By Rose Leigh
In the workplace, you can get fired for not having a professional attitude towards your coworkers and your work. Beyond that, however, as Christians we have a responsibility to act with virtue, showing Christ’s love to others and becoming saints. And it’s not enough to grow in virtue just on Sunday, or just with our families. It’s a 24/7 deal.
Here are 7 little ways to practice virtue on the job.
1. Be Generous
Nobody likes the person who only does the bare minimum and grumbles about unexpected or hard assignments. Behavior like that makes everyone else’s life harder.
You can practice the virtue of charity by being giving at work—taking on assignments cheerfully, offering to help a coworker when they’re stressed, and taking time to answer questions from the people you supervise, even when you’re busy. People appreciate it when you make these little sacrifices of your time and energy.
2. Be Humble About Your Work
A healthy amount of self-respect about your abilities is good, but you also need a certain amount of humility in order to work well with other people.
If someone corrects you or gives you negative feedback on your work, try not to respond in anger. If you feel that you’re right, explain your reasoning calmly. But keep in mind that yours is not the only opinion; others may have better ideas than you. Unless it’s a serious or moral issue, be willing to compromise.
Listen to others’ ideas at meetings, instead of shooting them down straightaway if it isn’t in line with your thinking. How often do you insist on your opinion or belittle someone else’s idea?
Likewise, be gentle when giving others feedback. Be polite. Make sure to give positive feedback as well as any criticism you have.
3. Be Kind
It’s easy to be respectful and friendly to people you like. But this also goes for the cleaning crew whom you perhaps don’t know very well, the coworker who seems to exist solely to be annoying, and the boss who refused to give you a raise.
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but all of your coworkers are owed dignity and respect as children of God. It’s good to have healthy boundaries with people (“Sally, I’m happy to hear the news about your cat, but lunch is over and I have some work to do now…”). It’s another thing to be nasty to people because they are annoying or have wronged you.
Try extra hard to be respectful and pleasant to the coworkers whom you don’t like. Who knows, they may come around and start being more pleasant to you in return.
4. Don’t Act on Anger
The emotions of anger and frustration aren’t sins in themselves, but taking it out on your coworkers or family is.
At work, in particular, never reply to an email while you’re angry. Step away from it, preferably for a day, and cool down before responding. You can’t erase words that you say to another person, but the written words in an email are even more permanent.
If you need to confront someone about their behavior, put yourself in their shoes. How would you like someone to speak to you about the issue? Being respectful and assuming the best intentions from the other person works better than starting off with an angry attitude.
5. Avoid Gossip
Sometimes it’s helpful to blow off some steam by discussing work-related problems with a coworker or family member. However, this can easily slide into the realm of gossiping, which damages reputations and feeds your own negative feelings toward the other person.
Avoid spreading unflattering stories about other people unless someone else legitimately needs to know about them (for example, telling a supervisor that a conflict with someone is affecting your work, or that some form of harassment is happening).
If another coworker is complaining about Sally’s penchant for long-winded monologues, they may just need a friendly ear so they can calm down. Some people actually do think best by talking about their problems with someone. After listening and sympathizing, though, sometimes you can gently suggest a way to give the benefit of the doubt to Sally, or offer some advice about how to make the situation better. If the complaining gets nasty, indicate that you’re not comfortable with it, and don’t join in.
Everyone experiences trying coworkers, confusing or difficult assignments, and everyday annoyances at work that try their patience. Personalities clash, video calls cut out unexpectedly, and coffee machines break.
“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” (CCC 1808). Serious problems, such as lawsuits, layoffs, dangerous situations, and persecution, can happen in the workplace, but more often you will experience stress over your workload and the little worries of ordinary life. Persevering through all of it with a smile, without letting it affect your work ethic or how you treat your coworkers, is a little way to practice fortitude every day.
7. Use Your Time Well
Succumbing to the temptations of YouTube, having an hour-long chat with coworkers about the weather, or taking a nap while you’re at work may mean you have a problem with the vice of sloth, or laziness. The company or client that has hired you is paying you for your time, and on some level, it’s dishonest to do less than your best.
If you have your own business or work for yourself, being a good steward of your God-given time and talents is still important! Are you good at prioritizing tasks so that you keep on schedule? Do you check your phone every five minutes, or do you keep on task?
Some of these virtues are hard to practice, especially in the moment. But don’t waste these little everyday opportunities to grow in virtue and become a saint.
Rose has been drawing and writing since she could hold a pencil, creating worlds of giants, fairies, and adventurers from her imagination. She works as a graphic designer and loves discussing the good and creative aspects of literature, art, and film.