The next time you're at work, pay attention to the sounds around you. Listen—intently. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Take for example the cacophony of mobile phones sounding off, the music-crazed cubicle-dweller that sits across the way, the hum of the water cooler, the overhead announcements, the ringing of the telephone, the cross-talkers who'd rather yell than leave their chairs. Not to mention the annoying coworker who talks so loud you've considered purchasing noise cancelling earphones. And then there are the drummers, clickers, and thumpers. These are the individuals who incessantly click a pen, drum on the desk top, or thump their foot against the desk.
Believe it or not, there is an official name for these office aggravations: Workplace Distractions. They are having a serious effect on corporate America's bottomline, and industry leaders are taking notice. Business Week reported that workplace distractions are responsible for 650 billion dollars in lost revenue for American businesses.
So how have corporate leaders responded? They offer such things as yoga or massage to their employees during their shift in hopes it will relieve stress and improve productivity. The internet giant Google was one of the first to proactively respond to the workplace-distraction problem. They added comfy sleeper sofas, an on-staff masseuse, a swimming pool, and lots more to their corporate headquarters.
But no matter how incredible the perks, or how many waterfalls are installed to quell corporate noise, the goal is the same. Employees need quiet. They need a serene work environment so they can accomplish their jobs efficiently. And, while these enhancements might help a company's profit margin, it does nothing to satisfy the deeper issue that workplace distractions bring to light: The need for peace—the kind that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
God-given peace may not improve anyone's bankbook, but I believe Christians are called to exemplify God's peace in the marketplace and to be a “living epistle known and read of all men” (2 Cor. 3:2).
So how do we get to the place where we do more than survive at work? How can we deflect some of the workplace distractions and become more effective for the kingdom? We invite Christ into our 9 to 5 world—every single day.
My distractions at work are no doubt similar to yours. Here is how I try to handle them. Sometimes I make a conscious effort to take a mental respite and meditate on scripture. Sometimes I email God a prayer (it's written to God but sent to my personal email) in the course of my workday. Simple activities like this help me cope. When I feel more at peace, then I can listen to others more like Christ would.
Every time a staff member comes to me with problems, I'm reminded of the importance of listening like Christ. When a coworker's mother was diagnosed with cancer, she came to me and I listened. Another time, a different coworker needed to talk in confidence because her husband left her for another woman. I listened again. Sometimes, we even end up praying together.
There is no doubt that learning to hear like Christ requires diligence. We have to start by listening to God in early morning prayer; meditating on scripture; withdrawing from spiritually destructive conversations; and cultivating a hallowed place where we can find momentary escapes from the distractions.
But it's worth it. It's worth your own spiritual growth. It's worth contributing to a better work environment.
Now, close your eyes again. Ask God to help you tune out the workplace distractions for a moment. Prayerfully listen to the needs of your coworkers. Aren't they worth hearing?
Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:
- What are some of the distractions in your daily work? How do you try to stay focused?
- Are you listening to your coworkers with the same attentiveness that Jesus listened to people?
- Is your work environment one where you can be open about your faith and pray with people? What are the challenges of sharing your faith in a work environment? When is it appropriate and when is it not appropriate to share your faith?
Thanks to everyone who has invested in the Theology of Work Project! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to meet all our needs for 2017! We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers and charitable giving in 2018 as we equip Christians to connect to God's purposes for work.