At Work

Transforming Troublesome Coworker Behaviors

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People problems cost companies plenty. In a survey chronicled in the Harvard Business Review, executives from 83 companies estimated their companies lost $53 million each per year based on people-related problems.

For the believer, the Bible holds much advice on how to transform ourselves and those around us for the glory of God.

Jehovah is a God of order. Just look around the world and the universe. It’s easy to see his design in nature and the orderly way ecosystems operate. The Bible says God is not the author of confusion or disorder (1 Cor. 14:33). So, it makes sense that God would give his people a role in fixing behaviors that threaten an organization’s ability to run smoothly and efficiently.

The first step is to label behaviors and not people. When we affix negative labels to people, we make it harder for them to change. It not only plays into their psyche, it also takes the side of their accuser. Using a phrase like “Cheryl is such a gossip” identifies her by one such bad behavior and encourages others to continue affixing the label. It’s much better to point out the behavior to the offender directly. For example, “Cheryl, that sounds kind of gossipy. Have you checked with Marsha to make sure it’s true?”

Shutting down negative behaviors is important. Depending on the severity, certain negative actions make teamwork all but impossible. Let’s look at three destructive behaviors below and biblical solutions.

The Volcano

Does your office suffer from dramatic eruptions of emotions? Anger can be a technique used by employees to get their way. If rewarded, angry responses become the norm and a go-to weapon of choice. The answer is to defuse the ire with a gentle response: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Breathe and allow the angry outburst to sit there a moment. Then, respond at a lower volume with a reasoned response. Over time, we can create a culture where reason trumps rage. Those accustomed to using emotional acting out must learn to rely on the merits of each idea.

The Victim

Some employees have trouble separating the natural difficulty of life and work from personal affronts. When things go wrong, they retreat to victimhood and shut down. As a Christian friend, we need to help them out of their martyrdom and into a more assertive role. First, assure them difficult circumstances come to everyone from time to time. Jesus put it this way: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45b). Whether we like the people or circumstances in our lives, the healthiest thing we can do is continue to give our best effort. Working hard to overcome setbacks says a lot about us and our character. Attentive managers will notice if an employee constantly overcomes difficulty and gets the job done.

The Villain

When employees operate at odds with authority, everyone loses. As Jesus said, “And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). Negative attitudes about management and the company grow like a cancer in any organization. Workers who habitually complain about the organization become villains. Joy disappears and if unchecked, these employees can sink into a morass of unhappiness.

The best thing we can do to help is to break off small bites of behavior and direct them to more positive attitudes. While all direction from management may not be wise, the Bible encourages us to respect those in authority. Avoid jumping on the negativity train. Offer possible reasons for the management direction or policy. Encourage your colleague to respect authority for the intrinsic benefits of acting professionally. If all else fails, remind them of the consequences should they try to battle authorities over every small matter.

Paul instructed the church at Rome regarding their view of authority:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good (Rom. 13:1–4).

While this scripture applies to our view of government leaders, the broader application is to include all those in authority. Following this principle leads to the freedom of living at peace with one’s employer. Show your coworkers that obeying and doing our best to implement guidance from above us in the organization brings order and positive results.

We can’t save the entire world, but God placed us alongside our coworkers to be a light. By helping individuals find more productive behaviors, we have great power to transform our workplace.

We also shouldn’t assume responsibility for the results; only God has the power to change hearts. However, our prayers and humble manner may bring tremendous results. In this way, we are facilitating the expansion of God’s kingdom and opening the door for our company to flourish.

Editor’s note: This blog is co-authored by Steve Reynolds, who is the pastor of Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, Virginia.

Living out your faith at work starts with understanding the biblical meaning of work. Learn more in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

Help empower Christians with the biblical and economic principles that lead to human flourishing! Support IFWE today.

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  • Melissa Henderson

    We never know all that our coworkers are experiencing outside of work. Pray for them and listen to them. Be alert for signs of distress. Most of all, continue to walk with God. 🙂

  • Nancy Elizabeth

    Words to live by: “We also shouldn’t assume responsibility for the results; only God has the power to change hearts. However, our prayers and humble manner may bring tremendous results.” Great post!

  • Yvonne morgan

    We must always be alert and ready to offer a loving word to those around us

  • Stephen Lewis

    thank you for these great tips!

  • Lisa Murray

    Great advice that companies large and small would be wise to implement. Love how the Bible addresses so much in everyday life situations and provides wisdom for success! Thank you for sharing!

  • Michelle Broussard

    Good word! The Bible has all the answers! Thank you for sharing.

  • Jessica Brodie

    Love this. The part about pointing out behavior rather than labeling the PERSON as such (e.g. that’s gossipy vs. she’s a gossip) is spot-on. Thanks!

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