Whether it’s the temptation to surf the net instead of finishing your report, do some “creative” accounting, or a desire of a more tangible nature — the melting brown eyes of the new receptionist, for example — workplaces can be awash with sin. The biblical seven deadly sins — Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride — rear their heads in the office. Here’s the Canterbury Today guide to the Seven Deadly Sins of the Workplace, and how to avoid sampling forbidden fruit.
The sin: Losing your temper and lashing out in anger at a colleague/junior/boss/the wall.
We all make mistakes and how management deals with them is crucial to running a good business. It may be tempting to go Old Testament and scream hellfire and damnation at a newbie when they lose you a sale or mess up an order, but choosing the path of peace and love often brings better results.
That’s something high-flying six-figure-earning advertising executive Michael Gates Gill learned the hard way. In his memoir How Starbucks Changed My Life, he writes about how he found himself fired, divorced, diagnosed with a brain tumour and virtually broke in his late 50s.
Gill reflects on his business career as he serves coffee and cleans the toilets at Starbucks, remembering the times he yelled at and fired his juniors instead of supporting them. Once he fired an inexperienced young woman for making a rookie mistake, and he often delighted in telling employees they would have to work the weekend. Gates realised none of these approaches worked at all. They drove away talent and ruined people’s self-esteem, instead of creating quality loyal employees.
The salvation: Reigning in the anger doesn’t mean you have to grow dreadlocks, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But taking a constructive approach to errors means your employees will think you walk on water — earning you their trust, respect and loyalty.
The sin: Taking what you shouldn’t.
Enron. This single, short word conjures up the image of a bubble of corporate greed bursting spectacularly. The giant Texan company used a combination of accounting loopholes and dangerously corrupt financial reporting to hide billions in debt from failed deals and projects. It resulted in the whole company going bankrupt, several of the top dogs serving time in prison and thousands of people losing their jobs.
Even in little New Zealand we see headlines of businesses failing and employees winding up in court because someone has helped themselves to company safe.
Not all greed results in media maulings and court trials of course. There’s the more surreptitious kind. In a tight economy, employees aren’t going to jump ship as easily, so bosses can get away with giving themselves huge salaries and not financially acknowledging the hard work of their best staff. But the staff will quietly note the flash new Mercedes, or that thousand dollar fountain pen. When a better offer comes along, even if the company decides to match or beat it, don’t be surprised if your best people resign. Then your penance will be finding another superstar and spending the time (and money) on training them.
The salvation: Investing the money earned back into the business, and not on your new yacht, will pay out in the long term with highly skilled staff and systems making the company a long term success. And for goodness sake, reward your staff.
The sin: Probably the most self explanatory sin when it comes to not just professional life, but anything and everything. Sloth — the avoidance of physical work or a sluggishness of soul — is just plain old fashioned laziness.
The trouble is, our entire way of life now pays homage to slothfulness. What the industrial revolution started, the technological era is finishing off by inventing ways for us to do less and oh boy, has the concept ever taken off. Just compare obesity rates in the western world today to a century ago. And look no further than your sofa for further evidence — it’s sitting right there — the remote control. OK, so it might not be sinful, but it sure is slothful.
With self help books called The Lazy Way To Success or the ultimate machine for the super sloth — the Segway, designed specifically to eliminate the need to walk short distances, this entire era has dedicated itself to finding ways to make life less energetic.
Even exercise has fallen prey to the curious notion that less is more with odd looking machines advocating easier exercise. The bad news is, there are no shortcuts to success.
Do you think that babe’s perfectly toned butt on the ‘buns of steel’ infomercial found its perfect form flopping around on the sofa with a couple of cursory reps done twice a week? Not even — that devastating derriere was developed during rigorous sessions of sweat, pain and persistence.
It’s said the lazy person falls prey to poverty and it’s literally true — if you can’t read a balance sheet for yourself then you’ve surrendered financial control of you company to your accountant. If you’re unprepared to do your own job through lack of planning or research, you’ll impact everyone around you — especially if you have a leadership role.
The salvation: Getting lazy can be caused by a lack of motivation. So start setting goals. Make lists of what you want to achieve in the long term, and the write down what you need to achieve on a monthly and weekly basis and get going at work, home and play — it will pay off.
The sin: Labelled as the sin from which all others arise, pride, or vanity, is the excessive belief in one’s own abilities and it interferes with, well pretty much everything. Now we’re not talking about taking pride in what you do; in this instance read ‘pride’ as being vain and/or arrogant.
This sin manifests in business in many forms. It’s arguably best demonstrated by the arrogant executive unwilling to listen to feedback from staff or customers.
Also know as hubris, pride lives and thrives in the superiority of the leadership, and hence a company’s culture. Take the succession of failed finance companies who ignored the rules for quick profits and paid the ultimate price; failed companies and court dates. They’re a great example of pride in business gone rampant. The leaders were so filled with hubris they thought themselves untouchable, above the laws of any land. All of this behaviour can be tracked back to vanity, arrogance and pride — it’s the original sin.
Pride in business is not the same as doing a great job and being well satisfied. When we do a really great job and we have a measure of wisdom, there is an absence of arrogance. There simply is gratitude. Great sportspeople we admire demonstrate this characteristic.
The salvation: There is an infinitesimally thin line between confidence and arrogance, so remember the age old saying ‘pride comes before a fall’ and instead err on the side of humility.
The sin: Desperately lusting after a co-worker. An inordinate craving for a colleague, boss or employee.
Work can be a dangerous place. I’m not talking about breathing in the fumes from the photocopier or the scalding hot coffee from the coffee machine. I’m talking about the sexual current that can flow through the office. According to all the latest statistics, the workplace has become the number one place for people to form a relationship, engaging in infidelity or to simply have a brief hook-up.
Assuming you work in a relatively modern environment, it brings us into close regular contact with members of the opposite sex. If you find yourself working alongside some stunning creature, even if you’re happily attached, you can find yourself thinking unhealthy thoughts. So get your mind out of the gutter — a little attraction is healthy but obsessing over a specific co-worker can seriously damage your career.
Office romances are not illegal. However, they can lead to situations that are illegal and can expose the parties involved, their supervisors and the corporation to a great deal of liability.
Lust between people in the workplace can easily escalate into sexual harassment when there is any power differential between the parties. Even the perception that sexual favours are being traded for job security, compensation, promotions can trigger complaints and lawsuits, not just from the parties involved, but from others who might feel they are impacted by the unfair treatment.
Many CEOs, politicians, corporations, professionals, clerics have learned the hard way that lust in the workplace can bring down empires and destroy lives.
The salvation: No matter how strong your desire is for someone in the work place; it’s wise to think of your intentions instead of acting on them. Think of the long-term effect this could have on your job — is that one night stand, confession of undying love, sneaky affair really worth it? If so be prepared for the consequences.
The sin: The green eyed monster. Allowing yourself to be overly envious of others in the workplace. This can sabotage your self-esteem, which is one vital characteristic every successful business person shares.
As much as we hate to admit it, we’ve all been jealous of someone else at one time or another. We hate to admit it because the emotion we feel is a deep, dark and unsettling feeling. Jealousy is the surface lesion that hints at the real wound — a sense of personal loss, a lowering of self-esteem and, at times, a feeling of self-criticism. These deeper emotions can seep out in the form of anger and they can be tough to deal with in the workplace, where there is competition for rewards and opportunities.
Getting jealous when co-workers are recognised for achievements or spending an inordinate amount of time fixated on what you don’t have rather than what you do will foster a bad attitude and negative overall demeanour. German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said that envy “disciplines us to see our own good overshadowed by the good of others”.
Everyone can get jealous. A little jealousy can push you to work harder, but too much jealousy can cause a person to sabotage the overall success of their company. Remember your co-workers are part of your team. An achievement by one should be a win for everyone.
The salvation: Rather than being envious, let the accomplishments of others become motivational fuel for your fire in working toward your own successes.
The sin: Many individuals move up the corporate ladder so fast that they actually end up failing as a consequence. More isn’t always better — especially if you’re not ready for the challenge at hand.
Every workplace has at least one gluttonous team member — someone who takes on way more than they can chew! Gluttony is the over-indulgence in things. While it is commonly used with regard to food, it can be over-indulgence in anything. Gluttony is closely related to greed and may be inseparable. Not knowing how to delegate or when to ask for help can be an easy trait in the work place, no one wants to seem like their failing.
It may seem like a good idea to play the hero. After all the more important tasks you undertake the more valuable you will seem to your superiors, right? Not always. If those tasks are not done correctly, or on time, this kind of behaviour can be very damaging. Learn how to share work with others and admit when you have taken on too much.
It’s important to ensure that you are not only professionally ready to take on a new and bigger challenge, for which expectations are equally bigger, but also that your personal life is ready for the new demands and strains to be placed upon it.
The salvation: Achieving career success also includes maintaining a life balance, and a misplaced professional desire can create a backlash both at home and among peers. Learn how to delegate at work, and ask for help when needed. Don’t see this as admitting defeat; see it as a way of working and communicating successfully with co-workers.