Can Non-Profit Work Encourage a Poor Work Ethic?

By May 20, 2009Business, Church

(This blog post comes with an opening disclaimer.  This is one of those “if the shoe fits” kind of posts, but it promises to make a few people mad. This is my personal blog and I never want my fear of offending people to dictate my willingness to share truth.)

Recently I delivered a message to our church about the type of work ethic Christians should have.  You can watch that message HERE or listen to it HERE.  There were thoughts in preparing to speak that I could not fit into my time allotted for the message, but I felt were important enough to share.  This is one of those thoughts.

I have had a very diverse work background in my work life.  I have worked in the secular world longer than the ministry world, but I have been an employer and an employee.  I have been a self-employed small business owner and worked for a large corporation.  I have worked with non-profits and for profits and I have served in government office.

Here is one conclusion I have reached:

Non-profit environments, whether that is government, church or para-church ministry, more easily allow people to have a poor work ethic.

There I said it.  Cast stones, as you will.

Granted some of the hardest working people I have ever met are in those fields.  I know pastors who work far too many hours and far too much is expected of them.  I know ministers who experience burnout and allow their families to suffer because of it.  I know government workers who give far more value to their organization than they earn in salary. Personally I have never worked more hours than since I entered full-time vocational ministry.

I also, however, and the point of this post, know many people who work in the non-profit arena who take advantage of the flexible schedules and the more guaranteed jobs, far more it seems as a percentage than I knew in the secular working environment. While I have always been an equal advocate for protecting one’s family and placing them first over one’s work, and while I practiced this with my family while I was in secular work, I also believe that flexible schedules should never be an excuse for laziness.

I have wondered why this is the case, at least from my observations, and the conclusions I can come to are:

  • The lack of profit-making incentive leads to a less strict working environment.
  • The fear of losing a job is less an issue in non-profits. Churches and ministries rarely fire or layoff people and it is harder to do so in most government settings than in the for profit world.
  • There is less sense of failure in non-profit work.  Many of the goals and objectives of non-profits are less measurable than a strictly profit-based measure of success, so it is easy to claim success even with less effort applied to the work.

These are just thoughts.  I am especially curious to hear from those who have worked in both for profit and non-profit work environments, but I would love to have anyone’s feedback.  What do you think?  Have I made you mad?  Have you seen this trend?  Am I way off base?  Does the shoe fit?  Could anyone question your work ethic?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Larry says:

    This is a great article. In a government & church setting, I have seen this also creates few more effects – The sense of entitlement (position/benefits), and resistance to follow future structure. In my opinion, in a church environment this also trickles down to the volunteers. High work ethics are expected from volunteers, and duties which should be completed by staff fall on to volunteer shoulders. These are my observations. Thanks again for the article.

  • David Mangum says:

    There is no doubt plenty of opportunity for abuse for paid workers in churches and non-profits. There is no excuse for it. At the same time, churches and non-profits have no corner on this opportunity. There is plenty of abuse by workers in every work environment that I have been in, in and out of the church, or become aware of be it non-profit, church, business or government. This looks more like a human sin problem than a particular work environment problem to me.
    I have also seen plenty of pride, bragging, one-upping, and ego driven game playing over “who works the most hours” and who is “more dedicated than thou.” When we stop throwing the culturally derived opinions around, what does the Bible really say about this? How many hours a week are we supposed to work according to Scripture? Aside from putting family first and taking a day off to worship together and general admonitions for hard work, moderation, saving, staying out of deep debt, paying taxes and debts and against laziness, the Bible is not very specific.
    Want to know if someone is effective in their work? You will never know it by counting hours. You will know it by results over time in every corner of their life.

  • Luba says:

    I totally agree with this article. Far too often are heard the words, “I’m soooo busy,” “We’re understaffed’; however, the same people who say those phrases leave work two hours early when the pastor is gone and always make sure they take their 30-minute lunch. Of course, in God’s ministry, we are always short on laborers. God is looking for gap fillers. Yes, in the ministry, we do not have pay incentives; however, the work of the Lord must always be first class.

    A lack of efficiency gets me too. Be more efficient so that you can get more done. Heaven forbid that we do more than what is expected.

  • Faye says:

    Especially in the church environment, the thought process is that we’re “growing” them and if we fire them we will cause damage. We have to show mercy.
    I know that not everyone will have the work ethic I do, but it makes it really hard to continue striving for excellence when sub-par is tolerated and condoned.
    My husband works for a government entity where that is the case as well. When did people stop thinking that their job for the 8-10 hours they’re on the clock is to whine and do nothing? I’m feeling kinda old now.

    Faye’s last blog post..leading isn’t easy – Part 1

  • Any business or ministry that does not have proper accountability run the risk of developing a sub standard staff. Unfortunately, it is easy to let things go for years before a problem is recognized.
    BTW I love your blog!

  • Alan Reynolds says:

    Any business or ministry that does not have proper accountability run the risk of developing a sub standard staff. Unfortunately, it is easy to let things go for years before a problem is recognized.

  • Great article! And I agree absolutely. I have observed that there are a large group of Boomers and older out there that like to have their name on the list for the not for profit organisations because it brings them status or because it brings them a degree of control over their leader. These are the people that have made it to their twilight years (sorry ;o) ) and feel that they have made their contribution to their organisation but still want the glory of saying they are contributing when really they are not…more often they are holding things back, and squeezing out younger more energetic workers.

    There was no such thing as a volunteer in the bible! People were called to work for God. Subtle difference perhaps, but I believe that it would make a huge difference to churches in particular if we recruited for positions based on calling rather than to fill a perceived need. And it doesn’t matter what age you are.

    My personal belief is that today’s batch of young people have terrific potential to impact our world. They are passionate and energetic people who are highly committed to causes that they are called to. Lets start harnessing that instead of squishing it.

    Here endeth the rant! ;o)

    Michelle George’s last blog post..The Power of Passion

  • D says:

    Ron …

    I think some of the trend towards a poor work ethic comes from societal changes, as well as other issues. It seems that younger staffers just don’t have the basis for a good work ethic. They feel entitled to the position they have, and take the flexible hours as a given rather than an option. (Living in a ‘fast-food’ society, they want everything now, with minimal effort, minimal cost and minimal waiting.)

    I can’t, in good conscience, come to work late, take a 2 hour lunch meeting, spend the work day on the computer and then leave 20 minutes early (in a 9:00 – 3:30 work day) … however, it seems to be the ‘staus-quo’ for some younger staff members.

    Just my thoughts, opinions and observations … (Thanks for the forum to vent!!)

    d <

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