Christian Marketplace Ethics Theology: Workplace Confessions

–                  Steve Marr

What do Tiger Woods, Jimmy Swaggart, Anthony Weiner, and Lance Armstrong have in common?  They all publically confessed wrongdoing within the context of their work.  It raises an important question:  When is it appropriate to make a public confession at work?

It is a critical issue in today’s workplace where many believe we need to make a strong appearance.  The underlying fear is that if we admit mistakes, we show weakness and lose authority. Scripture offers us a better path. King Solomon wrote, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13, NASB).

The other day I forgot to call someone back as I had promised. My colleague followed up by asking, “How did that call go?” “Oops!” I thought. My first instinct was to brush off the question rather than appear inefficient. Instead, I confessed what I did.  “I haven’t made the call yet.  I will rectify that now. Thank you for reminding me.”

When we confess we accomplish four things: 

Confession obeys God’s word. — The Lord cannot bless us or our work unless we are obedient.  The help or protection we need is always on the other side of obedience.  We shortchange ourselves when we do not obey.

Confession reduces stress. — We create unnecessary pressure for ourselves if we have to cover up our mistakes, large or small.  We have to keep a lie going, a lie that says we didn’t do anything wrong.  We live with the fear that someone will blow our cover.  No one needs that kind of pressure.

Confession establishes trust with others. — If we are open and honest about our mistakes, others see that honesty as a reason to trust us more. Every cover up is a lie.  Eventually, someone will recognize it.  Then, it affects the trust level among work associates and compromises leadership.

Confession helps others to be more honest. — Confession is one tool that creates a business culture that will encourage others to be more open about confessing problems and shortcomings. Every business looks for ways to improve.  When you have workers who are ready to admit mistakes, you can take quick action to correct it.

Confession is the first step to take when we fall short of an accepted standard.  King Solomon was wise indeed when he wrote that we must forsake our transgressions, especially in the workplace. We must confess and apologize if we are late for work.  Then, we must change whatever it takes to arrive on time in the future. The Lord expects us to amend our lives, to change. With the empowering help of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome our weaknesses, make positive changes, and grow the way the Lord desires.

In addition to confessing our wrong attitudes and actions, we need to offer restitution when we fall short. Scripture provides a model for making restitution in this way: “then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was entrusted to him or the lost thing which he found.” (Leviticus 6:4, NASB) Simply put, restitution is accepting the full consequences for our actions rather than asking others to bear those consequences.

If you fail to ship a product on time, do you just say, “I’m sorry,” but do nothing about it? Do you need to pay for expedited shipping, offer a discount, or provide some other service so that the customer does not pay the price for your error? Taking full responsibility for an error in judgment or broken agreement makes us feel uncomfortable.  We feel awkward and embarrassed to let others know that we responded or acted in a way that compromised a standard.  However, we can use these times as motivation to improve.

Some believe that the only confession we need to make is to the Lord. This is the first and most important step. Solomon was clear when he said, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper.” As I read this scripture, it is clear that if we are not to “conceal” our transgressions; it must involve some form of confession to others as well as God.

The process of confession, addressing the behavior that caused the problem, and making restitution as necessary is not easy. I certainly don’t like it when I have to follow this process. However, I have learned that as I embrace confession, the Lord helps change me.  The result is that I think carefully about the actions that might require confession and resist them, requiring confession less often.

Confession needs to become a way of life. This includes confessing to an employer, staff member, peers, customers, family members, and others. The key principle is that obedience to God’s word requires it. We may be tempted to ignore confession when we have authority over others. For example if we mess up an order with a supplier, we may decide to cancel the business rather than admit our mistake.  However, the Lord makes no distinction between those in authority or those serving.  We are to confess every time to everyone offended. 

Sometimes we receive the confession of someone else.  When the person accompanies it with the necessary behavior change and restitution, we need to offer complete forgiveness, in the same way that the Lord forgives us.  John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NASB) As the Lord forgives us, we must also offer forgiveness.

Most of us don’t like to admit when we are wrong. However, confession, even when it is painfully public, motivates us to take the steps to correct the issue in the future.  Restitution brings resolution that allows growth.  While we may always find reasons for confession, the more we confess, the less we want to place ourselves in that uncomfortable position and that results in less need for confession in the future.  

Steve Marr is the former CEO of fourth largest import and export company in the United States. He is the author of Proverbs for Business, Roadmap to Success, Integrity in the Workplace and 300 published articles. Steve’s web site is http://www.stevemarr.org. 

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