When the ancient king David was forming his first government, he was joined by a cohort from the tribe of Issachar. These were described as “men who had an understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron. 12:32).
So, what are the signs of the times at work today? And what should we do about them?
Gloom and Doom in the Air
A survey of news sources about the economy will quickly leave you depressed. Inflation was at a 40-year high in May. This means everything costs a lot more than it did a year ago. People and companies are slowing spending. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates, making it more expensive to get a mortgage. House purchases are slowing. The stock market is down 20%, which affects the retirement savings of many.
There are rumbles of layoffs, hiring freezes, and new job offers being retracted. There is a slight uptick in first-time unemployment claims. Major banks, government officials, and economists continue to predict a recession is close at hand. (A recession is an extended period of economic contraction, where less is produced, bought, and earned. Usually, recessions are marked by high unemployment).
Some say we’re already in a recession. Some say a recession won’t happen at all. Despite all the negative economic press, people are still planning on changing jobs just as aggressively as they have been; over 25% of the workforce changed jobs in 2021.
Predictions about the future are often off. But what can we say with confidence about the near-term outlook?
There is an intense amount of economic uncertainty.
We are working differently. Very few of us have the same work experience as pre-pandemic. Some of us are full-time remote. Some of us are back in person, but half of our colleagues or customers are still remote. Some of us never left in person, but co-workers resigning have left us chronically short-staffed and overwhelmed.
Despite all the negative headlines, there is little evidence that widespread drops in consumer or business spending are taking place.
Given this landscape, what do we do?
1) Prepare A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences (Proverbs 22:3). Prepare your personal finances by tracking your spending carefully, avoiding (or paying down) debt, saving for emergencies, and putting off risky purchases or investments. Prepare your career by being aware of how your company and industry are poised to weather a season of economic challenge. Ask people who are more senior how the firm has handled times of less opportunity in the past.
2) Seek the Kingdom Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles, strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33) The news business is driven by inflaming worry. So much of it is politics and religious fundraising. Anxiety drives clicks, views, votes, and donor checks. Jesus was selling something distinct. There is a mode of living where one can escape the takeover of worry. He says to seek the kingdom and God will make sure you have what you need. This is a trade. We stop trying to build our own kingdom and God, our caring, sovereign, heavenly father promises to make sure we have what we need. He takes on the responsibility to provide for us. But how do we seek the kingdom?
We surrender our lives and work to God. In light of his love and grace and forgiveness to us, our constant commitment is to use what we have for whatever he wants.
We go after what he’s shown us to do, full speed. When God gives you clarity about work, service, and impact, do it now. Chase it with enthusiasm.
We study, think, and pray about his agenda in each situation–big and small decisions. And then go with his agenda as best we can.
We care for the poor, marginalized, and voiceless. We also keep in mind that reconciling people with God is at the top of Jesus’ Kingdom agenda.
3) Aim for Impact
Max Anderson wrote in The Weekend Reader that, “Americans are better off than they ever have been, and yet are more miserable than they can remember.” We are bombarded by thousands of daily headlines about what is going wrong or what might go wrong. The people around you at work every day–your colleagues, clients, and vendors–are slogging through the quicksand of negativity.
This is where Paul’s pep talk to the Galatians provides a helpful tip for us during this season of extreme uncertainty.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
With a tip of the hat to those who share our faith, whenever we have an opportunity to do good to others, we should do it. There are two ways to take this command: 1) Whenever I have the capacity (i.e. the time, money, or ability), I will help others, or 2) Whenever I am exposed to a need, I should do what I can to help.
We are only expected to help with the resources, gifts, and attention we have (see the Good Samaritan story), and yet there is also a danger that we quickly excuse ourselves from doing anything.
What might this look like on a day-to-day basis at work?
Sincere and specific compliments to your colleagues are a great place to start. Tell them what you see them doing consistently well, and why it makes a positive difference to you–these will bring a human connection and joy to your colleagues that they may never know anywhere else.
Another way to do this is to create space for true human interaction. We recently lead an exercise where team members looked back on the first half of their year, sharing highs and lows. And then, as they looked ahead, they shared their hopes. We instructed them to include personal dimensions as well as professional. The session went long because all were eager to share. The bonds for this team grew deeper because they slowed down to honor the full personhood of each person around the table. If you’re in a position of influence, you can do that too.
If you’ve ever spent time on the water, it's usually obvious when bad weather is coming. The sky is dark, the wind kicks up, and the waves grow on the surface. Usually, this means a storm is coming, sometimes it blows over, sometimes it pours. Our general MO is to be prepared for the storm and keep going.
This is our take on work right now. Be prepared, but press on. Press on with a view to what really matters, the Kingdom and the people you work with.