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When it comes to leadership, we often focus on the positional leader, the person near the top, addressing various opportunities for growth and development of habits and disciplines that, if cultivated, should eventually lead to success.

In this blog, however, I’d like to focus on another facet of the leadership spectrum—our role as employees. We’ll see that exhibiting a poor work ethic is really a failure to lead from within and can seriously jeopardize our influence and witness.

God’s Word is full of practical advice regarding work. Here are just a few verses to set the stage:

“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Colossians 3:23

“The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.” Proverbs 12:24

“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” Proverbs 12:11

“Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” Proverbs 18:9

We could keep going, but I think these few verses illustrate God’s heart toward work and provide much wisdom about the attitude we should display toward the work we’ve been assigned.

In the next few paragraphs, I’ll address 5 Warning Signs that reveal a poor work ethic, and what we can do to make positive changes.

  1. Poor Time Management

Habitually poor time management, including a casual attitude toward deadlines and not showing up on time, is a warning sign that our work ethic may need an adjustment.

A survey conducted by CareerBuilder found that 35% of employees call in sick or fake illness even though they feel just fine. Common excuses for faking illness are:

  • I simply don’t feel like going to work.
  • I want to catch up on personal business or get some needed sleep.

Things come up. Accidents happen. Kids get sick. Occasionally alarm clocks don’t go off. But when being late, surfing social media or Amazon playing online games on the clock, and finding any excuse for skipping out of work early or not showing up at all becomes a pattern, it’s time to do some serious soul-searching!

Proverbs 18:9, The Message version, says: “Slack habits and sloppy work
are as bad as vandalism.”

When it comes to deficient time management, we are not just cheating our employers. We are cheating ourselves, and we are cheating our God.

  1. Poor Planning & Procrastination

When I was in college, I was a queen of doing homework the night before it was due. Winging it was my trademark, and I was pretty good at it! I looked at planning and prioritizing as diseases to be fought rather than great habits to be developed.

By God’s grace, when I entered the workplace, I had a boss who was patient and gracious enough to help me see the value of careful planning by extending forgiveness to me at a time when my lack of planning cost the company quite a bit of money. That was a lesson I will never forget.

Proverbs 21:5 says this about planning: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”

Proverbs 24: 27 teaches us that there is an order to doing things, and when we rush or dismiss the need for certain processes, we get chaos: “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.”

Procrastination and poor planning wreak havoc in our workplaces. Sometimes it’s due to poor leadership. Sometimes, however, it’s caused by employees who’d rather wing it than take the extra effort to plan, prioritize, and commit themselves to doing all they can to deliver on the work entrusted to them.

  1. Lack of Results

My youngest son is about to go into the third grade, so we’ve been working on multiplication tables over the summer. Occasionally, when he’d miss the answer by one or two numbers, he’d exclaim: “But hey, Mom, I was pretty close, right?”

His constant excitement over being “pretty close” with his answers lent itself to a valuable life lesson about how “good enough” or “close enough” are not the attitudes he wants to cultivate.

Some of us, however, continue with the “good enough” attitude at work, and we don’t hold ourselves accountable to higher standards. I get it that our work environment may be less than ideal. I understand that we may be asked to do things outside of our “job descriptions” or outside of our comfort zones. There will always be circumstances beyond our control that must be navigated, but if you’re an employee who often fails to deliver on time or with excellence, who tends to always have an excuse for why things were missed or why balls were dropped, that’s a warning sign you should pay attention to.

  1. It Wasn’t Me

Being a mom of two young boys, I constantly battle the “it wasn’t me” attitude. The work environment can often feel like a kindergarten playground where all sorts of issues happen, but no one is ever at fault!

When projects are dropped, when deadlines come and go without the work being completed on time, and when mistakes are made, do we own up and admit that we may be the problem? Or, do we tend to point the finger or find justification?

One of the greatest leaders, Moses, had his “it wasn’t me” moment when he disobeyed God’s command to speak to the rock in order to provide drinking water to the grumbling Israelites. His disobedience (he struck the rock instead of speaking) cost him the long-anticipated entrance to the Promised Land.

  1. It’s My Idea

The flip side of the “it wasn’t me” attitude is the “it’s my idea” stance held by those who refuse to acknowledge the fact that a good thought or idea could possibly come from anyone else but themselves.

I’m sure we’ve all been around people who, upon hearing a good thought, will interject “Yes, I said that” or “Yes, I used to do that” or “Yes, I was just thinking about this.” It’s the individual who always seems to be in a competition, even when no one is competing against them!

An “it’s my idea” person is often driven by pride or fear. They have an innate desire to control every aspect of their environment, and they struggle whenever the spotlight shines on someone else, making them poor team players.

What Can We Do 

Since we started out this blog with Scripture, I’d like to end it with a few more verses, since I truly believe that God’s Word is the best source of counsel, wisdom, and practical “attitude adjusters” for those of us who struggle with one or more of these warning signs.

Who do I work for?

Colossians 3:22-24 clearly defines the Person all of us work for. Keeping a clear reminder of who our ultimate Boss is, will help us work with integrity:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

 What’s My Load?

Galatians 6:4-5 makes it clear that each of us should bear our own load. Starting each day by clearly outlining our assignment and staying focused on it will help us manage our time better, resulting in deadlines being met and projects being delivered.

“But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”

The Real Work

Ultimately work is not just work. It’s one way we worship Him. It’s an opportunity to make Him known to those around us. It’s a way to experience God as our provider. It’s a way to exercise the gifts and talents He has given us. It’s a way to display God’s character to the unbelieving world. It’s a way for God to try us, to test us, and to make us more like Him. Once we embrace the bigger picture of work, it will become much easier for us to break those poor work ethic habits for good.

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