Written by Ansee, Singapore
The Outlook notification chimes at the corner of your screen.
A calendar invite for a meeting. It’s from your reporting officer and your boss.
It’s one of those meetings you wished you could click “decline”.
But this is no normal meeting.
With a heavy heart, you click “accept”.
And then you go on with your work, churning out the tasks you are hired to do.
The meeting’s title?
Two dreaded words: “Work Chat”.
You saw it coming.
This was just one of many disciplinary meetings I have faced in the workplace.
In Genesis chapters 1–3, before mankind’s fall, work was designed as part of man’s worship and was given as a fruitful, joyful task. Alas, mankind chose to rebel. Since then, the experience of work became warped, a joyless toiling in a cursed land.
As a result, our workplaces have become characterised by these familiar situations: Excessive, dark competitiveness. Crazy bosses. Treacherous colleagues. Questionable ethics, not just seen in others, but perpetuated by us as well.
During the “work chat”, I was told that I was ego-inflated, tardy, and lacked discipline. My unconstrained selfishness had cost my teammates extra work and I lost their trust and my reputation.
Now that I am 30, I can look back and see many good things that came from that fateful meeting. Just as God’s redemptive heart remained the same after mankind rebelled against Him, I have seen that though we now toil on cursed ground, God uses all of life for our sanctification. Our experiences at work is just one of those tools.
God Uses Human Bosses to Discipline Us
Sometimes we feel like we are living out our dream jobs—the work is amazing, bosses and teammates bring such joy, and we look forward to working daily with them. In other seasons, we are surrounded by toxic bosses and malicious colleagues. We experience meanness at our workplaces. Sometimes we witness acts of injustice too, even from the very top levels of management. We retch in disgust and hope we don’t end up like our bosses.
However, amongst other agents, God uses humans to discipline us. In spite of their insecurities, flaws, and quirks, God establishes people to be in authority over us, believer or non-believer (Romans 13:1-5). And when we are going through discipline, we must internalize this truth: Our Daddy God loves us. And because He really loves us, He disciplines us as his sons and daughters for our godliness. (I encourage you to read Hebrews 12 in full.) God’s goal in our lives is to make us holy, not to help us gain a greater promotion, paycheck or sphere of influence. Even though it was painful to hear my bosses’ words of criticism, I came to realize that bosses may be placed in our lives to help us see our blind spots and weaknesses, so that we may grow in Christlikeness.
Getting Fired Reveals Our Heart Condition
Disciplinary episodes in our workplace may reveal not just our work inadequacies, but also point us towards certain deep-rooted character flaws.
For example, when we have been taken to task for our tendency to procrastinate, delve deeper and we might find that our heart has deceived itself to believe that our immediate comfort and rest will bring us more pleasure than continually working hard at our tasks. Dig even deeper, and we might find our bad habits stem from a certain sinful foothold in our lives. Never, never forget that the blood of Christ is powerful enough to help you deal with any sin.
How do we react to disciplinary action? Do we start to get bitter and badmouth our bosses? Do we start to sabotage the team’s work? Or do we give up completely and resolve to put in the minimum effort? Such incidences serve as pointers to help us assess our own heart, and to reflect on how badly we need a Savior.
Currently, I’m grateful to have a good boss. Once when I told her about a flaw I have been fighting for years, she said: “Don’t fight it. Deal with it.”
Often, our character gaps and bad habits sabotage us in the areas of our work performance, as well as our relationship with our teammates. Identify what these gaps and habits are, and deal with them decisively. Keep letting the Spirit renew you daily, acknowledging your need to rely on God. “The Lord will fight for you; you only have to be still” (Exodus 14:14).
Getting Fired Can Help Us Become Better
Besides helping us see our character gaps, disciplinary episodes provide an opportunity to unveil the strengths that we can work on.
Being fired might reveal that the job was simply not right for us. We may find that the job requires us to perform on metrics not suited to our personality, work style, and such. And because we have been fired, we may find a different job or an organization that suits our God-given temperament and predispositions better, and where we can serve God and our colleagues more efficaciously.
For example, after I was reassigned to a new department, I took on a more strategic role that helped me realize I thrive best when I’m involved in setting the culture of an organization or exploring creative ways to start new ventures and ensuring they are sustainable.
Working on our weaknesses while simultaneously growing stronger in the areas we are naturally predisposed to could help us develop areas of specialization in our career development.
Should I Quit My Job?
Sometimes, we may find ourselves being unjustly disciplined. Power politics or chaotic workplaces might be our daily reality. There are times when you might have to decide to resign for the sake of your own soul.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Our colleagues and bosses are people we essentially spend most of our waking hours with. Because we spend such great amounts of time together, we will naturally and inevitably be influenced by the culture at our workplace.
Are the values of your work environment pleasing to Christ? Are your colleagues the people you hope to emulate? Resign when you know the emotional and spiritual toxicity is taking a toll on your soul. Resign when you do not want to be like the people around you.
I once worked at a place where the bosses were incompetent and insecure, and this resulted in some of my colleagues literally spending all eight hours of the work day simply gossiping about the bosses.
That toxicity affected not just my work life, but seeped into all other aspects of my life. I became the toxic one to my family, church, and friends. My soul dried up. Instead of speaking life, only poison flowed from my lips.
Sometimes, it may seem impossible to leave a job. For example, you may have to work off your scholarship bond. Even then, God may graciously rearrange things so we can live right before Him even if we have to stay in a particularly trying work situation.
Once when I was going through a tough time at work, God led me to two passages:
And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11)
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:1, 10)
After I surrendered my situation to God, He restored it and delivered me from my predicament. I was reassigned to another team with a supportive boss who exercises good leadership.
Ultimately, we must realize we are not God. Neither are our colleagues and bosses. That’s what the Psalmist in Psalm 46 exhorts us to do. In being still and recognizing our helplessness even over our circumstances at work, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty and allow Him to use people and even our dreadful circumstances to help us rely on and walk with Him in full trust.