LACK OF CHRISTIAN VIRTUES IN THE WORKPLACE
Nessan J. Ronan, Professor of Accounting at the National University of Lesotho, continues his reflections through the JCTR Bulletin. He now looks at the natural consequences of a lack of Christian virtues in the workplace. He argues that there should not be a separation of practicing Christian virtues between the home and the work place. Link to this article
Frequently you hear adults say that their school days were the best days of their lives. This may very well be true but rarely do you hear people say that their workdays were the best days of their lives. And when you consider that adults can spend up to forty years or more in the workplace, it is a shame that so few of us learn to enjoy the time.
It is fair to say that because the greater portion of a person’s life is spent at work, how he or she behaves in the workplace can have a major influence on the total life. Now, before I go any further I want to remind you the reader that we are all workers. It does not matter whether it is in the home as a housewife or househusband, in the office as an executive or in the fields as a farmer, we are all workers. Even students in schools and colleges could be classified as workers.
I have observed that some Christians have a tendency to leave their religion at home when they go to work. It is as if they are Sunday or Saturday Christians only. This is foolishness and it can lead to all kinds of problems in the workplace. In this article I am going to describe what can happen to workers who failed to exercise some Christian virtues in their lives and as a result suffered severe consequences in the workplace.
HONESTY AND TRUTHFULNESS
We have all heard the saying “honesty is the best policy”. And I am sure we all agree with it. But you will find, as I will soon demonstrate that the virtue of honesty gets forgotten and ignored when other virtues are not practiced. The virtue I am referring to is truthfulness. Both truthfulness and honesty are twin virtues. To be truthful you must start with yourself. Truthful can be defined simply as practicing what is true. To begin with people must be truthful with themselves. He or she must acknowledge to himself or herself firstly if they have a vice.
For example, it is said that alcoholics cannot begin to recover until they first acknowledge that they have a problem. If a married man is unfaithful to his wife, he will rarely do anything about this vice until he confronts himself with the behaviour and acknowledges that it is morally wrong. I will now demonstrate that the failure to practice the virtues of honesty and truthfulness was the cause of two workers being fired from their jobs. The cases are real and I am writing with first hand knowledge of them. The first event occurred when I worked as an accountant and the second one when I was the acting principal of a college. In both cases I discovered the wrongdoing.
THE CASE OF CHARLES
I knew Charles at secondary school and we graduated together in 1964. The next time I met him, he was one of the salesmen of a timber firm. I was employed as the accountant. During his secondary school days he started beer drinking. When he became employed the beer drinking increased. At twenty-five years of age he was still single and living with his parents. He had a good personality and was liked by both management and customers. He was considered a good salesman and in time he had the potential to become a marketing director. The first thing we noticed about Charles was that when he came to work in the morning there was a strong smell of alcohol from him.
After some time he decided that rather than coming into the office in the morning he would go straight from his home to the customer. Management agreed to this arrangement and was impressed with his obvious diligence. But it soon became clear after an initial check of his house that he was in the habit of staying in bed until 10:00 hours. He should have been visiting customers from 9:00 hours. But he got away with a warning. You can see here the beginnings of dishonesty in his behaviour.
We know from the field of psychology that if you get into bad habits, it is difficult to change. So we could predict at this point that if Charles does not change his bad behaviour, he will get into more serious difficulties. The firm allowed salesmen to take their company cars home with them in the evenings. This was to facilitate them in their work. One night when Charles was out drinking, he had the company car. He got into the car while he was drunk and began to drive home. The police soon stopped him and he eventually wound up in court. He was fined and suspended from driving a motor vehicle for a year. He came to the managing director and informed him what had happened. Of course he apologized profusely. The managing director did not want to lose Charles as he still considered him a good salesman.
But of course if he were unable to drive a car he would be unable to do his job. So Charles made a suggestion that he would hire a driver to drive the company car when he was visiting the customers. He would also pay the driver from his salary and commission. The managing director was happy with this arrangement. All went well for a short time and then the accountant discovered that he was submitting false claims for petrol and other car expenses.
When all the evidence was assembled, Charles was found to have stolen a considerable sum from the firm through his false claims. When the information was given to the managing director, he fired him on the spot. He did not even want to see Charles he was so disgusted with his behaviour. What irritated the managing director in particular was that he had given him a chance with the drunken driving offence and now Charles had betrayed the trust invested in him.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Let us see if we can trace what went wrong in Charles’ life to wind up fired and disgraced in his community. A life of potential suddenly wasted due to the failure to adhere to the virtuous life. I believe his problems started in the secondary school when he started beer drinking. By the time he got fired he was in fact an alcoholic but if you mentioned that to him at the time he would vehemently deny it. So he was unable to acknowledge the truth in himself to begin with. Secondly, his drinking led him straight to acting unlawfully by drunk driving. It is possible that he could have knocked down and killed someone while driving drunk. Again because he was unable to be honest with himself, he did not see the need to reform. His drunk driving led to him incurring extra costs in hiring a driver. This then led to temptation. Let me recoup my losses by stealing from the firm, he probably told himself.
He would have comforted himself with the thought that “those accountants are only a bunch of pencil pushers” and they will never discover it. In any event that fellow who was in school with me will cover it up for me. After all that’s what friends are for. So he also underestimated his colleagues, which is a rash thing to do. So he was swept into the arena of dishonesty and fraud.
Now I am sure that God forgave Charles in the fullness of time but his firm did not. And this is the case with most firms. They will not forgive an employee who is dishonest and fraudulent. The organizational world is built on trust. If a person cannot be trusted he is not a worthwhile person for an organization.
THE CASE OF BANDA
The second case is that of a senior officer in a tertiary college in Malawi. Shortly after I had taken over as the acting principal of the college I received information to the effect that Banda was stealing from the college. When we investigated it we found that indeed the officer was stealing. He was involved in all types of fraudulent activity. We called in the government auditors and they quantified the amount of the loss, which was equivalent to about ten years salary of the officer. He was of course fired from the college and prosecuted by the legal authorities.
Now when you enquire into his background you find the following. He was married to a very nice woman and they had a daughter. But Banda had a major failing in that he was unable to be faithful to his wife. It appears that he had a number of girlfriends and he even visited one of them in South Africa on a regular basis. Of course he needed extra money to sustain this lifestyle and it was then that he resorted to stealing from his employer. I understand that after seventeen years he is still unable to obtain a job.
It is clear that if Banda had maintained faithfulness in his marriage, it is unlikely that he would have turned to stealing. He was a good worker and he was highly motivated but this is not enough.
There is one important conclusion to be drawn from this brief article. If you want to lead a happy and contented Christian life, then be truthful and honest with yourself. When you do this, you will be truthful and honest with everyone. Charles continues to symbolize for me the “real death of a salesman”. Banda symbolizes by his behavior one of the major threats to family life in Africa and also a major threat in the fight against HIV/AIDS. What is also particularly interesting is that although Charles and Banda worked in two completely different environments, one in Ireland the other in Malawi, their lack of core Christian virtues was their downfall.
It is also worth remarking that the organizational world dealt with them in more or less the same way. Today, some people who consider themselves modern and smart like to dismiss religion as an optional extra. But these two cases indicate that adhering to your religious principles will serve you well in this life as well as the next.
Professor Nessan J. Ronan