can be tricky to live a life that fulfills responsibilities, honors our relationships, and still finds time to rest and play.
Is a work-life balance even possible?
Most parents – heck most people – can relate to trying to find the right work-life balance to manage stress and generally feel like life is worth living. Most days I can strike a good balance by segmenting my life and leaving work at work and home at home.
It isn’t always that neat and tidy.
This week was a tough one. At the end of the week, I had every intention of leaving work at work. But while everyone else was asleep, I was lying in bed on Friday night, panicked about a situation at work. The fight-flight response had kicked into overdrive and I wondered whether I should try a new strategy or just clean up my résumé.
Eventually, I managed to fall asleep. But I still felt agitated the following morning and I didn’t want work to rob me of time I could be spending with my family. Sure, there was plenty of work to do around the house. But sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to slack off and try something new. And so that’s what I did.
Nature helps me remember what’s most important.
Our younger daughter is a flurry of ideas. As a budding horticulturalist, she suggested we visit the conservatory – not a bad idea since we’ve had a delayed spring and snow flurries as recently as a few days ago.
For a small donation, the conservatory allowed us to experience a room full of spring flowers and the smell of Easter lilies, a hot dry “desert” featuring cacti and agave, and a tropical paradise with hanging moss and colorful hibiscus.
We enjoyed the peace and beauty of the conservatory so much that we went through the whole complex twice. We spent time sitting on wooden benches, taking silly selfies, and being filled with the wonder of botanical diversity.
The time spent in this special place gave me the space I needed to talk and laugh with my daughter, learn new facts from a friendly docent, and relax in the glory of God’s creation. Although it didn’t guarantee a work-life balance over the long-term, it was a good start.
Creation makes us better people.
We’re all stressed and overworked and distracted. Every day, we struggle to achieve a work-life balance. But when the worries of the world close in, Matthew 6.28 reminds us to look to the natural world: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow …”
Nature is an overlooked and simple treatment for stress. Research shows that people who live in areas with more green space have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And spending just 5 minutes of activity in natural areas has been shown to improve moods and self-esteem.
I know that I feel far better when I’m taking a walk than when I’m sitting in front of the TV. If a better work-life balance is what you’re looking for, put down your phone, push away the laptop and leave the virtual world behind.
There is a real world full of wonder just outside your door, a world that promises to bring a breath of fresh air and – with any luck – a ray of sunshine.