Serving, not just surviving: Christians in the toxic workplace
Joel Lee // January 29, 2020, 1:19 pm
I work in a management consulting firm. I joined the company three years ago, having spent the previous five years in the government and finance sectors. It was a God-led move that brought me there and, true enough, since the time I joined, God had given me much success and favour.
I’ve been promoted two times, made the face of a new performance-based pay scheme and in the early days of my time there, blessed with two bosses who were capable, nurturing and always had my back. Things were going well for me.
However, about a year and a half into the job, I was walking back from the washroom one day when God suddenly popped something into my heart: “There’s an ungodly alliance forming in your office.” As you can imagine, it was a rather baffling thought since things had been going well.
But knowing that God is infinitely smarter than I am, I started to pray and also told a trusted Christian friend in the same firm what I sensed.
WHEN KINGDOMS RISE AND FALL
About two months after God spoke, “heaven” became “hell” and a season of darkness ensued. The bosses who had nurtured and watched over me left the firm, and I had a new boss whom I had met in a previous job. We had not worked too well together then.
The “ungodly alliance” started to become more clear as the days passed. Soon after this transition, one of my teammates tried to get me falsely investigated for ethical issues.
I also discovered that this teammate and my new boss were planning to make things difficult for those who crossed them. Suddenly, I found my bonus at stake, my leave being reduced and other obstacles placed in my way.
And the worst of the politics was still yet to come: my boss struck a deal with one of our managing directors in exchange for an out-of-cycle promotion. He got what he wanted, but the weight of the new role was too much for him, which resulted in a culture of blame-pushing and half the team leaving in less than a year.
Morale had fallen to such a low that the head office had to send a “millennial coach” to motivate and train the remaining young executives, and we were at less than 10% of our annual target although the year was ending soon. Management was so desperate that even junior consultants were asked to leverage personal contacts to try to bring business in.
It was a very difficult season – going to work became torture, and I was happy whenever I could get out of office for a client meeting. But even when out-of-office, I would still be receiving emails with thinly veiled agendas that sounded like more sabotage in my direction.
There were many times that I was tempted to throw in the towel and leave, despite knowing that God had called me here and sensing in my spirit that He wanted me to stay. So I fasted, cried out to Him and got people to pray along with me. Outwardly, I searched for new opportunities, but deep inside, there was a faint voice telling me to stay.
Over a year later, I’m glad to be able to share some revelations on why He asked me to stay.
FEARING GOD IN THE FIRE
1. We’re servant-leaders in the marketplace
As believers, we are called to be “agents of fruitfulness”.
Much like how salt gives flavour to something that is bland (Matthew 5:13), I believe that God wants to use us to cause fruitfulness in areas of unfruitfulness. Unfruitfulness in the workplace could be in the form of a negative office culture, injustice, backbiting or just the plain-old struggle for personal profit.
We serve God in the marketplace by serving the respective organisations that He has placed us in.
Our role in the marketplace is to be equally the servant-leader we’re called to be in the church ministry – to serve faithfully and yet lead with initiative and by example, as opposed to being indifferent or doing the bare minimum.
We serve God in the marketplace by serving the respective organisations that He has placed us in. A servant-hearted person thinks not of his own welfare, but the welfare of the person or entity he is serving. Much like how God told Jeremiah to seek the welfare of the city he was in (Jeremiah 29:7), I believe God wants to bless our workplaces in and through us.
2. We’re vindicated by God
In what looked suspiciously like a bid to set me up for failure, my new boss assigned me to follow-up with a client whom we did a project with two years ago to see if we could bring some business in. I had done this project with the teammate who was currently trying to sabotage my career.
Knowing this task was probably going to be fruitless and not of any benefit to her, my teammate lied about her role in the previous project, saying I had done most of the work and should hence be the one in charge of reconnecting with this client.
Already knee-deep in another project, I was furious. Business development was not part of my job scope as a consultant, and taking on this extra work was going to affect my current client. Yet, if business on the whole was declining, my refusal to help could be used as a reason for the firm’s poor performance.
It was a lonely predicament to be in, but I ultimately submitted to his decision, believing God had a plan.
Here’s what happened six months later: a simple client follow-up turned into an actual project that brought in millions of dollars. Today, this account has become a “Priority 1 client” and singlehandedly contributes to 75% of my office’s annual target.
With simple obedience, God had turned the entire situation around.
3. We’re lights in the darkness
During the tough season, I kept my head down and did all that was given to me to the best of my ability. I made a couple of mistakes initially, but here’s a practical tip I’ve picked up: If you do get a chance to speak out about negative culture, frame the issue at hand with respect to how it affects the welfare of the organisation, not just how it affects you.
A personal complaint can be seen as an emotional rant, rather than speaking out for something beyond ourselves, which you should genuinely be doing as a Christian.
Most of the time, showing up as a Christian wasn’t as dramatic as going to speak to the higher-ups about injustice – most of the time it was as simple as remaining respectful to those in authority. That meant no passive-aggressive responses or unhappy looks. It can also be praying for wisdom and favour, encouraging a colleague, and having an excellent work ethic.
Another thing I’ve learnt: Do what is right and keep doing it. Don’t give up thinking that you’re too “small” or too junior to make any impact. Galatians 6:9 reminds us that we should keep on doing good because one day we will reap a harvest.
Harvest takes time to come, but as we keep doing what is godly, the spiritual atmosphere will begin to shift. It takes only a little light to dispel great darkness. I believe that God will reward in His own way.
4. We’re called to persevere
Of all things that distinguish us as followers of Jesus Christ, I believe it’s the power to persevere through the toughest of times. Changing a job has become as easy as changing a shirt, and little bruises on our ego can be enough to make us throw in towel. But what does this say about our faith?
Job-hopping is as detrimental for growth as church-hopping is. Where there is no difficulty, there can be no overcoming. Grace manifests itself more fully in the midst of adversity, and I’d like to suggest that there are times where God’s grace manifests most evidently in helping us to stay in our place of assignment even when the going gets tough.
Changing jobs is neither wrong nor a sign of weak faith, but only do so when God tells you to. Don’t leave out of frustration. Frustration clouds a sound mind and causes us to make emotional decisions that may have repercussions later.
In the workplace, it’s not so easy to just walk away and find a new job the next day, the way church-hopping or stepping down from ministry might be. We’re often forced to deal with the moulding rather than run away from it. And often, that is God’s way of using the marketplace to mould our character.
Remember, we’re on a journey to become like Christ, and God will do all that He can to help us get to that place (Philippians 1:6), even if it means using less than pleasant circumstances and people around us in the marketplace.
THOSE WHO TRUST SHALL PREVAIL
I’ll end by telling you what happened one year on. My boss was eventually asked to leave as he could not meet the expectations of his newly promoted role. The teammate who had caused me much grief also fell out of favour with many colleagues and ended up leaving the company.
As for the spiritual and cultural atmosphere in my office, so much business started coming in that the firm struggled to hire new consultants fast enough. I became the main consultant for the “Priority 1 client” because of my ongoing interactions with them and our partnership will continue into 2020.
If you’re caught in the daily grind and searching for meaning behind your work, adopt a servant’s heart and serve God by serving the organisation He has placed you in. Ask God to use you as an agent of fruitfulness; opposition might come initially, but stay the course and God will both mould and amaze you.
Joel has a heart for fellow millennials in the marketplace, a journey that started about 10 years ago when he became the leader of his church’s youth ministry. He would love to connect with like-hearted young professionals on building God’s kingdom at work.
THINK + TALK
- Have you encountered workplace politics? How did you respond?
- What are ways you can be a servant-leader to the people you work with?
- Have there been times where God vindicated you after a season of perseverance?
- Are you facing difficulties in the workplace now? Commit to praying for strength, mercy and wisdom to stand firm and respond rightly!