Specific Challenges at Work

There are numerous opportunities for failure in the workplace. We can face all types of challenges. Here are just a few that I would mention:

         Workaholism: I’m not sure what is meant when people say that our lives should be “balanced.” That word means different things to different people. I prefer the term “healthy.” I think God wants to lead us toward healthier lives, in general. With that said, we need to strive for healthy work attitudes and habits. For example, we read in the 10 Commandments that we are to labor for 6 days and rest on the Sabbath. That does not sound like a balanced life!

So – that is exactly what I mean. I don’t think we are supposed to take an exacting tool to our schedules and measure how much time we spend at work—and perfectly offset that with time spent with family and in leisure. That is unrealistic. That is not even biblical! We are called to work and have been gifted by God to do so. We are to seek healthy expressions of both work and leisure.

With that said, we are still susceptible to the temptation to become workaholics. Some people seem to be given to seeking all satisfaction and identity from their jobs. Recently Joan C. Williams and Heather Boushey released a report that analyzes the conflict that results in families as a result of unhealthy work habits (Joan C. Williams and Heather Boushey, The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict, Center for American Progress, January 2010). This report has been cited by David Edmund Gray in his book, Practicing Balance, The Alban Institute, 2012.

This report revealed that Americans tend to view a 40-hour work week as either a part-time job or a sign that a person has become stagnant in their career. Further, the increased hours spent at work have led to all manner of conflicts within the families of those affected by this practice. Almost one-half of those surveyed in this study admitted that their working life had led to conflict at home and approximately 70% of both men and women stated that they did not have adequate time for their respective spouses anymore because of increased workloads (Gray, p. 14).

Temptations to workalholism stem from all kinds of factors. I cannot decide for anyone how many hours is “too many” in any given job. However, I would say that taking the time for honest evaluation of whether or not our jobs keep us from living with our families in healthy relationships, investing in our church in healthy ways and engaging in healthy relationships at work — would be a helpful exercise for us to undertake.

         Idol-Making: In today’s climate of a success-oriented culture, we have to be careful to not make our jobs and careers into idols. The temptation is real for us to get our identity and all fulfillment from our work.

Recently, Pastor Tim Keller was interviewed on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show and he shared this insight about the temptation to make idols out of our jobs:

“When you make your work your identity … if you’re successful it destroys you because it goes to your head. If you’re not successful it destroys you because it goes to your heart—it destroys your self-worth. [Faith in Christ] gives you an identity that’s not in work or accomplishment, and that gives you insulation against the weather changes. If you’re successful, you stay humble. If you’re not successful, you have some ballast …. Work is a great thing when it is a servant instead of a lord.
-Joseph Sunde, “Timothy Keller on Work as Service vs. Idolatry,” Acton Institute blog (12-12-12)

Idols are things that are given too much attention in our lives. We can make an idol out of anything. I think we are particularly susceptible at the point of fashioning our careers into idols. When we adopt a “succeed at any cost” mentality, we are in dangerous territory. The recent doping scandal surrounding athletes like Lance Armstrong and the performance enhancing drug scandal in Major League Baseball are examples of what I mean. If we get to the point that success in our careers is paramount and nothing else matters to us – we have made our career into an idol. Our jobs are to serve us and the interests of God and His kingdom.

         Emptiness: Another real challenge some of us face in our workplace is just a sense of emptiness. Some folks consider themselves stuck in dead-end jobs. They are just physically present so that they can draw a paycheck. Or, they have poured their lives into a certain field and have been disappointed by how unethical behaviors have negatively affected their careers. They have been passed over again and again by less qualified people. Overbearing superiors have sapped their strength. Like, Bob Cratchit, they are weary of Ebenezer Scrooge’s demands on their lives. Or, maybe they have spent their entire working career in areas that are just not appealing to them.

Whatever the reason, there is a great deal of emptiness in the lives of people in our workplaces. For many people, their jobs just don’t provide opportunities for advancement and creativity. Unfortunately, for some folks, this is going to be an issue for the unforeseen future with a challenging economy that is struggling to gain solid footing.