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The True Meaning of Justice in the Workplace

Posted On August 20, 2017

Biblically speaking, to be just means to use your strength on behalf of the weak.

Justice most certainly includes an overall “fairness”, truth, integrity, honesty and refusing to show partiality. But the essence of justice goes beyond that. The essence of justice is that those with greater authority and influence are to use their stronger position in service of those who are in a weaker situation.

Helping those in a “weaker situation” might mean helping those suffering from poverty or sickness or some other harm, but it doesn’t have to be. It means helping anyone without the influence of formal authority you have. Which means, if you are a manager or leader in an organization (or in politics or anywhere), that it includes those who work for you.

Some people think that the biblical commands to be just in this sense and their corollary (radical generosity) do not apply inside the bounds of an organization. Inside an organization, “business rules” apply, which is interpreted to mean that people must be impersonal (a distorted notion of the concept of being “impartial”) and that doing things for your own advantage primarily is correct and right.

But this is wrong. The biblical commands to be generous and to be just apply in all areas of our lives, without exception. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and commands to be merciful as God is merciful (generous to all, especially the undeserving—Matthew 5:43-48) do not cease to apply at our jobs and in our work and in our organizations. They are not simply for the personal realm.

Their manifestation may look different in each area of life, but these principles of justice and generosity still apply in every area of life and we must be diligent to apply them in all areas.

So, here’s one example: let’s take the workplace. Being just and generous in the workplace means that, if you are in authority over people, you use that authority in the service of everyone you interact with—including those in the organization who directly work for you, those around the organization who don’t work for you but you are in a position to influence, and those outside the organization that you interact with. It means you see yourself as a servant of all, and that you see your authority and position and role as existing not as some statement of how great you are or how hard you’ve worked, but rather as existing for the sake of those around you. Your authority exists to do them good.

Now, immediately here we run into “the fallacy of doing good,” which is the tendency of people to act contrary to the purpose and role of their vocations in in their attempts to “do good”, which ends up making things worse. One example might be a chef at a restaurant who gives away dozens of free meals every night out of a spirit of generosity, when it’s not his restaurant and the owner has not given him the authority to do that. In this case, the chef’s generosity of spirit is right, but the way he carries it out is not. (If he owned the restaurant or had been given the leeway to do that sort of thing by the owner, however, go for it!)

So, what does using your authority and role to “do good” at your job look like when done right? A lot could be said, but let me just say one simple, yet core, thing. It means being for the people who work for you. Which means believing that they can excel and do good work and make a contribution, even when few other people might be able to see it. And it means using your influence to give them opportunities and, yes, advance their career whenever you have the chance.

Note I’m not saying you shouldn’t be smart and discerning. But I am saying that you should have a default belief in people and therefore do whatever you can to give them a chance, to give them greater opportunities, and to give them a break whenever you can and whenever it seems they will be able to meet the opportunity and succeed in it. And it means, even when you aren’t in a position at the moment to help advance someone or given them an opportunity, that you are encouraging and always seek to be the type of person that builds others up and helps them get better at what they do.

So much here is about your spirit and attitude—the disposition you have and with which you carry yourself. You need to see yourself as existing for the good of others, and charged with the responsibility from God to use any influence, authority, and resources you have in service to others. But note that I’m not simply saying “be for other people”. That is a critical thing, but it’s not enough, because it’s so easy to say that we are “for” someone but never take action. It’s easy to say words that we don’t back up with our behavior. The true disposition of a servant is to be for people and to be diligent and forward and effective in identifying ways to promote their welfare.

This is a call to give thought to improving in both our dispositions and our concrete actions. See yourself as existing in your role for the good of others, and be proactive in finding real opportunities to use your authority and influence and resources to serve others and build them up. That’s a how true Christian operates in his job and lives his entire life.

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