How Do You Work in the 24/7 Culture?

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Photo Credit: Time, by JD, Flickr

The cover of a Harvard Business Review edition recently grabbed my attention — “Managing the 24/7 Workplace … ‘Always available’ cultures breed problems.”

Facing the “Always Available” Workplace

I’m not sure what your work environment looks like, but the reality of the 24/7 workplace is impacting an increasing number of sectors and an increasing number of employees. Reid and Ramarajan put it this way:

To satisfy those demands [of the high-intensity workplace], employees arrive early, stay late, pull all-nighters, work weekends, and remain tied to their electronic devices 24/7.

For a few, this is not necessarily problematic, even though it may not be healthy. These individuals may enjoy the fast-paced work environment that goes along with such a 24/7-type work culture. For others, the “always available” mode of work life grinds against the core of the work-life balance they desire.

While such work environments may be most closely associated with the always-on contexts of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the nature of contemporary work tools expands this reality to most organizations. Regardless of the field within which you work, paying attention to how you manage always-available communication like email and smartphones is an issue that nearly every adult must manage in our age.

3 Hours of Your Day

One source indicates that in 2015 the average person in the US spent around 174 minutes on their mobile device per day. This is up from around 22 minutes in 2009.

While some of this dramatic increase is due to browsing social media outlets and watching great things like the latest #chewbaccamom video (time well-spent of course!), much of this usage is also symptomatic of our “always-available” work expectations.

While I’m definitely on the end of frequently checking email and working to respond to work needs in a timely manner, I’m seeking to be more intentional these days about being intentional with times to step away from work and always-available communication in a balanced manner.

Intentionality

Here are a two targeted scheduling practices I aspire to increasingly move toward in managing a productive and balanced work life:

  • Schedule 2-3 times a day for engaging and responding to email:

    Rather than approaching email in an “always-available” manner, I want to focus on meaningful and timely communication 2 or 3 times a day. For me, this will take effort. I have a pattern of almost habitual email checking throughout the day on my smartphone. While there are some up sides to this (timely responses being one), this pattern takes away from other important and focused work that needs to be accomplished.

  • Schedule regular time for focused work:

    While administrative tasks such as meetings and email communication are regular and important parts of most organizational settings, typically these administrative tasks don’t move the most important work projects forward. Finding blocks of time to meaningfully engage these items helps to insure that the most important work does not just get discussed, but also accomplished. This relates to a previous discussion I shared about prioritizing the “Big Rocks” in our lives. See this post on priorities here.

So how are you managing your work life in light of these 24/7 workplace tendencies? What are your strategies to both remain relevant for your organization and focused on reclaiming work-life balance?

Is Higher Education Worth It?

This post was just shared yesterday on my blog at Patheos. I’ll provide it here as my normal Monday post as well since it seems to be gaining significant attention.  …

Graduation season is upon us. I celebrated with a friend at his graduation last week. In the coming week my university begins its marathon of multiple commencement services. And, by the end of the month I will be completing a third graduate degree.

As I think about the importance of these events and the value of education in general, I’m reminded of several realities.

Education Is a Good Investment

First, education is a good investment of time and money. This is not the case for all people, but for most, education represents an investment that appreciates rather than decreases in value over time. In other words, it is more like investing in a house (that tends to appreciate in value) rather than investing in a car (that tends to depreciate in value).

Education Improves Earnings and Marketablity

Second, education tends to improve capacity for future earning and lower rates of unemployment. Again, this is not the case for all people, but generally speaking, earnings increase and unemployment rates decrease as higher levels of education are attained.

Here is a helpful table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that illustrates this point.

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Table Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm)

Education Provides More Effective Approaches to Work

Third, education enables us to do better what we already must do. In most cases, employment is a necessary part of life. It is the way people are able to make a living and provide for themselves and their family. This logic might not work for everyone, but for me it does. If I’m going to be engaged in a job, I want to do it well. Education  helps me to do the work I already need to do in a more effective manner.

Education Provides A Pathway for Lifelong Learning

Fourth, education provides a natural pathway for lifelong learning. I view learning as intrinsically valuable. I also believe we are hardwired and created by God as learners. While learning can happen independently, engaging in a structured learning process allows us to benefit from those who have gone before us in a particular field of knowledge.

In my particular field of leadership studies, I’m convinced that leadership involves a deep commitment to learning (see my previous thoughts on this here). But learning is not just the work of leaders. There is both intrinsic and utilitarian value in learning for any field. Formal education is not the only path by which lifelong learning can take place. However, it is a key pathway that has helped many people.


While there are certainly examples that would not support the above, these four benefits of higher education are true for most. As you celebrate with the graduates in your life this season, be reminded that their investments and labors have not been in vain.

The World’s Toughest Job

On Mother’s Day, I’m reminded that the work that matters most in life is often unpaid.

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Photo Credit: MOTHER, by the lost gallery, Flickr

At its core, work is what we do to contribute or add value to others. Hopefully this happens in the context of paid work for you, but any parent understands that mothers and fathers often engage in such unpaid work on a daily basis.

I love this video by American Greetings that captures to the beauty and importance of this work. Enjoy!

Why Ordinary is Extraordinary

The greatness of art..._Nick-Kenrick

Photo Credit: The greatness of art…, by Nick Kenrick, Flickr

A couple weeks ago a friend and former colleague of mine shared a message entitled, “In Praise of Ordinary Work.” For those with 30 minutes to spare, listening to the message would be well-worth your time as you think about your context of ordinary work.

Along the lines of what Chris Armstrong shares in this message, I’ve been pondering afresh the extraordinary value of the ordinary parts of life. In our celebrity-oriented culture, the ordinary is often overshadowed by what we view as extraordinary.

Enjoying the Extraordinary

Don’t misunderstand me. I love to see greatness shine through in others. For instance, if you’re a basketball fan, it’s been a fun year watching Stephen Curry break 3-point records. It is a delight to watch “extraordinary” talent in the likes of someone like Curry.

My point is not to belittle extraordinary work on the public stage, but rather to lift up the extraordinary work that happens in ordinary and private ways on a daily basis.

Enjoying the Ordinary as Extraordinary

For most of us, our life and work happens on smaller stages. But that does not make our lives any less extraordinary when they are lived out steadily and faithfully. As individuals, families, and a society, we flourish together we collectively live our “ordinary” lives in an extraordinary manner.

When I look around, those I value most in my life are those that are steadily and faithfully attending to their lives and work on a daily basis.

Great things come when children faithfully apply themselves to the work before them in study and practice. Great things come when spouses and friends provide loving support for those closest to them. Great things happen with coworkers support their team in the accomplishment of collective work goals. Great things happen when we live out the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

In the Bible, we read the following call:

“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

That is quite an affirmation of the ordinary.

Whether the stage of your life is small or large in its scope, we are all called to attend to the ordinary work that is in front of us. We are called to live our “ordinary” lives in light of what they actually are—extraordinary.

What is the ordinary work you are called to do in an extraordinary way today? What is the ordinary work being done by others around you in an extraordinary way today? Take some time to notice and appreciate the extraordinary that is all around you.

Purpose in Leadership on Patheos

Faith-Work

I’m excited to point you toward another channel through which I’ll be sharing thoughts. The Purpose in Leadership blog was invited to join the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, and this will allow me to share the type of reflections offered on this blog with a wider audience. I’ll continue to post regularly through both Purpose in Leadership blogs.

—  Purposeinleadership.com Blog
—  Patheos Purpose in Leadership Blog

As a faith-based blog channel focused on the integration of faith and work, I will be regularly sharing posts on leadership, work, and vocation.

Here is a highlight of the last five posts shared through the Purpose in Leadership blog on Patheos. Enjoy!

Can You Bring Jesus to Work?

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Photo: Faith & Work, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, by J. Irving

In the increasingly post-Christian and pluralistic contexts of North America and Europe, the question “Can you bring Jesus to work?” has the potential of raising diverse and intense emotional responses.

Corporate Chaplaincy on the Rise

One expression of bringing Jesus (or faith in general) to work is the emerging trend of corporate chaplaincy. To the joy of some and perplexity of others, corporate chaplaincy is on the rise. Illustrating this trend, one of the largest providers of corporate chaplains, Marketplace Ministries, saw more new companies added to their roster in 2015 than any year since their founding in the 1980s.

Marketplace Ministries notes that, “almost everyone said developing a business model of corporate chaplains caring for workers, as well as their families, in the secular workplace was impossible.” Trends in the industry suggest otherwise. For example, Tyson Foods employs around 115 chaplains in their company; this translates into roughly one chaplain for every 1,000 employees in the company.

Finding Jesus at Work

Emma Green draws attention to these trends in her recent article in the Atlantic entitled “Finding Jesus at Work: Why are more and more companies offering access to chaplains as an employee benefit?

My thoughts in this post are influenced both by Green’s article as well as two occasions I had to hear from David Miller over the past year. David Miller, cited frequently in Green’s article, is the author of God at Work and director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative.

Here is some of what I’m learning about why corporate chaplaincy is on the rise and the benefits corporate chaplaincy offers.

Why is Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work on the Rise?

I see two reasons behind the rise of corporate chaplaincy and faith at work emphases in the realm of business.

1 – Considering the Whole Person

The first reason is the move toward holistic thinking. Both within society in general, and the corporate world in particular, new emphasis is placed on viewing employees as whole persons. Consider the following examples in some corporate environments:

  • Attention to ergonomically sensitive work conditions
  • Increased consideration of work-life balance
  • Focus on physical and mental wellbeing
  • Provision of nap rooms, yoga classes, and onsite workout facilities

While not all work environments give attention to such considerations, an increasing number of companies are doing so. This represents a shift toward seeing employees less through a mechanistic lens and more through a whole-person lens.

Mike Tarvin of Tyson Foods’ chaplaincy program notes that “[John Tyson] wanted people to be able to bring their whole selves to work.” For Tyson Foods this means that they want to provide team members “an opportunity to bring that whole self, including that spiritual side, and not [feel] like that they have to check that at the door.”

2 – Finding Community for Whole-Person Challenges

David Miller notes that “Human beings still have problems in life—we get cancer, we get divorced, we have workplace accidents.” People seek out diverse avenues of support for such problems. To name a few of these avenues, this support sometimes comes from friends and family, sometimes comes from medical professionals, and sometimes comes from religious communities.

While many find external support independent of their work environment, the challenge arises when many workers find themselves separated from such needed support systems. When this happens, employees, and employers, feel the negative impact on employee health, wellbeing, and productivity.

In light of such realities, David Miller points to the following: “Due to people not having sufficient social support networks, whether at church, in the family, or community, it has become necessary for the work of organization to become the new community.” Or, put it another way, Emma Green notes, “Workplace chaplaincies are another attempt to make workers more productive by catering to their ‘whole’ selves.”

Alongside other employee-assistance programs (EAPs), the provision of workplace chaplaincies provides another accessible pathway to help employees as they engage the difficulty realities of both the workplace and life. Emma Green notes that because work, and life, can be painful, “These chaplains may be able to provide much-needed comfort to people who need it and can’t find it elsewhere.”

What Benefits do Corporate Chaplaincy & Faith at Work Offer?

In the section above I argue that corporate chaplaincy is on the rise due to rising consideration of the whole person paired with the decline in workers finding whole-person support outside the work environment. These realities, whether helpful or not, provide a key incentive for businesses and employers working to be part of the solution.

1 – Benefits to Companies

On this point David Miller notes, “Everyone now gets it that if your employees are healthy—physically, psychologically, and now we can maybe argue spiritually—they’re better employees.” Miller notes that this adds real value to companies due to variables such as lower turnover rates, increased focus on the job, and reduced stress-related illnesses. Further, Doug Fagerstrom (CEO of Marketplace Ministries) points to his clients reports of increased worker productivity due to corporate chaplaincy programs.

2 – Benefits to Employees

Employee health—physically, psychologically, spiritually—not only benefits the bottom line for companies, but it also provides deeply meaningful benefit to employees as well. On this point, Mike Tarvin (of Tyson Foods) notes that chaplains try to “find out where they’re coming from, so that we can help determine on their own what they see as their meaning in life or purpose in life.

The theme of purpose is something that is vitally important to me both personally and professionally.

Personally, I want to engage my work in a manner that connects with a deeper sense of spiritual purpose in life. I want to know that what I do on the job has meaning—that it matters to me, to others, and to God. Whether someone is a factory worker, school teacher, or serving in another role altogether, most people want to know that what they do matters—that it is meaningful and infused with purpose.

Professionally, studying the role that purpose plays in the lives of leaders is an active path of research I continue to explore. It is also a line of research that is providing significant affirmation on why purpose is important to leaders (see some of my reflections here). I would certainly argue, though, that this importance is not limited to leaders. All workers, leaders and followers alike, benefit from connecting their work with what is meaningful.

As Tarvin notes, corporate chaplains have played an important role for many workers desiring to think through their meaning and purpose in life. Corporate chaplains and faith at work help workers to bring their whole selves to their workplace. Corporate chaplains and faith at work also provide a platform on which workers may tap into a deeper sense of their meaning and purpose in life.


What’s your experience with corporate chaplains and/or intentional efforts to bring your whole-self to the work environment? Take a moment to share your thoughts below.

Are Markets Moral? … Reflecting on Economics and Virtue

Economy is Doing Well_Colleen Lane

Photo Credit: Economy is Doing Well, by Colleen Lane, Flickr

I’m not an economist, but am fascinated by conversations about economics. The reality is that we all live within economies, and yet rarely reflect on the morality of these systems within which we live.

Here are some of my reflections on the relationship between economics and virtue as I address this question: Are markets moral?

Healthy Cultures Included Healthy Economies

I would argue that healthy cultures are characterized in part by healthy economies. While most individuals quickly associate economies with transacted goods and services, the heart of economic systems is relational in nature—“the incredible social networks that capital both creates and depends upon.” Economies are the relational context within which we serve one another and contribute to human flourishing.

Healthy Economies Depend on a Healthy Environment or Culture

But one of the key challenges to healthy economies and markets is the environment or ecology that surrounds the economies or markets. If the surrounding ecology is healthy, this typically translates into a healthy economy. Conversely, if the surrounding ecology is unhealthy, this typically translates into a challenged and unhealthy economy.

Daniel Finn puts it this way: “An awareness of the interplay of markets and their contexts is critical for understanding under what conditions the outcomes of voluntary interactions of individuals and businesses in the market will be considered just.” Finn sees four dimensions the “context” or ecology surrounding economies:

  1. The Construction of Markets by Government (markets being properly defined by law)
  2. The Provision of Essential Goods and Services
  3. The Presence of Morality among Individuals and Groups
  4. The Existence of a Vibrant Civil Society

Depending on That which Markets Cannot Create

To answer the question of whether markets are moral therefore requires us to look outside economic markets. Markets depend on forces—such as individual and group morality—that markets themselves are not able to produce.

On this point William McGurn notes that the economy “depends on virtues—self-restraint, honesty, courage, diligence, the willingness to defer gratification—that it cannot itself create.” Restating it—healthy economy is dependent on something that the economy itself cannot produce.

Moral Markets Surrounded by Multiple Sectors

In light of such arguments by Finn and McGurn, health and morality of economic markets are dependent on the health and morality of the surrounding culture and ecology. As someone working to train leaders especially in the non-profit and church realms, I feel the need for leaders in these sectors to better understand their contribution to healthy economies and healthy cultures.

Such leaders play an important role in nurturing this dimension of virtue—virtue that serves as the social or spiritual capital upon which healthy economies are dependent. Just as the business and government sectors play vital roles, the non-profit and religious sectors also play a key role in nurturing healthy economies and the virtue upon which healthy markets may function.

Because of the power of healthy economies to contribute to human flourishing, it is vital for the people of God in religious sectors to engage in theological reflection and practical conversation that will help contribute to the social and spiritual capital upon which the incredible social network of the economy may flourish.

Virtues and Leadership

Though not specifically dealing with economics, for those wanting to engage the importance of virtue in leadership a bit more, I recommend you take a look at an article Jim Lanctot and I wrote for the International Journal of Leadership Studies entitled Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in a Proposed Virtues Framework.

The Moral Market and You

It is easy to look around and feel powerless to affect the economy in a positive and healthy manner. Drawing on the insights of William McGurn and others, perhaps a great first and best place to start is with your closest sphere of influence.

  • Are you working to nurture virtue and morality within your own life and the life of those closest to you (children, family friends)?
  • Are you using your place in the market as a voice and presence to help create what the market itself cannot create?
  • Are you engaging in your work and market activity with responsible action, a spirit of value creation (giving more than you take), and commitment to steward your gifts and talents in a way that productively contributes to the flourishing of the world around you?

Such action at the personal and local level leaves a powerful ripple in the markets and economies of which you are part.

So, are markets moral? It depends on the surrounding environment, which means it also depends on you. Let’s be a force for positive and healthy economic flourishing within our sphere of influence.