Changing Face Of The Workplace: Employees ==> Volunteers.

“Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” (Colossians 3:22-23)

I consider myself having been a professional software developer ever since my uncle gave me a summer intern job writing a small application that tests memory chips for his customers. That was probably 18 years ago. Along the way I’ve worked in many companies, took on many different roles, been laid off once (being laid off was like a rite of passage for a Silicon Valley engineer), went through an IPO at a startup (another rite of passage), etc. Sometimes I think I can claim I’ve been there and done that. And yet I think the last few years I really start to see how the workplace has changed radically. And these are what I perceive as healthy changes. So I’m writing a three-part series to talk about what are the new things happening in the workplace, and what it means to be a Christian in this changing workplace.

When I was in Oracle I participated in a UI widgets project. I was reading a piece of code that has to do with the menubar widget and it was so hard to understand. I was later told that it was written by a former employee who deliberately wrote it in a way no one else could understand. The reason? He confided in someone that he did it for job security, because if no one else could understand it, they would need him around to work on it. I guess his plan didn’t work out.

Along the way, however, I realize that people don’t value job security or job stability as much. At a startup, I saw resumes where people work 7 or 8 jobs lasting 1 year each. At the start, I used to discard those resumes. But when more of the same turn up, I started to realize that jumping around became the norm.

There’s a research done by Glenn Tobe & Associates on what motivates Gen Xers to work. The motivating factors, ordered by most motivating to least motivating, are:

  1. Appreciation
  2. Feeling in on things
  3. Understanding attitude
  4. Job security
  5. Good wages
  6. Interesting work
  7. Promotion opportunities
  8. Loyalty from management
  9. Good working conditions
  10. Tactful discipline

Job security and good wages are only ranked #4 and #5 respectively. What’s most revealing is that, when the researchers ask the employers what they think motivate their workers, they rank the factors this way:

  1. Good Wages
  2. Job security  
  3. Promotion opportunities
  4. Good working conditions
  5. Interesting work
  6. Loyalty from management
  7. Tactful discipline
  8. Appreciation  
  9. Understanding attitude
  10. Feeling in on things

I can attest to this myself. I’ve been in previous jobs where the only real feedback I get from my superiors is pay increases and bonuses, and they expected me to be happy just like that. But what I really wanted was someone to recognize my contributions and to listen to my suggestions and concerns.

I really do like my current company. We have adopted an agile methodology (what that is is another big topic for another day) that brings all the managers and developers together for a biweekly meeting. In the meeting we demonstrate what we’ve done in the past two weeks and voice our concerns and insights. The managers are good to add a word of appreciation during the meeting, and provide us lots of feedback about how to improve our work. Also, our internal portal has a way of allowing us to submit suggestions and ideas, and personally I’ve submitted an average one idea per week, and some of my ideas do get implemented. It’s definitely the first three motivators that keep me happy working here.

Lately I’ve been literature that touts a concept of volunteerism for the employees. The concept is that employees can most contribute to the company’s success if they work like volunteers, meaning that even if they don’t get paid, they’d still volunteer to do what they do. Instead of relying of pay increases or promotion opportunities, employers should help foster that kind of workplace for employees so they can work like volunteers.

This volunteerism makes me think of Colossians 3:22-23. In our work, we should work as to work for God. But not only that, we should “volunteer” for God heartily. But we should be motivated not by appreciation from men, but to please God. The phrase “with sincerity” in verse 22 literally means “without wax,” which, in the context of New Testament times, means not to cheat by putting wax in broken merchandise to make them look unbroken.

So my suggestions for even more important motivating factors for Christian employees in the workplace should be these (in no particular order):

  • Work heartily as unto the Lord
  • Serve God with integrity
  • Opportunity to model Christlike character

Next week: the changing definition of a manager in the workplace.