September 15, 2014

Faith and Performance: Are Christians the Best Workers?

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True or false: Christians ought to be the highest performing workers in the marketplace.


It sure sounds right. It feels like it should be true. Bible verses like “Work for the Lord and not for men” and the things your mother used to tell you (“I don’t care about the grade; I care whether you did your best”) come to mind.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard business owners or senior leaders complain about the laziness, distracted work, and the declining skills of employees with faith, and it makes me sick. I hate that their reputation is not one of excellence. But does excellence mean you are always the highest performer in any group?

The more I think about my true/false question, the more I think the answer is…it depends. I am not certain a balanced, mature, flourishing Christian should be the highest performing worker every time…regardless.

The Best Performers in the Workplace Performance at work is not a new idea, but it seems to be getting a renewed gust of wind behind it. Just the other day an executive buddy of mine at a Fortune 100 company talked about the people performance book everyone was required to read. I am not exactly sure why the resurgence has occurred. Let me know if you have any thoughts on why this trend is back on center stage.

Conceptually, we should be developing and using metrics to measure whether goals are being met. We should be recognizing and rewarding top performing employees, the ones who exceed the performance metrics we give them.

Let’s be honest, though. The best performers in the workplace can often be the ones who blindly put work above everything else. Family takes a backseat. Relationships with co-workers are either ignored or manipulated for personal gain. Rest gets thrown out the window. Integrity becomes a gray issue. Faith becomes a dead weight. And the hidden demon is often the system we are a part of. Often we work for and in a culture or system that is only engineered to reward work performance.

If you put in 70, 80, or 90 hours a week at work, you will probably get a lot done. If all of your best thought and energy goes into work (and not family, faith, personal growth, etc.), expect to see results only at work.

Faith-driven people, however, are not supposed to be simply one-dimensional. They feel the weight of responsibility in every area of their lives because they work for the Lord in every area. This means they might not work as much as their workplace peers, and they might appear less focused or less committed. They might even pass on a promotion or an upward step.

Put a person of faith next to a driven-to-excel myopic peer, and the peer will almost always have better performance against the metrics. I am willing to say that the person of faith should be in the high quartile because their work ethic should be great, but they won’t be at the top, every day, all the time.

There are caveats, I know. The myopic worker can more easily burn out. Hard work is not always smart work, and some people can get more done in fewer hours than other peers (think Chick-fil-A, which is closed on Sunday). And not all jobs require 90 hours a week to actually deliver great results.

Rethinking Performance But the conversation about high performance is back. This Fast Company article is an example. Increasingly, performance is about more than meeting your numbers, and this fact changes the conversation entirely.

If we take the conversation beyond present performance and look at long-term contribution, stability, and growth potential, then a follower of Christ should be a home run from a business perspective.

Some time ago, Michael Hyatt put up this post about hiring criteria.

Without a doubt, these four qualities—humble, honest, hungry, and smart—make for organizational stability and growth. A humble employee, for example, takes the drama out of the workplace, which leads to increased focus on the work at hand. A hungry employee will improve their performance 9 years out of 10.

I have used the triad of Character, Competence, and Chemistry for some time when filtering the hiring decision. But that doesn’t answer the assumed pressure to be the highest performer on the team.

Workaholic geniuses may give you a year of extreme performance, but decades of consistent performance require great character first and extreme work second.  Work well first, work hard second.

I don’t believe Christians should be the highest performing employees—period without exception—but I hope they work in the top quadrant while effectively juggling all the other balls in life.

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