Working in the Large Corporation
by David Crank
(From Volume 2 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine)
This magazine encourages home businesses and fathers working from home. However, that is not where most Christian men are today. Most work outside the home, some for themselves, but mostly for others. Some are in small business, but many work in the large corporations. I spent 22 years in a such a large corporation. Having been in a variety of managerial and executive positions in such a corporation, it’s not a place I would care to go back to. Yet it certainly wasn’t all bad and did support us through those many years.
Perhaps you are working in such a place right now. You may be well satisfied with where God has put you. Or perhaps you are thinking about a change. Every career choice has advantages and disadvantages. The question is where would God have you? His purpose may be for you to serve Him in the large corporation your entire working career. Or perhaps He would lead you to something different.
This article looks at working in the large corporation, especially when you are in a management or professional position. What are the advantages as compared to the disadvantages (principally the difficulties and dangers for the Christian man)?
Why would someone want to work for the large corporation?
Most large corporations are financially sound with an established market position and huge financial and people resources. So there is a degree of security. The business is expected to do well over the long term and is unlikely to fail. If the business does well, the employees also hope to benefit. To compete for good employees, good benefits, such as health insurance, life insurance, retirement plans, etc., are usually provided.
The large corporation offers many specialized jobs not available in smaller businesses. For those fortunate enough to climb into the upper levels of the organization, there are many financial rewards, perks, and privileges. The very top executives can expect to become wealthy and obtain a lot of prestige and influence.
Formerly, the big corporation offered almost certain job security until retirement. These days that has largely vanished due to competitive pressure on expenses and many reorganizations, downsizings and mergers. Yet corporations will still sometimes retain some long service employees even when unwarranted by their current contributions.
Difficulties and Dangers
Bosses & Hierarchy. Working for a boss is something like serving a master. The boss has authority over what you do and how you do it. He also has authority to reward or punish you (within the constraints of corporate policy and approvals). I've had a lot of different bosses and observed a great many more that others reported to. I've seen a few really good bosses. Many more have had some good qualities mixed with about equal bad. And I’ve seen a number of really bad or difficult bosses. The problem of “bad” bosses is in some ways moderated and other ways magnified by the hierarchy.
The impact of a bad boss can be moderated by the limits the organization places on his authority. Unfortunately this tends to break down as you rise closer to the top of the organization. The “bad boss” problem is magnified because you have to cope with the whole hierarchy of bosses. It is not just your immediate boss's mistakes, prejudices, pride and faults that you must deal with, but also those of all the bosses above him. Poor decisions and unjust actions often descend from authorities too far removed to quickly see the impact of their decisions.
The prophet Daniel was a man God placed in a position much like that of a manger or executive in a large corporation. By God’s grace he rose quickly in the hierarchy of the king's officials. Kings came and went, but Daniel remained to serve them all. He experienced many of the dangers and trials of the large corporation, but with worse potential consequences - he risked losing his life as well as his job!
Have you ever had to serve bosses who were ungodly, or lacked integrity, or were immoral, or who made foolish decisions and treated their subordinates very badly? Daniel experienced all of these things. Consider Nebuchadnezzar. Here was a boss full of pride, who would decree that all should fall down and worship him. He issued commands, that if obeyed would have caused Daniel to defile himself with unclean food. He made unreasonable demands of his servants (first tell me my dream, then its interpretation) and was ready to eliminate them all if they did not quickly meet his demands.
Then there was king Darius, a seemingly more considerate boss. But he was proud and naďve about the schemes of his servants. He foolishly establishes a law that makes Daniel choose between obeying God or obeying the law. Daniel chooses God at the risk of his life. And then there was Belshazzar. He was like the new CEO who cleans out most of those who served the prior "king" and brings in his own team that knows little about the company and its business. When he gets into serious trouble, someone reminds him of old-timer Daniel. He sends for Daniel’s help, but a bit too late! Have you worked for a Nebuchadnezzar, a Darius or a Belshazzar?
The Dilbert cartoons have publicized much of the idiocy, injustice, and wastefulness that occur in many large corporations today. Those of us who have lived through it, laugh as we realize how close to true they often are. We have been subject to the demands and whims of bosses, sometimes being obligated to follow them into disasters of their own making. We have spent months laboring on projects that we knew were senseless and doomed to failure. Then we worked even harder for months more, to clean up the wreckage afterwards! And when you are also the boss of others, you are expected to fully support your boss, encouraging and motivating your staff to do their best, even when you believe your boss has made a terrible mistake.
The corporate life has many frustrations. There are bureaucratic rules that can make success very hard to achieve. There are compensation programs intended to reward fairly, but which in practice often fail miserably. Injustice in pay and rewards is simply a fact of life. Though you may try with all your might to treat those who report to you fairly, your hands are too constrained by inflexible rules, budget mandates, required approvals of others, and political gamesmanship (who can maneuver to get the most money for his staff at the expense of the others). Many come to feel that what they do really makes little difference. Hard work and significant achievements often are unappreciated and unrewarded. Those appearing undeserving are often promoted. Maintaining motivation can be difficult when the rewards for doing nothing seem almost equal to those for a huge effort with great success.
The factor that often motivates the most is the chance to climb the hierarchy. As one rises through the ranks, there are impressive titles, offices, perks and multiplying financial rewards. But climbing the hierarchy is as much a matter of chance, politics, and the right friendships as hard work and ability. Near the very top of the organization, rewards and perks reach a ridiculous level. There are huge salaries, even larger bonuses, stock grants, stock options, deferred compensation plans, etc. The CEO is like the king of a small country, and after a few years, may be nearly wealthy enough to buy one for himself!
But there is often a price to be paid for climbing close to that peak of the hierarchy. Being in close daily contact with the "king" can be a very trying experience! You may be expected to practically live for the sole purpose of serving the "king" and the company. Most kings are not known for their humility, gentleness, consideration, etc. You are often dealing with someone who has a very large ego, and who believes he is nearly always right. Sometimes he also seems to think that his personal interests are also those of the whole company and that all should pay homage to him. Others are sometimes expected to take the blame for his mistakes, to cover up his improprieties, and to allow him to take full credit for their ideas and work. Being near the "king" is also a very dangerous place - it is very easy to lose your “head”!
Coworkers. The corporate environment also brings its share of troubles between coworkers. Most corporations want teamwork and cooperation, but often get something far less. Why? There are jealousies, grudges, conflicting interests and frustrations. The incentive structure and competition for promotional opportunities helps magnify what naturally develops between sinful people. Some coworkers will deliberately set up obstacles for others and require some form of "homage" before they will clear the path. Others will become jealous of a coworker’s success and resort to scheming, lies and "back stabbing", much as the other presidents/ governors/ commissioners tried to get rid of Daniel. Such is an all too common problem within the large corporation.
Influences. The people you work with each day for 8 or more hours a day can easily rub off on you. Most of your bosses, coworkers and subordinates will probably be non-Christians with typical non-Christian lifestyles, values, and morals. Thus you must always be on your guard not to succumb to their values, language or practices. You don't want to start valuing what they value - to become greedy for money, luxuries, big vacations, expensive hobbies and self indulgence. The more you hear profanity, the easier it is for those words to come to your mind. Nor is your Christian walk helped by hearing the dirty jokes, crude remarks and immoral adventures of coworkers. You should try to minimize your exposure, even if it means being something of an outcast and it hurts your career prospects. Nor can you be as free as others to socialize after hours - partly because you have a family you want to be with - partly because of the settings your coworkers choose. It is very easy to start imitating your coworkers in very small ways that might compromise your witness, before you even realize what you are doing.
Priorities. One of the biggest temptations in the workplace is that of wrong priorities. Dedication to your job is a good thing, but not when dedication to work takes precedence over your dedication to God and your family. Sometimes both bosses and peers may expect you to put the company first over everything else in your life. Bosses may expect you to work 6 or 7 days a week, lots of overtime, and to forgo planned vacations. If you fail to live up to these expectations, you may be labeled as not being a team player. Besides the boss and peer expectations, there is the motivation to get ahead, to progress to a better position, to make more money with which to support your family, etc. It can be a hard balancing act when the pressures are strong. You must keep your priorities straight while also doing your duty and maintaining a good witness before your coworkers.
Women. Another big danger for men in the work place is women. There are few places a man can work without having numerous female coworkers. As a matter of necessity you may get to know quite a few women and interact with them on a daily basis. God designed your wife to be your helpmate, yet in the work environment some other woman may be playing that role. Your job may put you in a position of interacting with a given woman at work during more of your waking hours than you do with your wife. This is far from ideal!
Many of the women in the workplace will be single (unmarried or divorced). Even when your work relationship is with a married woman, it is often less than an ideal situation. You usually have little to no relationship with her husband and she similarly has none with your wife. Some of the women you work with will be friendlier than others. Some will likely be physically attractive and have appealing personalities. Many will be dressed attractively and some fairly immodestly. Some of these women may even be seeking a man, whether married or not!
All of this spells danger for the married man and the need to constantly be on guard. You must be friendly while keeping sufficient distance and avoiding conversations that become too personal. You must fight to control what your eyes look on and to guard your heart against even the mildest of infatuations. You must avoid tempting circumstances or even circumstances that might cause your wife anxiety.
There is also a side effect of unintended comparison. You can unconsciously be comparing your wife to the women at work. Though your wife may be clearly superior to any one of them in 99 of 100 ways, yet it can make you focus more on where your wife seems to compare less favorably. You risk appreciating your own wife less from the unintended comparison. This also is not the best thing for your marriage.
Travel. Another serious danger area for the Christian man is business travel. Business travel takes you away from your home, your wife and your children. It may leave your family alone for extended periods, doing damage to family relationships. And while you are traveling, you often have a lot of free time in the evenings in an unaccountable and tempting place. When you are at home with your wife and children, your time is usually occupied and you are in an accountable place. Yielding to temptations would be likely found out. But away from home, in a strange city, staying by yourself in a hotel, who would ever know if you did something you shouldn’t? Hotels and airports make pornography easily available. Business associates may invite you to come along with them to various bars or to places much worse. You may be traveling with female coworkers. Traveling together risks more personal discussions with resulting closer relationships, coupled with the opportunity for infidelity. Husbands traveling a lot without their wives is not good for the husband or for the wife.
Pride & Loss of Integrity. Pride can come from a measure of success in climbing the hierarchy, or an above average salary, or important sounding titles and perks. It becomes tempting to view those lower on the hierarchy as less important than yourself and to not treat them with the respect and consideration you would show to a peer. As you are pressed from many different sides and become accustomed to being lied to and seeing others act dishonestly, you must always be on your guard not to do the same. You must guard against the little things that initially compromise your integrity before God.
Sacrifices Resulting From Working Away From Home.
When men began leaving their farms to work in factories and other businesses, something was lost. When working from home, whether tending a farm around your home or tending a store with your living quarters on the floor above, the family was never far away and were often assisting with the man's work. When husband and wife are in near proximity most of the day there can be more communication, more teamwork, and more commonality. Even the children can sometimes help Dad, or at least visit him briefly several times during the day.
When working away from home, you often can't be there when your wife or children really need you. When you return home, you may find you lack the time and energy needed to teach, discipline, and build relationships with your children as you should.
If the Large Corporation is Where God has Placed You
Do you work in a large corporation? God is able to sustain and protect you. The trials you may face there, God desires to use for your good, for molding you and teaching you. God’s purpose for you may be to continue to serve Him in that environment. Or perhaps God is leading you to consider a change, to pray about a way to spend more time with your family or to remove yourself further from some of the dangers of the big corporation. Do you desire to be home more, and to have more freedom and flexibility? God can make a way! Nothing is too difficult for Him.
God may lead you towards a significant job change even within the corporate environment. The degree of problems you face in a large corporation can vary immensely based on what you do and where you work. Some jobs are more removed from the corporate headquarters or other major offices and facilities. Some jobs (i.e. some sales jobs) give considerable flexibility and shelter you from some of the negatives. You may obtain much more freedom and independence in certain jobs. You may be allowed to control your time and set your hours, and to decide how to best do your job. You may be able to work at least partly from your home or out of a very small office. You may find a situation where there is much less forced association with the ungodly.
Advice for Working in the Large Corporation
We have Biblical examples of several very godly men whom God called to serve in similar circumstances (Joseph & Daniel). When you are in the large corporation, be a "Daniel". Hold on tight to your integrity, honesty, humility and compassion. Follow the Scriptural commands and good examples of those such as Daniel. Be subject to your master(s), even those that are unreasonable (1 Peter 2:18-20). Keep God as your first priority and your family second. Be on your guard against envy, greed, pride and temptation. Be diligent in your work and do what is right, whether this is appreciated by your bosses or not. Practice justice and fairness to the extent it is in your power to do so. Take a stand for what is right and do your best to encourage decisions and policies that are fair and compassionate.
“Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” 1 Cor 7:21-23 (NAS)
Working in a large corporation is not the same thing as slavery, but there are parallels. You are serving a boss whom you depend on for income that supports your family. Your boss may be unreasonable and a real tyrant, or very reasonable and gentle (1 Pet 2:18). Even when you are hired by a good boss, things can change quickly. The good boss can be quickly replaced with a bad one. A large proportion of your time must be spent serving this "master". Unlike the slave, you do have freedom to break away from your "master", but with losing your income and benefits until you can find a better "master" to replace him.
Slavery does not prevent us from living for the Lord. Neither does working in the large corporation necessarily hurt our Christian walk or keep us from having a godly family. God is sufficient whatever our circumstances. But if you are able to become free, whether from slavery or bondage to a demanding corporation, do so. Prefer the freedom that gives you more flexibility for serving God, for ministering to the needs of your family, and for avoiding influences which may be detrimental to your walk with God.