Ninety per cent of employees in the UK are not actively engaged by their jobs, and we have the second highest level of workplace sadness in Europe. It’s bad for individuals and the economy, says Tony Wilson



Research on global work trends shows that Europe is at the bottom of the world charts for workplace motivation, having the highest numbers of “quiet quitters”. And out of the 38 European countries surveyed by Gallup, the UK is near the bottom of the pile at 33rd.

Haven’t heard of quiet quitting? It’s the concept of sticking in a job role while applying the bare minimum effort. Gallup describes it as a state of being “psychologically unattached” to your work. In other words, because worker’s engagement needs are not being fully met “they are putting time but not energy or passion into their work.”

According to the State of the Global Workplace, just ten percent of the UK workforce said they were actively engaged at work (defined by Gallup as “highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work” in a way that “moves the organisation forward”).

By saying yes to work, we accept our role as co-creators with God

This has huge personal and national impact. The UK reports the second highest levels of workplace sadness in Europe, with 27 per cent saying they feel sad “a lot” of their working day. The fact that only ten per cent of our workforce is pulling its weight also has a severe economic impact, costing the UK economy an estimated £257 billion annually.

Mitigating factors

Many factors are likely to contribute to the above statistics, including poor leadership and lack of training and investment in staff. Low levels of job satisfaction must bear some of the responsibility too.

In his 2018 essay on the social harm caused by meaningless jobs, anthropologist David Graeber points out that society - and the individual - suffer when people are expected to carry out functions with little purpose or significance.

These are jobs so deeply embedded in large organisations that even the people who carry out the roles suspect they make no positive contribution. Small wonder therefore, that many people think nothing of keeping up with social media and personal emails during working hours.

Designed for work

So what does the Bible say about work? Could a biblical work ethic reboot our enthusiasm for the 9-to-5?

The first three chapters of Old Testament teach us that work was always part of the plan for humanity. God knows we most closely resemble him when we use our creativity to be productive. But in rejecting intimacy with God, the work that was designed to be a point of communion between Creator and creature became something else. Genesis 3:17-19 tells us that “painful toil” is now our lot.

However, reading on to Genesis 41, we see the great leadership of Joseph in Egypt contributed hugely to national productivity which blessed people beyond their own borders.

Deuteronomy and Leviticus give us early laws on workers’ rights and responsibilities. Proverbs offers advice to work hard and warns against laziness.

The New Testament balances our duties to support the poor with strong teaching about working hard in order to maximise our potential and bless others (see Matthew 25:14-30 and Ephesians 4:28 for examples).

It is clear that, in a fallen world, a diligent work ethic is part of our call to holiness.

Immediate impact

For much of human history, the impact of our work has been immediately apparent. Most people grew food or made useful items for themselves or to trade. People could see the fruits of their own creativity and toil, and any failure resulted in catastrophe for their families and communities.

In contrast, a civil servant in Italy recently managed to be absent from work for 20 years before anyone noticed and took action! Working as a small cog in a large organisation can leave many people wondering if anyone notices the effort they put in.

Society suffers when people carry out functions with little purpose or significance

Our managers could perhaps be better at showing the impact that we have on the success of the companies we work for. And leaders might also think more carefully about the needs of individuals and societies when they structure their organisations, products and services.

Made for more

I am blessed to work with my wife. She might reasonably question this because her determination to put in a full shift puts me to shame. After a few hours sweating up a ladder cutting our beech trees, I can be known to slide off to write a column for this publication or do some ‘essential’ reading. There is a lazy streak in most of us, and hard work does challenge our inclination to please ourselves.

Work is one way that we can rise above our natural preference for indolence and serve others as well as ourselves. More than this, it is a critical part of working out our salvation.

Hard work is an act of love. It demonstrates that we are willing to subordinate our interests to a greater good and improve the world for others. Not only do our efforts help the wider community, but they also serve as a step to personal sanctification. By saying yes to work, we accept our role as co-creators with God.

The UK needs every penny of GDP right now to fund public services, social care and massive infrastructure projects. Our choice to work hard may return some of the £257 billion currently missing from the nation’s account.