TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].
I have a hard time correcting and being stern with my employees. What should my tone and delivery look like?
Giving correction and feedback is always challenging, particularly in the workplace as you’re tasked with overseeing different personalities. As a newer supervisor, this is one of the areas where I’ve had to grow the most.
Every work environment has conflict to be managed, work to be improved on, and deadlines to be met. If you have employees under your supervision, you’re bound to have to correct behaviors, shepherd work performance, and enforce agency policies. This isn’t an easy task, but God through his Word has given us a pattern we can imitate in our workplaces and with the people we supervise.
The events of Genesis 2 and 3—Adam and Eve’s work in the garden, their fall into sin, and God’s correction of them—are about more than simply a worker in the wrong, but they do model helpful principles we can apply in our own workplaces.
1. Start with clear expectations.
In Genesis 2, the Lord placed man in the garden. In the first work assignment given to humanity, God set the expectations of the work to be done. Adam was supposed to be in the garden to work it, watch over it, and name the animals God created.
Even though Adam was without sin, God didn’t assume he had an innate understanding of his job description or performance requirements. God outlined the work for Adam, set the boundaries of his work, and explained the behaviors that wouldn’t be tolerated—as well as the consequences: “The LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16–17)
Even though Adam was without sin, God didn’t assume he had an innate understanding of his job description or performance requirements.
We should imitate this in our workplace by explaining to our employees the duties, expectations of employment, prohibited behaviors, consequences, and methods of evaluation. Provide this in writing and request employees sign an acknowledgment of these expectations to be placed in their performance files.
Here’s an example of what this could look like:
Employees must arrive at work promptly at 8:00 a.m. There’s a 5-minute grace period. Employees who arrive at 8:06 a.m. or after will be considered late. A pattern of tardiness will be addressed and reflected in the employee’s evaluation.
Most workplaces have established codes of conduct, job descriptions, and procedures to follow if standards aren’t met. Use these with current employees, and make it part of your onboarding process. When expectations have been clearly established, you’ll be able to correct more effectively.
2. Address problems as they occur.
As we continue to read through humanity’s first work assignment, we encounter the first failed performance evaluation.
Adam and Eve listened to the serpent’s taunting (“Did God really say?”), and they succumbed to temptation. They didn’t follow the command given to them by the Lord. They didn’t meet expectations, and they sinned by eating the forbidden fruit.
God didn’t let Adam and Eve experience the consequences of their sin without addressing them directly. He didn’t wait until they sinned more to address their compounded failure or wait until they approached him before addressing their sin. Instead, he came immediately and directly to them.
3. Be gentle in your tone.
I’m always amazed at the way God came to address Adam and Eve. He didn’t come accusing them of their failures or telling them they’d done it all wrong. He approached them gently, and when Adam and Eve heard him coming, they hid. So he asked them, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
We have so much to learn from our Lord. He already knew Adam and Eve’s failures, but he started the conversation with an open question about their current position.
As we bring correction to our employees, we should do the same. We may already know her quarterly report is due and she hasn’t submitted it, but instead of coming with an accusing tone, we can approach with a question: “How are you doing with that quarterly report?”
4. Follow through with consequences.
The next verses tell us about Adam and Eve’s begrudging admission of their failures and highlight their reluctance to take responsibility for their actions. The two are quick to shift the blame, make excuses, and claim ignorance.
God didn’t come accusing them of their failures or telling them they’d done it all wrong. He approached them gently.
Even though they tried to avoid the consequences of their sin, God had already set clear expectations, boundaries, and consequences for their actions. He didn’t engage in a power struggle with them. He didn’t try to argue about why they were in the wrong. He simply explained the direct consequences of their actions and gave them new directives about how to move forward with the work he’d given them (vv. 14–19).
Similarly, failure to complete assigned tasks has consequences in the workplace. An employer must apply the consequences and give new directives to move forward with the pending work.
5. Imitate our Savior.
Dealing with underperformance, failure to do work, or inappropriate behavior in the workplace is frustrating. We can be tempted to respond with anger, raise our voices, and be harsh in implementing consequences with our employees. Here again, the Lord gives us a model to follow. He shows grace to sinners and mercy to the undeserving. He corrects us in order to attract us to him in love.
In the same manner, you can bring gentle and firm corrections to your employees by having a foundation of set expectations. Your words can be kind while they address the issues at hand. Your actions can show grace while executing discipline and correction. And your life can be a witness to the gospel as you do this with love and grace.