Social Justice at Work

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If you're looking for a little good news today, take cheer: America's workplaces are giving back to their communities in record numbers.

Recently, America's Charities compared results of its 2013 survey of employers and 2014 survey of nonprofits. They discovered "the most dramatic shift in workplace giving over the past decade, as companies move to more fully engage employees and maximize the giving experience inside and outside the walls of the workplace. Companies are looking more strategically at employee engagement and connecting it to broader social responsibility...objectives.”

Today's workers, in fact, are pushing employers to support their desire to serve their favorite charities. Sixty-eight percent of companies said their employees “expect them to support volunteerism,” according to America's Charities.

Compassionate, purpose-full workers don't just serve in non-profits, either. In an article he wrote for Forbes, founder Ryan Scott notes, "With the 'rising tide of expectations' afoot, traditional corporate giving to support urgent causes such as hunger, education, and health is also strong in some business sectors. For example, 3BL Media reports that according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s latest annual corporate giving survey, the financial industry is one sector that scores high in charitable donations..."

Scott continues: "...what most engages employees is what inspires them, and inspiration comes from a culture of giving back based on a demonstrable dedication to results. The days of lip service are over; it’s time to get to work."

The High Calling of Social Justice

As people of faith, we're inspired by Christ and engaged with Him in a calling to live out the gospel in our cubicles, classrooms, and corporations.

What does it mean to care for the "least of these" in our jobs? It will be different for each of us, according to our personalities and the places we work, but the articles in which we explore this theme at The High Calling provide suggestions and encouragement.

In "Bringing 'Shalom' into the Workplace," THC Editor and (Re)Integrate founder Bob Robinson asks, "How can you use your influence to subtly change the purpose of your company, or whatever institution in which you work, so it more often seeks shalom [flourishing, wholeness, peace] for its consumers? How can you be intentional about the flourishing of co-workers, suppliers, and customers? How can you help your institution bring universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight into people’s lives?"

Robinson tells the story of a hospital CEO who set out to change the dynamics of his workplace: "Operations, medical and nursing would emphasize transforming patients’ experiences so they would feel more like honored guests and less like 'numbers.' From the moment they entered the front door to the minute they left, each patient would be treated with dignity. Human Resources was placed in charge of hiring the most caring employees. Everyone paid by the hospital--doctors, nurses, housekeeping, food services, patient transportation, etc.--would smile, show compassion, and go the extra mile. The Chief Legal Officer was given the task to figure out how to care for patients without health insurance or a means to pay. Also, together with the COO, she would establish programs to bring medical care to the city’s poor and marginalized residents."

A helpful guide in our quest to bring that "shalom" into our places of work is educator, mom and writer Amy Sullivan. In "5 Ways to Care for the Least of These at Work," she shares five practical--and highly do-able--tips for incorporating social justice into our jobs.

She notes, "For the first time in mankind’s history, we have...twenty-four hour access to almost any injustice another human faces. However, we walk away from online peeks into pockets of suffering and walk into our jobs, where parent meetings, staff trainings, and unsent faxes overtake our thinking. Still, though the 'least of these' fade from our thoughts, their needs remain. And whether we file taxes or traffic tickets, there are numerous ways to keep social justice related issues at the forefront of our minds, even when we are at work."

Social Justice for the Rest of Us

Additionally, when we work from home, it can be difficult to manage all the disparate parts of our lives and not let work bleed into our personal time. How, then, should we incorporate service into our days?

Author Michelle DeRusha found it frustrating to find a service opportunity that fit her family's personality. "...we’d quit delivering Meals on Wheels because our two boys had complained so bitterly about boredom, car sickness and the pungent scent of broccoli that had wafted from the food trays stacked in the back of the mini-van. Exasperated and tired of arguing with them every few weeks during the two hours it took to complete our assigned route, I finally sent our resignation notice to Rhoda, the program coordinator," she writes in "When Failure Leads to a Better Fit."

After her brood assists at a food distribution center and loves it, Michelle realizes, "I might not have discovered such a good serving opportunity for my family if I hadn’t first failed with the Meals on Wheels endeavor. Sometimes, it seems, we need to figure out what doesn’t work before we finally figure out what does. And now I know one secret to success: instead of forcing my family to fit a particular serving opportunity, it’s far more effective and fruitful to find a serving opportunity that fits my family."

Sometimes, the world's needs seem too big and our hands too small. In a Daily Reflection ("Set the Captives Free"), THC Editor and Leadership Consultant Cheryl Smith writes, "When faced with the enormity of the problem, it’s tempting to throw our hands up in the air and admit defeat. We unwrap thin foil and savor sweet bits of chocolate in an effort to console ourselves."

Smith's friend Kelli, however, actually did something about human trafficking--especially those children enslaved by the worldwide chocolate industry: "On a Saturday afternoon, she and her daughters hosted a chocolate tasting party where they viewed a documentary highlighting the plight of young boys and girls forced to work in Ivory Coast cocoa farms...Today, Kelli and her family only purchase chocolate made without the use of slave labor. Chips, cocoa powder, and candy bars are rich with the taste of freedom."

Whether we're moms or movers, mechanics or marriage counselors, we can do something. Even one thing is better than nothing.

However, let's not agree that the easiest, quickest act of service is all that's required. Let's not virtually sign a petition or make a donation to a food bank, pat ourselves on the back for being so virtuous, and call it a day.

That which costs us nothing often is worth the same, in the light of eternity.

In "If God Never Does Another Thing with Me," Smith writes, "Today we can donate with a click and someone else buys food for the needy or purchases blankets for the homeless. We pay clergy to make hospital visits. But in so doing, we just might miss the blessing."

Whatever way, or ways, we choose to serve our fellow man, let's follow through prayerfully, joyfully, and wholeheartedly. When we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8), we honor Him--and those whose paths we intersect.


Additional Resources on Social Justice:

Four biblical mandates to take justice seriously

Activist Faith (book and resource list)

International Justice Mission

Social Justice at Work

When God asks us to take care of the orphan, widow, and the poor, what does that mean for our workplaces? How do we follow a social justice mandate in our offices, schools, warehouses and retail establishments? And how does it change our world when social justice works the way God intended?

In the series Social Justice at Work, The High Calling explores social justice in the places we work and the ways we work. Join us as we discuss how our calling to the "least of these" affects us outwardly in our jobs, and inwardly as we perform our jobs, via theme-related Bible reflections, featured articles, and discussion starters. We encourage you to add your questions, concerns and comments, engage with us on social media (especially Twitter and Facebook), and invite your friends and colleagues to do the same.