If you’ve felt your job stress progressively escalate over the past few years, you are not imagining it and you are not alone. According to a comprehensive survey on working conditions published earlier this year by the RAND Corporation, most Americans (two-thirds) surveyed said they frequently work at high speeds or under tight deadlines, and one in four perceives that they have too little time to do their job.
If you’ve ever felt a sense of satisfaction coming from your work, you are not alone there either. Barry Schwartz, in his book Why We Work, argues that there is something about our work that brings satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment that no day on the beach could ever bring. While it is so easy to complain and to miss the joy, both are present in much of our work.
In today’s increasingly stressful – and sometimes even toxic – work environments, individuals often debate whether to stay or go, and wonder – if they do change jobs – will the grass will be any greener anywhere else? Which begs the question: if we remain right where we’re at what are the things within our power to make our work life better? Is our daily work about simply enduring or do we have a higher calling for what too many call the “ordinary” or the “mundane” part of life?
To engage this higher calling, consider reflecting on these four approaches for thinking about our work:
- See our work with realistic expectations
From the Judeo-Christian perspective, we “toil the earth” because we were forced to leave the garden. So, in this perspective, we own the assumption that work is somewhat of a necessary evil in a broken world. Yet in this same tradition, we see that we were made to work, and thus a deep satisfaction can come from what we do. Our work, then, is two-faced: it is necessary to support our families, it is not our ultimate identity. Yet it is a place where we often have the opportunity to use our skills and abilities to make a difference. We must learn to work out the tension between the pain and joy of our work.
- Recognize and celebrate the aspects that we do enjoy about our work
As God’s creation, we are inspired by our work and its challenges. While some days are difficult, in reality we are able to use our abilities to succeed and thrive in what we do much of the time. And let’s be honest: sometimes work is our most manageable part of life. From a spiritual perspective, we often segregate our faith as having little to do with our daily work other than it challenges us around personal piety and ethics. But when we can make the connection of our joy at work with our faith and values, how we feel about our work can begin to transcend our circumstances.
- Understand that God created us to do good work
Everything we do, including our work, is part of our calling before God. Yes, our work can be challenging at times, but when we can see our vocation as an assignment from God, the daily grind begins to become a daily opportunity. Our work can shape our character. God cares about the work itself and what we do matters to God. We are developing products and services that bring value and blessing to our world. And sometimes we can be invited into very broken situations to bring healing and redemption. Through our work we serve God and our neighbor.
In the Christian faith, the Apostle Paul – a scholarly leader of his day – reminds us that:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” [Colossians 3:23-24]
These words were not written to those who were kings or leading officials. They were written to servants. A values-based perspective of our work, then, has little to do with our circumstances, and everything to do with our understanding of our work as a means of worship before God.
- Regularly connect with others who share our values
In the Rand survey (referenced above), respondents who cited having “good friends on the job” said it made their work feel less taxing. The truth is, we were created for relationship – with God and with one another. If we’re consistently feeling a lack of fulfillment in our work, getting connected with others who share our values and goals can help transform our perspective of our work as well as encourage and support our pursuit of how work fits into the whole-life integration we crave.
As you begin to evaluate changes you’d like to make in 2018, consider embracing one or more of the above perspectives to pursue a work life that is beyond just surviving the mundane, to one that is thriving with purpose.
Al Erisman is Executive in Residence emeritus at the School of Business, Government, and Economics at Seattle Pacific University and a founding board member of KIROS, a Puget Sound organization that equips Christian business people in making a deeper connection between faith and work. Erisman will present a special breakout session at the 2018 Higher Ground Men’s Conference Saturday, Feb. 10: Beyond Surviving and Work: Finding Higher Ground. The one-day conference will feature local football great and 710 ESPN radio host Brock Huard as keynote.