The Table Podcast

Building Effective Workplace Relationships

In this episode, Kymberli Cook and Robert McFarland discuss strengthening employee and supervisor relationships.

Timecodes
00:33
McFarland’s research on workplace relationships
02:30
Survey findings on workplace relationships
04:30
Communication barriers in the workplace
10:00
Healthy communication in the workplace
11:50
Seeking mutual understanding and respect
20:21
Developing an effective work ethic
23:55
What the supervisor needs to know about employees
32:48
What the employee needs to know about supervisors
36:44
Integrating faith and work
40:40
How do I communicate my needs?
43:36
McFarland’s resource suggestions
45:13
Building effective workplace relationships
Resources Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey, Outgrow Your Space at Work by Rick Whitted, Dear Boss by Robert McFarland, Dear Employee by Robert McFarland
Transcript
Kymberli Cook
Welcome to The Table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook and I’m the senior administrator here at the Hendricks Center. And today we’re gonna be talking about building effective workplace relationships, particularly between supervisors and employees. And to help us talk through that, we’re joined by Robert McFarland, who has been with us before. Robert is the president of Transformational Impact, which is a leadership development company and he’s also the author of Dear Boss, What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employees, What Your Boss Wishes You Knew.
Robert McFarland
That’s a mouthful, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
It is. So he is very qualified to help us talk through the employee supervisor relationship. And here at the Hendricks Center, we talk a lot about faith and work, and the importance of our work, that it matters to God, particularly because of the creation mandate and to fill and subdue and that work is a part of how we do that. It’s the majority of how we do that. And so in order to do that winsomely and as Christ like followers, obviously we have to be concerned with relationships and doing that job well, and that’s where the research that you did really comes in handy because – actually I’ll just let you. Can you just walk us through the research? Because both of these books, the Dear Boss and the Dear Employee are based on some research surveys that you sent out. Right?
Robert McFarland
Absolutely.
Kymberli Cook
Okay, can you talk us through a little bit about that survey and what themes seemed to arise as you got the feedback?
Robert McFarland
It was really exciting research I did and by the way, thanks so much for having me on the program again.
Kymberli Cook
Oh, you’re welcome. Thanks for being here.
Robert McFarland
I’m just delighted to be here with you all and especially delighted to talk about this. I’m very passionate about this whole concept of really fusing Sunday and Monday. And I think that, as you said, we so often have that part of our life really compartmentalized. We have our faith that we observe on Sundays and then we have our work that we do the rest of the time, and we don’t really allow the two to be integrated. So I think it’s really important for us to do that and that really was the heart behind the book. It was really understanding how can we really fuse the two together in terms of that. But yeah, in terms of the research, what we did was we went out to – we had a sample size of about 589 people from around the country, different socioeconomic status, different industries, different regions of the country, different – a whole bunch of different things that we had to make sure we had a representative sample of the country.

And what was interesting is we asked two open ended questions along with all the background information, the demographic stuff. We asked one for those who are bosses, the 37 percent that were bosses and then the 73 percent who had people – that reported to somebody. We asked them “what’s the one thing you wish you your employees knew that they may not already know”. And then “what’s the one thing you wish your boss knew that they might not already know”. So it wasn’t led in terms of trying to get them to respond a certain way. It was really see what was gonna percolate. And what was interesting is that other than those that didn’t respond to the survey and those who weren’t sure of their responses really it – both questions really popped with four major themes. I thought that was pretty significant that they both really gelled around four specific topics.

Kymberli Cook
I’ve looked over both of your books and the very common theme was frustration on both sides, from the boss and the employee, on insignificant – I’m sorry, insufficient acknowledgment or appreciation for what was being done, both in the boss’s role and in the employee’s role, and insufficient communication. It seemed like those and all of that really is in a sense a type of communication. Communication in general and then acknowledging and appreciating is a specific type. So what communication barriers specifically present themselves in the workplace? Because that – it doesn’t – it’s not a huge surprise because we have a problem as humans communicating with one another. So it’s not a surprise that comes to the surface in the workplace, but what specific situations and what’s your opinion on the workplace and why that just really seems to be an issue for everybody?
Robert McFarland
First of all, you’re right that the theme of appreciation acknowledgement really was a major thing. In fact, that one topped the list in both. So that was really the thing that people were most craving, which I thought was real interesting. Let me just do a quick aside that there were four major themes that popped in the research on both ends for bosses as well as for employees, but pay had nothing to do with what employees were most concerned about. That was a fraction of those who responded to something other than the four major themes. But in terms of communication, I think that so often we have this thing where we feel like “they know what I’m thinking” or “they know what I’m concerned about” or whatever, and we don’t really take the time to say it. We judge ourselves by our motives, but we judge other people by their actions and yet – so there’s a disconnect there.

So what goes on in our heads doesn’t really come out of our mouths all the time. So that’s one problem right there and also the fact that we have this tendency to think in terms of one and done. We will do something once and think we did it. Well, when actually the whole thing about creating culture within an organization or establishing a personal brand, shall we say, it’s a – it has to be done over and over and over and over and over and over again. So – because in terms of culture that’s created or brand, looking at it from either an employee situation or employer situation, it really becomes a matter of making sure that we’re doing it over and over again. And – because it’s a thousand little things, they’re gonna create the culture or the brand that we’re dealing with here.

Kymberli Cook
What role do you think – and this is – my husband and I just do so much premarital counseling. So whenever I hear communication, this is the first thing I think of and maybe it’s not applicable in the workplace, but I think it might be. What role do you think expectations have that – communicating expectations – particularly I would have to think for the employee having had the expectations of the employer, but clearly communicated them. But did you see anything with expectations or what’s your opinion on that as a consultant?
Robert McFarland
I see that more in terms of practicality, in terms of the way we do things. So oftentimes, it’s the – what we have going into the situation that ends up really creating the framing of the issue that we’re dealing with here. So – and how we come to that when we start off with a certain expectation that something’s going to happen and it doesn’t, then we have unrealized expectations and such. And that causes friction and problems in terms of any kind of work relationship, family relationship, marital relationship, whatever. That expectations are the huge barrier that we always have to bring into the situation, be cognizant of what we’re looking at.
Kymberli Cook
And would you say that it is the employer’s role as far as – you were talking about building a brand and building the company culture, organizational culture and ethos. Is that part of building that is communicating those expectations to the employees ahead of time or is it the – once you get in it, you kind of – as Darrell Bock likes to say, catch the aroma. You smell the coffee, that kind of thing. Is it better to just be really clear or is it just both?
Robert McFarland
I really believe that to be unclear is to be unkind and so I think that we need to make sure that is spelled out. So that it’s kind of a both and. For an employer in terms of creating a culture, you would need to first of all be clear, say what you’re expecting, and then reinforce that. So it’s really a matter of first of all knowing in your mind what do you want to see in the culture. When you see it happening, then to be able to reward it with that individual. Thank you, at a boy, at a girl, good job, whatever.
Kymberli Cook
That’s the appreciation.
Robert McFarland
That’s part of that, exactly, and then beyond – but then beyond that, it’s then reinforcing that in terms of everybody who’s there so that is done in front in a public setting. And so that people know that when this person gets a shout out, oh, okay, then that’s what expected. So it’s first of all – it’s explaining the expectations. Then it’s living it out and then in the process, people will catch the aroma. They will smell the coffee because they’ll realize what is involved because it’ll – they’ll – it’ll be part of the whole culture. So that’s in terms of the concept of creating the culture, which is definitely a top down thing and then the boss having to do that. In terms of an employee, in terms of building a brand, there’s gotta be some expectation in terms of okay, what I do want to project myself to be. And then having to do that consistently, so – and making sure that we are not allowing ourselves to go afoul of what we say and – ‘cause we can judge ourselves by our motives and not actually by our actions. So that’s a thing we have to be very conscious of as well.
Kymberli Cook
So how do we open up the lines of communication? What does that practically look like as far as a supervisor and an employee who are both probably a little frustrated with one another? It’d dependent on the situation, but what are some healthy, quick ways that you would suggest for trying to open up lines of communication in the workplace, particularly between the employer and the employee?
Robert McFarland
Sometimes it’s really helpful just to address the elephant in the room and just really come on it, and say okay, I think that from what I understand, you’re frustrated with the situation. And I wanna be able to just talk about this with you without – but then having to really dial it down without the emotion, and then be able to understand and be able to repeat back. This is kind of standard communication stuff, but nonetheless be able to say okay, what I’m hearing you say is this. Is that what you intend to say? And then be able to make sure that you can be heard. That is so huge for people, for bosses and for employees really to be able to say okay, they get me. They understand me and that is something that can create trust. It can really create a good working relationship going forward.
Kymberli Cook
And a good just overall culture.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely.
Kymberli Cook
If your employees are feeling that – and to use a very millennial word, it’s safe. They’re safe. Then – and they’re safe to bring concerns to their employers and the employers feel like they’re receptive. My employees are receptive because I have given them this place that both of us can really talk about the hard things.

So another theme that I felt like I saw arising between Dear Employee and Dear Boss from the bosses and the employees was that it seems like both sides don’t really think that the other side knows how to do the work very well. So the employees felt like their supervisors didn’t know how to lead. The bosses feel like their employees don’t appreciate the full picture and really understand what’s going on. So walk us through how we navigate this. It’s almost like a mutual cynicism and skepticism toward one another. How do we walk through that and try to open up that – those lines of – not just communication, but even appreciation for one another and making sure that everybody is doing their job well, and somehow figuring out how to recognize that and acknowledge that?

Robert McFarland
It’s interesting that we can get into our particular ways of thinking and get stuck there in terms of the way that we’ve always seen the world. It’s for own self-hurting that we look at things a certain way and then after that, we get stuck in patterns sometimes. And it’s really not something that we necessarily look to do, but it just oftentimes – it – we actually end up knowing less about ourselves than we really think we do. So – but the whole thing with creating that – making sure that bosses and employees really realize that there is another perspective here and that we’re not getting lost in terms of how things are seen. And so it really helps to – in terms of – for employees, first of all, to really acknowledge where their boss is coming from and respect is a huge part of that. And really that may be – that’s – that can be really hard for some people to say oh, you gotta be kidding me. You have no idea.
Kymberli Cook
That’s hard in our culture. We don’t afford respect to just about anybody.
Robert McFarland
I know, and they feel like they need to earn the respect. Actually that’s not what scripture says. Scripture says that you need to respect the authority over you and so really it’s about respecting the office. It’s not respecting the person. So even if the person you think may be making stupid decisions as a boss, okay, respect the fact that this person is the boss. God placed them – that person in that role and we have to respect that. And so that really is a huge thing and then for us to be able to say okay, I’m gonna respect the office and I’m going to respect the decisions that are made even if I think they’re stupid. I’m gonna respect that. That’s hard. So – but that’s one thing that we need to be able to do is allow ourselves to be respectful and really make ourselves look in that direction.

And then what we can do is just also respect our role in the process and realize “I am here to implement. I’m not here to second-guess my boss. I’m not here to go roll my eyes when my boss does things. I’m here. I’m being paid to implement decisions that are made and if I’m cool with that, then I’m gonna be a whole lot – that’s gonna go well with me and I’m gonna be more relaxed about it. I’m not gonna freak out when my boss does this, that, or the other”. So that’s one thing over there. I think in terms of the situation with bosses feeling like these employees, they just don’t get it, they don’t have a picture of how things look. So I think it’s really important for us to have that – for employees to have that big picture and see how things are all coming together. And realize that that’s helpful for everybody when employees see the big picture and then not – and realize how what they do really impacts everybody else. So those are some things there that I think will be helpful if we keep those in mind as we approach the – what we do in our daily jobs.

Kymberli Cook
And going back to respect a little bit, you can even, as an employee – I agree with you wholeheartedly in respecting the office and that scripture definitely guides us in that direction. I think there’s also an element of respect that can be offered even to somebody you don’t necessarily feel is doing what you would do or doing a good job, which seems to be equivalent in most people’s mind as to what you would do is doing a good job. But I feel like there’s an element of I can respect the fact that you are in this office, yes, but that you are a person that is having to make this decision. And somebody’s gotta make the decisions. Somebody’s gotta take the bullet and so I can respect you even as a person, though I would not have made that decision. I can respect the fact that you’re stepping up and you’re making one, and we’ll all – and then my role as a part of this team is to say okay, we’ll all do the absolute best we can to make sure that was the best decision that could’ve been made.

And so I think that that’s a really interesting and helpful thing for us to think through. And as far as employees understanding themselves a part of the bigger picture, what can bosses specifically do to help them see that? And even employees, what can they do to really understand what – just walk us through a little bit if you wouldn’t mind digging in on that. What does it look like to understand? I think part of it is seeing yourself as a part of the team and part – my job is to implement this element of the vision, but I think there’s also – I don’t know. I think there’s something to understanding the whole structure of what’s going on and appreciating that. And how can an employee figure that out if a boss isn’t directly enlightening them and how can a boss really help their employees see that?

Robert McFarland
First of all, you’re right. I think it’s helpful for a boss to kind of lead that in terms of okay – and that often is just helping one – maybe one area, one department really understand where another one’s coming from. And having that kind of dialogue across the chasm, shall we say. Sometimes a hallway and a chasm can be equal in terms of distance sometimes. But with the – well, let’s say you’ve got sales over here and you’ve got accounting over here. And sales is like, “Oh, those accounting guys always doing this, that, or the other.” The accounting people, “Oh, those sales guys, always doing this or the other.” Well, really helping them understand the frustrations that the other has in terms of – for a sales guy, he’s gotta meet these different quotas or whatever and he has to be flexible in terms of how he’s providing his product or whatever. And the accounting people need to make sure everything is done in a set way so that we don’t get in trouble. And then for them to be able to understand the things that they have to deal with, that can really kind of open eyes and that kind of form is very helpful.

However, ultimately we have to be willing to look past our own specific situations. And so the guys in accounting have to be willing to appreciate where the people from sales are looking at. And then people in sales have to be willing to understand and appreciate where their – where the people in accounting are looking at things. So it’s very important to be able to look past yourself and to be able to see that bigger picture and understand the frustrations and the confines and the constraints that other people in other divisions in the organization have to deal with.

Kymberli Cook
And be willing to do that.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, have to be willing to do that. That’s so important and so – and not think that my way is the highway or is – it’s either my way or the highway. So – but I think that that’s really crucial and that takes humility to be able to really say” Okay, I’m willing to appreciate a different perspective”.
Kymberli Cook
Now the final theme that I kind of saw it seems like was generally similar with both bosses and employees was as it related to their work ethic. So the employees feel demoralized that their hard work is kind of overlooked and pointless and nobody’s trying to motivate them. Nobody’s worried about them as a person, that kind of theme. And the bosses feel that their employees don’t work hard enough and they don’t take ownership of their place on the team. And so both of them kind of seem to be around this concept of the work ethic. How do we develop mutually fulfilling work ethics and application and work, just what we do? How do we develop that so that bosses feel their employees are on board and employees feel seen?
Robert McFarland
I think one thing a boss can really do well or it’s important for a boss to do well is really set that kind of tone in terms of the morale of the organization. And really it’s helpful for them to really first of all set vision. This is where we’re going. How then instill a sense of purpose, this is why we’re doing it and then really give them a sense of here are the values that need to be done, need to be put in place in terms of what we do. So how we do things is very important as well, but also making sure that everybody realizes that they need to be performing. There’s a certain expectation that everybody has gotta – has to perform in their specific role. And then also instill them – to them that everybody else is expected to do that as well ‘cause sometimes we can get this attitude of “I’m pulling my share, but nobody else is.”

And so there has to be that perspective instilled within the team that I can rely on everybody else. So I’m able to perform and I’m able to depend on everybody else and everyone else is accountable as well. So that’s important to put forward and then in terms of the – for employees to really realize that they need to be digging down into this and making sure that they’re doing what they should be doing. And so that – there’s – it is important for everybody to kind of see what they – how they need to be contributing and they need to be part of helping that. Because everybody is able to contribute to morale in the organization. It’s not just management’s fault. Everybody’s able to come and see “okay, I can do this. I can improve the morale of the organization by being competent in what I do.” Tim Keller says it so well about the ministry of competence. And so the best way I can serve God in my position and the best way I can serve my fellow man and what I do is by doing it with excellence. And so that really helps create a culture of appreciation. It helps create that whole sense that – of instilling morale and then really helping the expectations really rise in terms of what the organization can do together.

Kymberli Cook
And it cuts back on potential problems with communication and that kind of thing because you don’t have resentment building up and that kind of thing because everybody is genuinely trying as hard as they can. And that is seen by all – colleagues and that kind of thing. So with all of these themes that kind of arose in this research survey, you suggested two paradigm shifts, one for the bosses and one for the employees. Can you walk us through what the shift – what does the paradigm shift for the supervisor look like in light of all of this?
Robert McFarland
In terms of what boss really needs to know, in terms of what their employees wish they know is first of all developing that sense of tenderness. That’s a strange word to use in a business context, but it really deals with the whole –
Kymberli Cook
But maybe it shouldn’t be.
Robert McFarland
Exactly.
Kymberli Cook
It just hasn’t been. That’s been part of the problem.
Robert McFarland
Exactly. I think that we have this whole concept within the business world that it’s dog eat dog or “Hey, it’s just business”. That term really bothers me because it really reduces the power that business has or the ability it has to really affect people’s lives for good. And so the whole concept of tenderness is so important because really what it is, is treating other people the way we’d want them to treat us. Wow, where have we heard that before? I know Jesus said that 2000 years ago, but it really hasn’t taken root within a business context.
Kymberli Cook
Can I pause you real quick? Would you say that that’s partly because of this sacred secular divide that has been perpetuated?
Robert McFarland
Absolutely.
Kymberli Cook
We say “it’s just business” and you can compartmentalize it, when in reality, life is holistic and no, it’s not and it never has been. It’s always been personal and spiritual and professional and all of those things are always going on at the same time. Sorry, I didn’t wanna cut into you, but I think it goes back to what we were talking about as far as just the importance of this and that’s where it comes from, where it stems from is a lack of appreciation for the holistic nature of what work is supposed to be.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely, and the fact that we really need to be integrating the Sunday to Monday and making sure that everything comes together so that we are living what we say we believe 24/7 and not just putting it on the side to live it on Sundays. So that is important to really make sure we are instilling that concept of tenderness.
Kymberli Cook
What does tenderness look like from a boss? ‘Cause we hear that and in the midst of the me too culture and everything like that, and I don’t – I’m not taking it to – what does that practically look like? What would you suggest? What do you tell people in your consulting? What does a tender boss look like?
Robert McFarland
First of all, it’s somebody who’s really going to be willing to listen. I think that when we go into a situation and we think that we know everything, we don’t. I think many bosses get the sense that “Well, even if I don’t know what my employees specifically are doing, I have to pretend like I do.” And that’s not helpful, but instead to be able to say “Hey, can you coach me on what you do or how you do that.” It’s a vulnerable place to be, but actually the employees already know that. They already know that the boss doesn’t know how to do what they do. We should at least acknowledge the elephant in the room and so the fact that somebody is – can be willing to say that really is going to increase the trust that everybody has in them. So really being able to provide that kind of appreciation and perspective, it really helps to defuse a situation. It helps realize we’re all human and I think that really can help people – organizations really work a lot better that way as well.
Kymberli Cook
So tenderness is one element of the paradigm shift for the boss. What other elements in the shift do we need to be aware of?
Robert McFarland
The whole idea of team is important. That really building the morale of the organization and making sure that everybody is able to see themselves as part of the team, and then being willing to perform as part of the team. That’s really important as well. And then moving into the concept of trust is huge because there’s a perception often times that management is incompetent and not able to really lead the organization, but it’s important to create that trust so that everybody realizes I can trust the decisions that management makes. And so that’s really important, but then finally, the whole idea of transparency and creating that situation where we’re able to share information freely, and also make sure that we’re taking time to listen as well. Those are the four concepts. That really the paradigm shift that needs to be made by a boss is to go – is to move into a situation of tenderness and team and trust and transparency.
Kymberli Cook
I thought transparency was an interesting one in that there are some meetings people can’t be in on. And so the whole team, particularly – and really in any kind of organization, unless it’s some kind of startup where everybody’s just doing it together. It seems like in most situations, there are – there is gonna be a little bit of a hierarchy. There is gonna be levels of knowledge that some people just don’t even know anything about this particular situation, but the idea that as an employer, I do my best to give you all of the information possible that you can have. And I think that particularly helps people see their place in the big picture. It helps them see the big picture in general. What other elements of transparency are there? Because I think that was just an interesting one and we don t – ‘cause I think oftentimes, you think of the employer being the one who just kind of knows all and you tell – I tell you what to do and you do it because I told you what to do and that’s your role. And that might not be the healthiest ethos.
Robert McFarland
Yeah, I get it. But you’re so right in terms of sharing that kind of information. None of these things really can be separated from everything else. I define these as four separate things, but really they all blend together. But really when you’re sharing that kind of information, saying “Okay, here’s how we’re performing, here’s how everything is right now” or “things are tight right now, things are difficult”, whatever. Whatever the information can be, it’s important to give that big picture in terms of okay – and then be able to break it down to say “Okay, this is how it impacts you and this is how what you do impacts this.” Being able to break down long term goals into short term actions helps people see that kind of bigger picture and then sharing the – being transparent in terms of where things are at creates that kind of team environment where people realize “Okay, I have a – what I do really matters. And therefore, I can be part of this. I can really be helping to improve the situation” or to really be performing at the level that needs to be done.
Kymberli Cook
And would you also say transparency would include a personal element to the employer? So the supervisor being willing to be transparent about who they are and trying to – not necessarily be friends, but definitely be tender and congenial. Is that a part of transparency as well or it – is that just in a different category?
Robert McFarland
It definitely can be ‘cause it humanizes the element there and so then you can see the boss really as a person and not just as a boss.
Kymberli Cook
As a role even.
Robert McFarland
Right. And I think also it’s a matter that – in terms of building transparency, it’s not just one way. In terms of just communicating information, the boss should be – also be willing to say “I’m gonna take time to understand you in terms of where you’re coming from.” And then – and be willing to listen. Those things are huge in terms of creating that kind of communication or transparency because anything that’s transparent really is not just about information or light or whatever flowing in one direction. It flows both ways. So that’s what key is really being able to create that kind of environment where the information, like light, can move freely.
Kymberli Cook
Those are the major elements of the paradigm shift for the employer. What does the paradigm shift for the employee look like based on what the bosses have said?
Robert McFarland
In terms of that, it’s a – the first one was the four Ts. This one is an acronym for the – what bosses want their employees to know is the acronym of H.O.P.E. And H.O.P.E. really is – it starts off with honoring. We talked about that earlier, really about how we need to be honoring –
Kymberli Cook
Respecting.
Robert McFarland
Yes, we need to be honoring and respecting those who are in authority over us. So that’s a paradigm shift to make sure that we are speaking appropriately about our boss. We’re thinking appropriately about our boss. We’re acting right in terms of how our interactions are with the boss. And then the second one is about being open. It’s being fully communicating and not – because there’s certain things that a boss may not necessarily know that needs to be shared from an employee level and making sure they’re willing to take that time and take that effort to really be able to share that information. Third is perceiving. It’s being perceptive and that is really being able to see the big picture and see how they fit in that, and then making sure they are doing what needs to be done to have a bigger picture mindset. And then finally it’s – the E is engaged. And so that they are taking ownership of the situation. They are fully dedicated to what they do and they wanna make sure that they are fully involved to the level they can be.
Kymberli Cook
So these are incredibly helpful and I think even as a supervisor and an employee, I hear these things and I think I don’t do that. So I love the idea and I think that there are things in there that you think man, yeah, that makes sense and that should be something that I am attempting to do and trying to be faithful in. What barriers – but the reality is it doesn’t happen necessarily and it’s very difficult. What are the barriers that keep this from actually filtering into the workplace, apart from sin? Or how does sin manifest itself so that this doesn’t happen?
Robert McFarland
I think really a lot of it comes down to a pride and lack of humility, in the boss’s role as well as employee’s role. And not wanting to have to – not wanting to have to acknowledge or honor somebody else in that role. And because of its – our own insecurities as a person, as a boss, and not wanting to do that. But when we’re able to be comfortable in our skin and to be able to say “I’m cool enough with who I am that I’m able to honor you.” And it’s a two way street in terms of honoring. Then things can start to change. When we are willing to put aside the pride that we – that is – can sneak inside, that’s huge. When we’re able to be humble and have that kind of perspective that I am willing to serve an employee or an employee is willing to submit to an employer, those are huge things. When we’re able to – and it’s a hard thing on both contexts. It’s very hard for both to be able to do that, but it’s imperative that we do that. Otherwise we’re not going to have a full experience as living our faith in this world and we’re also not gonna be able to be living our full potential in the workplace either.
Kymberli Cook
And that service seems to be a huge thing that comes up in the faith and work conversation in general is part of our role as Christians in recognizing and integrating Sunday and Monday and all of that is recognizing that our work is a place of service just as much as a work project at a refugee home on the weekend. It is just as much service and so conducting our humility being one of the key characteristics of Christians. And it also has to show up in the workplace and putting aside not only our pride, but our own agenda in what we’re trying to accomplish in all of that. And saying I’m here to serve. I’m here to make this happen or provide this service or whatever your particular actual work is. I really like that. I like that humility is probably at the core of a lot of these issues.
Robert McFarland
I think what’s really interesting in the whole context of work is that people may try to over spiritualize work or maybe I should say under spiritualize work in terms of they’re not fully appreciating the fact that work is a spiritual endeavor. One example I like to talk about from scripture is the fact that Noah built a boat. There’s not anything necessarily spiritual about building a boat. However, that was – building that boat was something that was so important in terms of God’s picture, God’s story for mankind. So we may be thinking about what we do as relatively unspiritual and yet the very things we do can be incredibly important in God’s story.

So I’m sure that Noah had some real confusion going on in terms of “Why am I building this boat?” Even if he understood that the earth was gonna be flooded with water and he was gonna be the only – that his family was gonna be the only ones to escape. Maybe he had some motivation in that regard, but at the same time though, to have the faith to be able to believe that is important. But nonetheless, even if we do have the big picture in our workplace, which hopefully we do, that we’re able to see that. Nonetheless, it’s our day to day actions that are gonna be very important in terms of transforming, transforming, the action into something spiritual. It’s that attitude that we bring to it when we say “I am serving. I am moving in my ministry of competence. I am performing this with excellence” in a way that then we can really show God and his involvement in our lives through what we do every day.

Kymberli Cook
And so that we can quite literally be the hands and feet of the Lord providing for his people.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely.
Kymberli Cook
Economics and production and that kind of thing is how we get our food. It’s how we stay warm. It’s how we have homes. It really is part of God’s design for just straight up providing for us and I think we lose sight of that fact. And we think oh, well, it’s not that important or it’s not that spiritual, but really you’re providing for people. And that’s where a lot of the service element comes from, in addition to serving one another in the midst of the workplace by being cognizant of all of these dynamics that we’ve been talking about.
Robert McFarland
Absolutely.
Kymberli Cook
So trying to think through how to make this happen in a workplace. I’m very practical when it comes to that. How would you suggest people conduct themselves? Obviously with humility like we just spoke. Let’s say if I as an employer don’t – sorry, if I am – if I as an employee do not see my employer offering me tenderness, a team, trust, and transparency, is it my – is there a place – is it fair at any point to ask for that, to confront that employer and say “hey, I would really – I think that this would be a helpful thing?” Or is it more important for me to just focus on myself as an employee and focus on honoring open communication, that paradigm? What would your opinion be?
Robert McFarland
I think that we as people can often get focused on “Well, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, so I’m not gonna do what I’m supposed to be doing.” That is not what we’re called to do. We’re not supposed to say “Well, if you do your thing, then I’m gunna do my thing.” No, it’s we have to go at it with the perspective of “I am responsible for my own actions. I need to play the part that I’m supposed to play.” And then once we do that, then we can start talking to the employer about this, that, or the other.

What I think is really dangerous is if we go to the employer and say “Well, you’re not doing – you’re not being tender. You’re not putting up a team.” And then for the employer to say “And what exactly are you doing?” That puts us in a real problem if we’re pointing out – if we’re looking – if we’re pointing at the speck in our boss’s eye and not willing to take the plank out of our own eye, that causes friction and that is not a good witness. That’s not showing how God is using us in the environment if we’re quick to point out other people’s faults. Instead we should focus on our situation. Then once we get our situation better and we’re focusing on we’re being honoring, we’re being open, we’re being perceptive, we’re being engaged in what we do. At that point, then we can start a dialogue because then what we say will be so much more appreciated and the boss will be more receptive to what we say.

Kymberli Cook
Because you actually have a foundation from which to speak.
Robert McFarland
Exactly.
Kymberli Cook
You would hopefully at that point be a valued employee and they would say “fair enough, I’ll see what I can do”, that kind of thing. So just one last question. Are there any resources you would suggest? Obviously your books flesh this out in greater depth, but are there any other resources for workplace relationships and – between – particularly between bosses and employees, but just helping build a healthy workplace ethos. Are there any resources you would point to?
Robert McFarland
There’s a couple of books that I cited frequently in each of my books. One is actually – before I give you the name, let me first say that I believe that all truth is God’s truth and that even if it’s not – even if God is not specifically cited in the work, it doesn’t mean that what’s being said is not truth and comports with scripture. But having said that, I believe that the book Conscious Capitalism by John Mackie is a really good read. And regardless of anyone’s spiritual perspective, I think that is a good book in terms of how can the organization be made better from a management perspective. Also in terms of how we can improve ourselves in terms of being an employee, I think it’s very good to look at Outgrow Your Space at Work by Rick Whitted. That’s a really good read as well. So I think those are from a boss’s perspective and an employee’s perspective, I think both of those works are really very good in terms of speaking to each situation.
Kymberli Cook
So basically what I’m hearing is both parties feel tension. Both employees and supervisors feel tension. Both sides need clear communication. The bosses have their Ts that they need to offer, the tenderness, team, trust, transparency. And the employees need to offer hope, open communication, understanding their role as a whole in the organization, and being engaged. And this will all make us more effective workers for the kingdom and all the ways that we have talked about as far as blessing the world and serving and that kind of thing. So I just wanna thank you so much for being with us and for talking us through all of this. And hopefully our workplaces will be a little bit healthier because of this. Hopefully, Lord willing. And I wanna thank you for joining us on The Table. If you have a topic you’d like us to consider in the future, please email us at thetable@dts.edu. Again, that’s the table@dtus.edu. And be sure to join us next time as we discuss issues of God and culture.
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Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center, overseeing Cultural Engagement events and efforts, pastoral relationships, and creative design. She holds a Master of Theology from DTS and resides in Dallas with her husband and daughter.
Robert McFarland
Robert McFarland is a leadership consultant, executive coach, and conference speaker. He is President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies envision their preferred future, map the strategy to get there, and create the company culture to bring it to fruition. After serving evangelical ministries and nonprofits for 20 years as an executive, board member, and consultant, Robert founded Transformational Impact LLC to help for-profit companies and nonprofits capitalize on the power of their vision.
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