Moral Quandaries in the Workplace: Our Conversation
Most spheres of employment involve conversation. Unless your job involves total isolation, you’ll have to talk to others – quite a lot. Throughout the course of an average day we can speak to people, formally, socially, assertively, instructively or even charmingly depending on a whole host of different circumstances. In short, we use words all the time.
How we use our words matters, the Bible says as much – “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mt 12:36). The Lord Jesus was known for the gracious words that flowed from his lips (Lk 4:22), and as his followers, our conversation should reflect the One we profess to love and serve. Here are a few areas where we might have to brush up on:
Some of you might think that Christians don’t tell lies, but let’s not flatter ourselves, the apostle told the Christians in Colosse “lie not one to another” (Col 3:9), and we are no different to them. Telling the truth is a fairly black and white issue, but we often water it down and reduce it to ambiguous shades of grey. When deadlines are tight, and demands are placed upon us, it can be tempting to bow to the pressure by diluting the truth with ambiguity, deflection or distortion. Sometimes we can tell a client what he wants to hear, we use evasive language to avoid inconveniences; we respond to questions with half-truth’s and in multi-disciplinary settings it can be all too easy to baffle the uninitiated with jargon and other smokescreens. All of the above are deviations from the truth and although we try and soothe our consciences by telling ourselves that these aren’t outright lies, any departure from the truth amounts to falsehood. Although the unsaved do not bat an eyelid when lying, Paul reminds us “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour” (Eph 4:25, ESV). Since we serve One who is “the Truth”, our speech should match our Christian profession. Honesty is a refreshing antidote in the day and age of false news and twisted words – it will not go unnoticed.
Exaggeration is also a way of twisting the truth, since it describes a conflated view of reality which doesn’t actually exist at that moment in time. When time is running out, resources are scarce, and everybody else is using hyperbolic rhetoric to get what they want, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon. Exaggeration is an easily justifiable and ever so subtle sin, we can do it to attract sympathy, make ourselves look good, or to try and get our own way, but the Bible tells us: “let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation” (Js 5:12). Our words should reflect reality, not stretch and twist it.
Blue jokes and crude language can often characterise workplace conversations, especially during break time or informal settings. With the dawn of video messaging, a once serious workplace environment can quickly descend into a fairly unwholesome atmosphere. We need to be careful that the colourful language and jesting of the world doesn’t creep into our thinking and speech. The Bible is clear; “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth” (Eph 4:29). However, it’s not just our words in the context of the office jokes, but also our reaction; to laugh along with the world is to condone their impure language. When the Lord was brought before Herod so that he might be ridiculed, a dignified silence was his only reaction (Lk 23:8). Sometimes saying nothing is the best thing to do.
Complaining is a regular feature of many workplaces. Whether with clients, assistants, the HR department or sub-contractors, complaining about people and circumstances can be easy common ground. What we’re actually doing is belittling others and trying to make ourselves look like superheroes. Complaining is ultimately corrosive and wearisome, and words of lament should not characterise the Christian in their workplace. The will of God is that “in everything (we) give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18). Of all the people on planet Earth, we should be the most thankful, let’s be known as such in the office, classroom or factory.
The close compatriot of complaint can be gossip. Gossip can be a favourite pastime for some in the workplace, but it should not be named once among the Christian employee. Solomon reminds us; “a perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends” (Pr 16:28), we should do all things “without murmurings and disputing” (Phl 2:14).
Sometimes it can be tempting to treat our work-fellows as robots; with hyper-professionalism becoming the hallmark of many companies and political correctness straitjacketing some offices – we can quickly forget the human beings behind the uniforms. Showing genuine interest in people as they go through the inevitable problems of life can go a long way. Some may be going through family upheaval, the loss of loved one’s or relational breakdowns, but speaking a “word in season to him that is weary” (Is 50:4) can show Christian compassion and care. In a world of self-centredness and the dog-eat-dog environment of business life, kind words and compassionate enquiry can get behind the veneer of self-sufficiency. A basic ‘thank you’ and sincere ‘how are you?’, can mark the Christian as different to the world.
Most of us in the workplace have a boss and it is all too easy to speak dissentingly about them. Western culture despises authority, and we have imbibed the thinking of the world when we speak ill of our worldly masters. We readily agree that every government has been ordained by God (Rom 13:1), but sometimes we forget that our own master-servant relationship has been ordained by God. Our bosses are above us, because God has made it so; “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13, ESV). Paul’s words are very instructive about how we should speak and respond to our masters:
“Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:10, NKJV).
Though the world speaks disparagingly about authority (and yes it can be difficult) we can adorn the doctrine of Christ, by saying ‘yes, Sir’ and joyfully submitting to those that God has placed over us.