MOTIVATION AT WORK – A SHALOM ORIENTATION

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Motivation at work is one of the central problems that leaders must contend with. Motivating others to focus their efforts, to sustain their effort, to persist for a duration of time can be an ongoing challenge in some organizations. Apparently paying workers is not enough to achieve sustained, high-level performance! One of the big questions for the Christian is: What is the biblical perspective on motivation?

In future instalments of this blog I will review some of the more popular theories of motivation form the point of view of Scripture. For today I want to set the foundation.

The biblical perspective on motivation at work can be contrasted with contemporary views in more than one way:

  • Motivation at work is not merely for achieving individualistic, egoistic goals of higher performance of a worker or the organization and, as a result, higher profits. The goal of motivation is much broader.
  • In the biblical viewpoint, focusing work effort is within the larger context of achieving the bigger goals that God has in mind for us, i.e., a flourishing life in community. This is best summarized in the biblical ideals of shalom and tob

Shalom is a multidimensional concept that encompasses a variety of community concerns including the following:

  • Faithfulness in our commitment to God
  • Domestic harmony
  • Physical and mental health
  • International peace
  • Justice
  • Economic well-being.

Notice these passages from Scripture:

Psalm 34:14 Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace [shalom], and pursue it.

Jeremiah 29:7 …seek the welfare [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.

One of the best descriptions of the shalom experience is recorded in Psalm 72 where King David prays that shalom may be brought into fullness when his son sits on the throne.

Shalom is multigenerational. We experience shalom when our grandchildren experience a flourishing life of well-being.

Shalom is both an individual and communal in scope; however, the communal experience seems to dominate the concerns of Bible writers. Whatever work we do, is done not only for individual well-being but also for the well-being of the larger community.

In Scripture thinking, we pursue shalom to avoid or counteract misery and adversity. We long for and contribute our efforts to hasten the day when God’s blessings are realized. This does not mean that shalom is merely the result of human effort. On the contrary, shalom is a creative gift of God!

Shalom is experienced when both individuals and the community as a whole commit to being loyal to the principles of living outlined in the Ten Commandments. “Those who love Thy law have great peace [shalom]…” (Psalm 119:165)

Tob (or tobah) in the Old Testament refers to all that is good and beneficial, or general welfare. (Deut 23:6; 28:11; 30:15; 1 Kings 10:7; Psa 25:13; 106:5; 128:5; Prov 13:21; Eccl 7:14; Jer 14:11; 39:16) Ultimately, God is the giver of tob; however, humans have a responsibility to support and foster tob through our own efforts.

Here are few passages where tob / tobah are used:

Deuteronomy 28:11 And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity [tobah], in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.

Deuteronomy 30:15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity [tob], and death and adversity;

Psalm 25:13 His soul will abide in prosperity [tob], And his descendants will inherit the land.

Shalom and tob are just two of the many words used in both the Old Testament and New Testament that describe the experience of true prosperity and abundance.

Discussion Questions

  1. If our work is expected to contribute to the welfare of the larger community as well as to ourselves and our families, what does this suggest as an assumption underlying motivation at work?
  2. Does God desire abundance for us?
  3. In practical terms, how does shalom and tob actually work? What actions are expected to bring about this experience?
  4. How do you explain that God is the ultimate author and giver of shalom, but humans have a responsibility to foster shalom?
  5. Is the goal of shalom too big to be meaningful for contemporary for-profit organizations?
  6. In an individualistic society where community welfare takes second place to personal welfare, how is the goal of shalom to be brought into the culture of an organization?
  7. Adam Smith talks about the invisible hand of self-interest as a key influence in promoting general welfare. Is Adam Smith disagreeing with the biblical idea of shalom which tends to be community-oriented? (Be careful! Read Adam Smith’s famous statement closely. He actually mentions two sets of influences in the market. Most people ignore the other influence that he mentions!)
  8. If shalom and tob are the biblical orientations for motivation at work, what are the implications of this for a practicing manager?
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REVISE YOUR SYLLABUS!

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One way to signal to students that you are serious about integrating faith and business in the management classroom is to revise your Syllabus! Think about incorporating a few Bible verses in the Syllabus.

Adding a few Bible verses does lengthen the Syllabus somewhat; however, the verses you include there will be a constant reminder to students what your course is all about.

Benefits:

  • Places Scripture in the context of required course elements.
  • It sets the tone for the semester.
  • Signals to students the importance of Scripture in learning about management.
  • Implicitly suggests that Scripture can be foundational for learning about business management.
  • Provides students access to particular verses that you think are important when considering management practice.
  • Provides point of conversation right at the first of the semester when you go over the required course elements.

Here is a sample list of Bible verses to consider choosing from to put in your course Syllabus. These are some of my favourites. You will think of others. This list demonstrates to students that management wisdom and guidance come from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The following verses are from the New American Standard version.

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Micah 6:6-8 With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

 

Matthew 7:12 Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Luke 16:10 He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

Proverbs 24:3 By wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; 4 And by knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches.

1 Corinthians 14:40 But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.

Exodus 18:21 Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.

Deuteronomy 24:14 You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns.

Proverbs 26:10 Like an archer who wounds everyone, So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 “It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Matthew 5:13-16 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

1 Peter 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven– 2 A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.

BIASES IN MANAGERIAL JUDGMENT – OVERESTIMATION

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One topic usually covered in a principles of management course is that of overconfidence and one of its forms, overestimation.

Overestimation is “the common tendency to think we’re better, smarter, faster, more capable, more attractive, or more popular (and so on) than we actually are. As a consequence, we overestimate how much we will accomplish in a limited amount of time or believe we have more control than we actually do.”  (Bazerman & Moore, 2013, p. 15)

Overestimating our own qualities and traits is a form of self-enhancement. Instead of viewing ourselves as accurately, we prefer to view ourselves positively. We belong to superior groups. We overestimate our performance and talents. Overestimation also gives us an illusion of control over our own circumstances than we actually have. We think we can get tasks done faster than we actually get them done. If a project we manage is large and complicated, we are more likely to fall into this planning fallacy having a higher expectation than is reality. We have the tendency to overestimate the optimism of our future.

People of all ages and all settings are subject to this bias in judgment. Students underestimate the amount of time required to complete a term paper, adequately prepare for an exam or organize a club event. Professors overestimate their ability to cover new material in one class period. They overestimate their ability to construct examinations that reflect the learning taking place in their courses. They overestimate their ability to teach effectively or carry out research projects professionally. Leaders in organizations overestimate the amount of influence they have when communicating the vision of the organization.

Here are passages from the Bible that speak to the issue of overestimation:

  • Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Pro 26:12)
  • The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer. (Pro 26:16)
  • For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Rom 12:3)
  • For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; (Rom 11:25)

Reference

Bazerman, M. H. & Moore, D. A. (2013). Judgment in managerial decision making. (8th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Class Discussion

  1. Is it overestimation to think that you probably don’t have a problem with overestimation?
  2. Where have you seen overestimation in your own experience or in the experience of others (fellow students, parents, professors, leaders)?
  3. Can you think of a Bible character who overestimated his/her true capabilities? What was their experience?
  4. What part of overestimation is sin?  Is overestimation simply a human condition that we have to manage and, if possible, overcome?
  5. What problems can be caused, or made worse, if a manager overestimates?
  6. To what degree, if at all, might overestimation reduce a manager’s effectiveness?
  7. What is the good, if any, that can come from overestimation?
  8. Where might overestimation become a high-risk bias?
  9. Does a committed Christian have less of a problem with overestimation compared with a non-Christian?
  10. How does a Christian counteract or overcome overestimation?
  11. What role, if any, does religious experience play in overcoming the problems associated with overestimation?

BIBLE OR NO BIBLE IN MANAGEMENT CLASS: IS THIS THE GREAT DIVIDE?

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One of the “great divides” of faith integration may be over the issue of using Scripture when covering management course content. Should I bring my Bible to management class and read from it or not? Some Christian professors may feel uncomfortable about reading from the Bible; others feel right at home with this in the management classroom. I don’t mean just reading a passage of Scripture during a “devotional” at the beginning of a class period. I mean reading from the Scripture and reflecting on it when covering course content.

The following represents some of the thinking on both sides of the question. I am definitely “Pro” using Scripture when teaching in the context of a Christian university where faith integration is openly valued. Where do you stand on the issue?

PROS: In favour of using Scripture openly and directly in business class period

  • Many topics in management have corresponding perspective from the Scripture. Reading or making reference to the Bible when covering course content will raise awareness of students that the Bible should be considered when studying management.
  • Management goes beyond the technical dimensions (measuring efficiency, reporting to superiors, making decisions about strategy and tactics, hiring, firing, and a host of other things). Management quickly delves into the bigger issues of life that are addressed by the Bible. Unless we find a Scriptural foundation for management thinking and practice, how are we to expect that students will “connect the dots?”
  • The more we connect Scripture to business, the more students will have a firm Scriptural foundation for entering the marketplace. They can practice thinking about business from a Scripture point of view now.
  • Some Scriptural principles can be controversial in the context of business organizations. These provide opportunities to engage students in critical thinking about matters of faith.
  • Sharing a biblical perspective demonstrates how Bible writers understood basic management ideas thousands of years ago that are still relevant today.
  • Connecting Scripture with business thinking and practice counteracts the problem of low “biblical literacy” that many young people bring to higher education.
  • Addressing current management topics from a biblical perspective, openly and directly, contributes to the assumption that religion and business are not two separate things. They are one and the same.

CONS: Opposed to using Scripture openly and directly in a business class period

  • Some students, even those enrolled in a Christian university, may actually be offended if a business professor reads from the Bible when covering course content. They may expect to hear something from the Bible in a religion course, but maybe not in a business course.
  • Students who have segregated business from religion in their thinking will believe that it is inappropriate to consider what the Bible has to say about Business topics. “Business is business and religion is religion but never the twain shall meet.”
  • Some students may complain that spending five or ten minutes talking about what the Bible says is a waste of time. It takes time away from considering the practical ideas of how to be an effective manager or explanations of management theory from contemporary scholars.
  • Students enter business school to learn business, not religion. If they wanted to learn religion, they would take a religion course.
  • Christian universities that require religion courses already expose students to enough Bible. Business professors cannot add anything of value to what the religion professors offer students.
  • Bringing in the biblical perspective makes the course a confessional experience rather than a business learning experience. Confession is best experienced privately or in a worship setting and is not appropriate for the business course.
  • We study at a Christian school, but this doesn’t mean that literally everything we study must come from the Bible. Being at a Christian school is as important as studying the Bible. The Bible is not a business handbook in the sense that it does not teach everything about accounting, economics, management, finance and other topics.
  • Bible study is a personal matter; a business professor should not impose Bible study on students.
  • In life business and religion might be integrated, but in a university these are two distinct disciplines and do not belong together.

Of course there are other options to consider such as making brief, informal reference to a Bible character’s experience or to a Bible verse in the middle of a lecture or discussion without stopping to read and reflect on that Scripture in a formal way.

Discussion Questions

  1. What additional pros and cons do you think of? I welcome suggestions sent to me at mcafferky@southern.edu .
  2. If you are in favor of using the Bible openly in class to address some course content, how do you counter the “Cons” listed above?
  3. If you are opposed to using the Bible openly in class to address some course content, how do you counter the “Pros” listed above?
  4. Which of the above Pros and Cons is the most important issue in the institution where you work?
  5. How would your students answer the question?
  6. If an instructor is uncomfortable about bringing the Bible openly into course content, how should the instructor integrate a management course with the institution’s Mission?