Tuesday, June 11, 2013

ON WORKMANSHIP by Allen Laudenslager and Bryan Neva (2005)

People are the key value in a business enterprise!

(Rimini, Italy) François Michelin, for 51 years head of the Michelin Group, highlighted the importance of Catholic culture in valuing the person, who he said is fundamental to success in business.  Addressing last week's "Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples," organized by the Communion and Liberation movement, the French entrepreneur revealed the secrets of his tire-making enterprise, demonstrating that a Christian can successfully apply evangelical teachings in the production process and in the market.  Michelin, now his firm's honorary president, explained that "a true businessman responds to the client, and this is why he is always looking for a product of better quality that can be offered, while controlling the price."  Vital for a well-functioning business is the ability "to bring out into the light the diamond that is in each person," he said.  In this connection, Michelin said that one of the people who contributed most to the development of tires was a worker who had been hired as a printer. Eventually, the personnel office realized that he had many other qualities, such as imagination and the ability to do research.  Referring to the importance of people, Michelin emphasized the specific contribution of Catholic culture and recalled the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who valued even the most seemingly miserable life.  "Every human being is unique, irrepeatable," Michelin said.  "Functions and labels don't count, the person does."  "Both in the factory as well as in society, life is possible only if we listen to and understand the other's reasons," he added.  "To love is to see in people what they are."  [Source: The Catholic Virginian, Richmond, VA, September 2003, http://www.catholicvirginian.org]

Christians believe that the ultimate purpose of business is to satisfy the needs of people rather than to increase profit, power, or material possessions for the owners, investors, and managers of a business.  Profit is only a byproduct of a successfully run business.  Part of running a successful business is recognizing the contributions of the employees through effective leadership and management.  But these can only take a company so far; workers must do their part in order for a business to succeed.

Christians believe that honest work gives each of us meaning and purpose in our lives, as we help contribute to God’s continued work of creation.  All of us have a duty to work, as this is how we satisfy our needs and the needs of those dependent on us.  “If anyone will not work, let him not eat,” St. Paul wrote in 2nd Thessalonians 3.10.  Work also gives us honor and glorifies God when we use our gifts and talents to help others.  Work can also be redemptive as we endure the hardships of work throughout our lives it helps build character, and we grow in our love for God, our families, and others.

Work encompasses a large part of our lives, but it’s not the-end-all-and-be-all of our existence.  There’s a cycle to life: a time to be born, to grow, to develop, to learn, to love, to hate, to laugh, to cry, to work, to play, to eat, to sleep, to create, to mature, to rest, and finally to die.  But there are some who believe that life’s a bitch and then we die!  They’ve lost their hope in life, and they take no pleasure in their work.  There are others who believe they work for the weekend!  Rather than trying to live up to their full potential, they work to accumulate material possessions and satisfy their sensual cravings.  In both these cases, work is meaningless and a form of slavery.  But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Some years back, there was a documentary on public television about people who’d won multi-million dollar lotteries.  After the euphoria was over, they felt something missing in their lives.  Their expensive homes, cars, material possessions, exotic vacations, and country club memberships no longer fulfilled their needs.  One man who’d been a long-haul truck driver before winning the lottery actually wanted to start driving a truck again because he was so bored with his life.

The lives of many popular entertainers are the subject of newspapers, magazines, and television shows, and most of us are shocked by their ostentatious, immoral, and self-indulgent lifestyles.  It’s fairly obvious that their wealth and material possessions have not satisfied their innermost needs for meaning and purpose in their lives.

From these examples we’re reminded that money won’t buy us happiness.  Part of the way we can satisfy our needs for meaning and purpose is through honest work.  Work not only helps meet our physical needs, but it helps meet our emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs as well.

The world does not owe us a living!  We must take responsibility for earning our own way in life.  But, many workers sabotage their own livelihoods through poor work habits.  Some years back, the major automobile manufacturers in Detroit, Michigan began to hire poor, chronically unemployed people from the inner city to work on their assembly lines.  Most people would have thought the lure of a well paying automobile assembly line job would have motivated these people to get to work on time…unfortunately, it didn’t!  As a result, these companies actually purchased alarm clocks for these people and gave them classes to teach them responsible work habits.  Ultimately, the social experiment failed miserably because many of these workers were unable to learn responsible work habits like simply showing up to work on time. 

Many people who were once good workers end up unemployed due to poor performance and their inability to get along with others.  Some may have had personal setbacks such as a divorce, a death in the family, or a major illness, but others simply got complacent.  Excuses run the gamete why employees don’t put forth their best effort at work, but it really comes down to personal integrity.  If an employer, a colleague, or a customer doesn’t treat us right, it doesn’t excuse poor workmanship.  It’s scandalous and poor stewardship for a manager to cause their employees to be less productive; nevertheless, it’s still wrong for employees not to do their best at work.

If we find ourselves in a difficult working environment, it’s all right to honestly try to improve things or to just quit.  Unfortunately, most people choose instead to silently protest through poor workmanship and uncooperative behavior.  In his letter to the Ephesians (excerpted from 6.5-9, NIV), St. Paul wrote:

[Workers], obey [those in authority over you] with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like [workers] of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does…  And [managers], treat your [workers] in the same way.  Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their [Lord] and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with [God].

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