Apparently, only 19 percent of the adult workforce can claim they are extremely satisfied by their work (Barna Group research in 2014). I’ve noticed today there are many approaches being offered by businesses for those seeking to find deeper fulfillment and satisfaction in whatever their “work” might be.
With so many options available, why is it that deep satisfaction is still so illusory?
In their very helpful book, Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong and Scott Rae survey this range of options which people in business pursue to further the notion that their business provides a “social good.”
The Bible gives many examples of private business owners being encouraged to serve public needs from their work, not the least of which were the Old Testament “gleaning” principles required of farmers to leave some of their field’s harvest for the poor and needy (ref. Leviticus 19:9-10).
Models for Responsible Business
Historically, Rae and Wong point to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) where businesses defined their responsibilities in terms of either “doing no harm” to their stakeholders or communities in their regular course of business, or they added a charitable giving component.
We often referred to this approach as “community give-back” during my career in large aerospace companies. Expanded versions of this seek to incorporate “multiple bottom lines” to make their company objectives more comprehensive and explicitly more socially responsible.
For example, McDonald’s large market to children led to their development and sponsorship of Ronald McDonald houses near hospitals to care for the families of children with serious illnesses.
Multiple Bottom Lines
Multiple-bottom lines has expanded to concerns such as the effect of business on the environment, the working conditions of outsourced manufacturing, and inclusion and promotion of neglected or marginalized groups of people within the company itself.
Social Enterprises are the very trendy business models for smaller and mid-size businesses which Wong and Rae describe as seeking to “make business an even more direct and proactive partner in solving social problems.” Social entrepreneurs are “driven by a double bottom line, a virtual blend of financial and social returns.” Profits are not the only or even the main goal of the business; they are intentionally reinvested in the “social good” goal and not just distributed to traditional stakeholders and owners.
Today’s Emerging Workforce
All these models demonstrate a growing sense of responsibility and hunger among millennials and even younger generations to contribute and invest themselves in their life’s work in ways that deeply resonate with the clear messages they were brought up with: “You need to creatively follow your dream and passion and make the world a better place in whatever you do.”
I’m always amazed and inspired by both Christians and non-Christians at their passion and willingness to sacrifice to achieve these ends. In many ways they make me feel like a corporate curmudgeon and challenge me to take more risks and consider new approaches to business.
In fact, I had lunch recently with just such a wonderful and passionate young Christian woman who is dedicating her career to helping social entrepreneurs create successful businesses and better understand the benefits of socially responsible work.
While the new trends and creative work being done are inspiring and have much good to offer, each model can also be fraught with its own pitfalls.
- We want to avoid, as Wong and Rae point out, the business models that are used less to promote true social responsibility and more to advance a public relations campaign.
- We must also consider that not everyone is an entrepreneur. Most of us will not create start-ups, join small creative businesses with innovative models for addressing social ills, or be part of the nonprofit world. Nor should we feel we need to in order to “really make a difference.”
- Another caution is to consider the complexity of many of the social problems we face and not minimize the work required and skill needed to understand the root causes and best solutions to mitigating the ills and suffering in our cities.
- We also want to avoid unintended consequences of our actions and study cases such as the Tom’s shoes controversy and many others which offer helpful insights to consider when promoting new socially responsible businesses.
The Best Bottom Line
As we reflect on what makes our work significant, we are reminded that any business model can provide an opportunity to produce significant social goods and promote better practices. As Hugh Whelchel points out, we must ask ourselves better questions about what makes our jobs satisfying or meaningful.
Is our pursuit of significant work trapping us in the illusion that some specific category of work or business model is more spiritual or intrinsically more valuable than others? Whelchel poignantly states:
For the Christian, life without work is meaningless, but work must never become the meaning of one’s life. We must find our identity in Christ, not in our work.
Our union with Christ transforms our hearts and gives us the desire to serve him out of gratitude as we engage the world through our work.
This is where we find meaning, because through our role as God’s image bearers we are to bring him glory regardless of what type of work we do. All of our work is meant to glorify God and serve the common good.
Our work in any business model or institution gives us a concrete way to glorify God by fulfilling his purposes for us and giving expression to his love for all of creation.
Blessed be the worker who finds, in whatever way they serve through their work, that their work is not the source of identity, but rather a very tangible expression of their identity in Christ.
Editor’s note: Read the story in its entirety on faithandworkLA.com. This excerpt is republished with permission from the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles.
Was this article helpful to you? Help us equip more Christians to understand their calling by becoming a monthly IFWE partner!