TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]
If something goes wrong in the workplace, and no one is asked to own the problem, should I speak up and claim fault or should I just fix the problem and move on? What if someone else made the mistake—am I obligated to “rat them out”?
This is a complex question. As women and men of faith and integrity, we should try to avoid ungodly entanglements and seek to serve with humility (Mark 10:45).
There are nuances here that matter. Is the problem minor (a spreadsheet correction or a memo typo) or major (exaggerated promises to a client or failure to complete an important task)?
Minor problems fall under the biblical category of human finitude and opinion (Romans 14 concerns matters of conscience) and should not be a cause of contention (Prov. 19:11).
If you made the mistake, simply fix it. There is no need to announce it. If you didn’t, bring the small issues to the person responsible and see how she responds. If she is indifferent, fix the problem and move on. If a pattern develops, then we move into the second category.
If the team’s work for the client’s good is in view, or if employees’ or clients’ safety is at stake, we are in more serious territory. If you made the error, it is almost always in your best interest to own up to it (Prov. 28:13). Not only will it ease your conscience, but you will be able to ask for direction on how to do it differently next time.
If you made the error, it is almost always in your best interest to own up to it.
If someone else messed up, go to the person and offer to help fix it. If he refuses, follow the wisdom of Matt. 18:15–17—yes, this is about life with brothers and sisters in Christ, but the principles here work in all settings. Bring another team member with you and try to solve it quietly. If your colleague is obstinate, let him know you must bring the issue to those in authority—for the good of the team and ultimately of the clients you serve. Document everything—the issue(s) involved, the dates and times of the conversations, and your specific offers to help.
In every team, there are more and less productive individuals. These moments are times for helping everyone learn and become better at their jobs. I recommend working with your human resources department and your bosses to help all team members grow personally and professionally.
Sometimes errors are a moral issue. Sometimes they need to be addressed with training, to give employees the skills they need. Other times, team members need a different job assignment. One company I researched a few years ago discovered that poor performance was often tied to an ill-fitting assignment. The company responded by creating a culture of mobility so everyone had opportunities to shine.
All Things Work for Good
In the midst of following this process carefully, be alert to the work of the devil (James 4; 1 Pet. 5). While we can’t blame every workplace problem on demons, it is an equal danger to ignore that our adversary is stirring up rebellion against God’s reign when possible.
Do not allow bitterness or anger to remain in your heart and mind (Eph. 4:29–32). Bless the people you may have to critique, desiring their best and doing all you can for their good (Matt. 5).
Bless the people you may have to critique, desiring their best and doing all you can for their good.
Recognize the strongholds (2 Cor. 10:1–6) that enslave your colleagues, and actively proclaim the supremacy of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:15–20). One stronghold that seeks dominance is what I call “The Two Sets of Rules” deception. This is the notion that there is one set of ethics for Christian churches and ministries and another for “the real world of business.” Oppose this thinking with all the energy the Lord gives you.
You are not “ratting out” anyone if you follow biblical wisdom, honor your company’s policies and processes, and pray fervently for the offender to move in a new direction (even if that offender is you). Your caring, wise actions may be just the tipping point ordained by God in drawing this person to Christ.
In all things God is actively working his will. Sometimes he even uses difficulty to move people to repentance (Heb. 12:7–13). May the Lord use your kindness and wisdom to change your workplace for the better and to be a witness of grace.