And He (Jesus) said to him, "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." --Matthew 22:37-39
It seems older workers have much to fear.
In a culture that places great value on youthful enthusiasm, the aging process handicaps the plus-forty workers. In an environment that rewards price-slashing competition, salaries that have climbed high because of long service offer tempting targets to short-sighted managers looking for ways to cut costs quickly. In a world where technology changes overnight, jobs that we can handle today may be out of our skills reach tomorrow.
As a human resource manager through much of the '80's and '90's, I saw the signs of change in the faces of the workers passing through my office. When merger-mania hit the first time, investors and the media seized on the figures behind the moves and launched a new kind of cult figure: the super-CEO. With profits soaring, few people noticed the twenty-year worker sitting in a re-training course trying to learn a new skill for this "new economy." Fewer still paid attention to the thirty-year worker who just said "enough", and quietly left the workforce, taking with him (and her) wisdom still needed that can only be learned over time. And with the exception of a few back-page articles in scattered publications, even fewer people paid attention to the shift from an economy focused on meeting the public's needs (serving the public) to an economy focused on "making me wealthy."
That may be too harsh a view, I realize. But it's tough to sit here as a workplace chaplain and work/faith writer in the middle of hundreds of emails from displaced workers and not be chagrinned by the idea that workers are a disposable commodity. It's tougher still to watch the workplace buy into the idea that work is about winning; that short-term results are more important than long-term outcomes; that profits are more important than people.
The good news is that most of the displaced workers I hear from eventually find new jobs, though a disproportionate number of them seem to find themselves starting over at the bottom of a new career ladder. The bad news is that very few people in positions of influence have the courage to swim against the stream of the culture, so we seem destined to follow the whims of society instead of guiding it.
Corporations should exist for the public good. The work we do, the products we produce, the services we provide should meet the needs of our people, and the needs of the environment God created. Certainly progress is important, and innovation is not only necessary, but it honors God by imitating His own creative nature. But change measured only by profit and loss invites us to do "what is right in our own eyes".
And worse, it forces our competitor to do the same thing just to stay alive, impacting both workforces and doubling the negative effect on our culture.
Somewhere, somebody must have the courage to sweep immediate gratification out of the board rooms and investment strategies of our culture, finding a way for corporations to serve culture again rather than to feed its latest frenzy.
While it seems older workers have the most to fear from a culture that lionizes breakneck paces, more-with-less productivity and mercenary workforces, the truth is younger workers have to worry also. How we treat our elders sets the pattern for how we ourselves will be treated when its our turn to be slower, older and less adaptable. After twenty years as an HR manager, and six as a chaplain, I can tell you with certainty that what goes around really does indeed come around.
A workplace leader who remembers that truth is a giant in God's economy, even if all the other guys are selling the books and doing the talk shows. When God sits down to settle accounts, the first two questions on His performance evaluation will be "How did your work express your love for me?" and "How did you treat my people?"