Value and me
Nigel Ajay Kumar
Teacher and Wannabe writer
“Do you feel valued by your organisation?” That’s what a friend asked me as I was leaving my job. My immediate answer was that God seemed to be calling me towards something specific and I had no complaints with my organisation. But the word “value” kept churning within me. I realised that the feeling of being valued was very important for employees in any organisation. Even for me. But value is a complex word that has many ideas associated with it. Here, I’m going to share at least four of those ideas related to value, showing also how the Bible discusses how people are valued. I’m hoping that this would help employees in job-contexts to verbalise what they really want from their organisations. And perhaps this could help an employer better “value” their employees. To put it simply, the feeling of value comes from recognition, fair compensation, usefulness and special concern.
The first concept of value relates to recognition; when an organisation celebrates your achievements, commends you privately or publicly for your actions. While not everyone likes public praise, I think most people like at least their work to be noticed and appreciated. But appreciation is not always a sign of value. One could be recognised and appreciated at retirement, but that does not mean that they felt valued during the day to day. For instance, it’s really hard for people who are forced to retire because of age, when they may still feel they have a lot to offer. The celebration of their leaving, no matter how much they are appreciated, can feel hollow.
Similarly, appreciation is nice, but I’ve seen that only the people who really know what it actually takes to achieve what you have achieved, can truly value your achievement. Otherwise, mostly, employers care about the work getting done, and are not able to appreciate the effort or challenges overcome to get there. So, if an employer notices both the final output as well as the process, I think an employee would certainly feel more valued.
We see public appreciation in the Bible, when Daniel translates the message from the hand (Daniel 5); which predicts Belshazzar’s doom. Daniel is appreciated; he is “clothed in purple,” given a gold chain and proclaimed as “the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” So what? That night King Darius kills King Belshazzar, so that title doesn’t really mean much for Daniel. However, the godly principle of appreciation extends beyond recognition for work accomplished. We see how the principle of grace governs when the weak are celebrated, even though they did nothing to deserve it. Something like how the Father celebrates, values, the “prodigal son” (Luke 15), though obviously the son did not deserve anything.
What does that mean for us as employees? For one, maybe we should try not to run after public recognition. But if we are upset about not being noticed, we should probably talk to our bosses and express what we feel, see if they will “see” what we are doing. And for employers, this is an opportunity to pay special attention to not just the final output, but also the process of the employees; recognize the good they do, and the effort they took to do it. But perhaps we can even urge Christian employers to celebrate their employees even if they don’t deserve it. (Is that too much to ask?)
Appreciation is not enough to give us the feeling of being valued. A second important concept for employees to feel valued is to receive fair compensation. Compensation is the salary, and sometimes it is the clearest sign of value. If you get paid more, that is a sign you are valued. If less, then you have less value. However, it is still possible to feel valued, even if you are paid little, and not feel valued at all, even if you are paid a lot. This has to do with “fair” compensation.
This type of value is when the organisation treats you fairly, while not lifting others who do the same or less than you at a higher pay-scale. So, if you are paid little, it’s ok if everyone else is paid little. But if you feel you are doing a lot of work for the organisation, while the people who are paid more are doing much less, then that is a sign that you are not valued. So, fair assessment, or at least equality, is important for the feeling of value.
In the Bible, the idea of labourers receiving wages is important, to the point that there are many verses about paying wages that are due (Romans 4:4) or even being cursed for not paying wages (Deuteronomy 24:15). However, an additional principle of grace emerges in the parable of the equal wages (Matthew 20:1-16). In this story, workers who work the whole day receive the agreed upon compensation, but the late workers also receive the same (gracious) compensation. Though what was decided in advance was fair, it still hurt the early employees. But Jesus’ point is that God has the right to be gracious to those who don’t deserve it.
For employees, we need to have a fair sense of what we do and try not to compare too much with others, and perhaps even try to be content in what we do get. But for earthly employers, perhaps we need to be sensitive about perceptions of employees, and try to compensate fairly. But applying the principle of grace, perhaps Christian employees may also avoid merit as the criteria for payment.
Value as usefulness (this includes trust)
Another view of value, very important for an employee, is if an organisation trusts you, and is able to use your talents effectively. Here, the work is not simply being appreciated but also the employee is shown that they are necessary. In this sense, the organisation trusts you to be part of its larger system and what you do is needed and useful. But in many cases, employees in larger organisations are often limited to one task and if they leave, they are reminded that they are seemingly insignificant.
In a biblical sense, we can be reminded of Paul’s Body of Christ image (1 Corinthian 12:4-31) where all parts of the body have a cooperative role to play, even if not everyone has the same type of honour (appreciation). In the Body of Christ sense, value is especially felt when there is loss. When a person is hurt, no matter how seemingly significant, the Body feels there is something amiss, showing the larger value.
For employees, it will help to see your own work in the bigger picture. To illustrate, in my previous organisation, a Christian Seminary (SAIACS), many of the services staff (those who clean, cook and do gardening) actually believed that what they did was important for building the kingdom of God. For an employee to begin to sense their own higher calling, regardless of what they do, would certainly help give sense of their value. For employers, similarly, always remind all members that they are important and even needed and trusted in the larger organisation.
Value as taking special care
Finally, another view of value is when the organisation takes care of you. This is both when the organisation invests in your personal and professional development, and also when the organisation takes care of you even when you are ill or unable to perform. This latter type is extremely rare, but when an organisation takes care of you even if you are not useful, that would be a very important reminder of value.
Value, as taking care of, is seen in the Bible when Jesus tells his disciples not to worry (Matthew 6:25-34). Here Jesus says that the Father takes care of flowers and birds, and yet we are even more precious to him than those; so obviously the father will take care of our needs. Part of this promise is provision, meeting our needs. But it is not a reward, not a salary, but God the Father takes care of our needs because we are precious to Him, we are loved.
For employees, how wonderful would it be if our leaders “loved” us; and so felt they wanted to protect us, and take care of us, regardless of whether we are useful or not. That would certainly give us a sense of value. For employers, this is a big challenge, to not just appreciate, pay fair wages, or even trust, but to love. Again, is that too much to ask?
Finally, I want to end this by reminding us all that we are not simply employees, but also employers. If we have a maid working in our house, if someone is a gatekeeper in our apartment, or even when we use the services of those less fortunate than us, the same high calling of employers falls on us. Let us, therefore, be challenged to be godly employers, and value those who work for us. Even as I hope you will benefit by being valued by your own employers, and certainly by God our Father.
Nigel used to be a teacher at SAIACS, a Christian Seminary in Bengaluru. Currently, he is a Research Scholar with the SAIACS Centre for South Asia Research (CSAR), writing a book on Theological Research Methodology.