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]
My regional manager has tasked me with identifying employees who can be replaced by our new digital kiosks. Should I object? Should I follow through? Should I seek out some other alternatives? How can I think about this as a Christian?
Just reading your questions raises very challenging emotional, economic, theological, and empirical issues. Thank you for sharing this, and for allowing biblical wisdom to inform you.
Automation is here to stay and only going to grow. In our global economy, no business can ignore reasonable efficiencies. This is more than concern for the bottom line of profits. Businesses exist to serve customers with accessible and affordable products and services. Automation often helps with both of those. A principled and nimble company must adjust to the market. This in itself is not callous or sinful. Our economic system is a gift from God.
At the same time, people matter. We know that in the past, as industrialization or technology changed jobs, many people struggled to adjust. The people you replace will have to find work elsewhere. The good news: technology seems to create at least as many jobs as it replaces. The bad news: the skills of those who are losing jobs may not be the skills needed for the new jobs.
I’m not sure what position you hold in your company, or how much influence you have. But here are four points of wisdom rooted in the Bible that will help you in this hard moment.
1. Count the Cost
First, you may be in a position to ask if the company counted the full cost of automation, including startup, maintenance, upgrades, and other items. Luke 14:28–33 offers wisdom to architects and kings as they prepare for building and battle. Has your company tested automation and surveyed customers for reactions?
It sounds like perhaps it has, and that your responsibilities may be further from those decisions and closer to the employees being replaced. Nevertheless, your supervisors may appreciate any questions or concerns you call to their attention, especially if you reveal hidden costs they may not have considered. You don’t need to do this in a confrontational or aggressive manner, but in a gentle way that assures everyone you are looking out for the good of the company.
If it makes sense, could you suggest hybrid alternatives—something that combines digital assistance and the human touch? In light of our current culture of indifference and anger and often poor service, could your company stand out while still making the profits it needs? Or are there alternative positions in your company where these employees could land?
Remember, God delights in giving wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13–18)—and there is no domain of life unimportant to our Lord.
2. Ask for Wisdom
If the decisions have been made and you are still required to replace some employees, it’s all right to grieve. Letting people go is not an easy task. It will require prayer and wisdom to decide which employees are no longer needed at your company.
God delights in giving wisdom—and there is no domain of life unimportant to our Lord.
In Colossians 4:1, masters are commanded to treat their slaves justly and fairly, and the same principle applies to modern workplaces. Make fair and just choices as you look over your employee roster.
Remember, you don’t need to do this alone. God knows your employees far better than you do, and he knows the way that he leads them (Prov. 16:9). Ask him for help to discern which people you need to let go.
If possible, and without sharing confidential details, ask someone in your church to pray for you as you make these decisions. If you know someone in your church who has had to lay off staff, consider asking her what she learned in the process and inviting her to pray for you as you seek to do it well.
3. Offer Support
Letting employees go doesn’t mean you are to be without mercy (Luke 6:36). In your conversations with employees, be clear and compassionate. If you’re interested in how to lay off someone like Jesus would, consider reading this article. Privately pay for them, and if the relationship warrants, pray with them.
God knows your employees far better than you do, and he knows the way that he leads them.
As a supervisor who knows the skills and capabilities of your staff, you may also know of other companies or jobs where they might fit. Be generous with offering your time and connections to help your former employees land on their feet. You may recognize a talent in them that needs to be developed—if so, recommend classes or training they could take. As appropriate, stay in touch with these employees when they move on, checking back to see if you can help.
4. Care for Those Who Are Left
Whenever anyone is laid off, those who are still employed begin to wonder if their jobs are also in jeopardy. This is a time when the office might be bubbling with worry and gossip. You can lead well by approaching the issue head-on—assuring them and setting fresh goals to pull together and energize your team (Isa. 50:4).
Trust in the Lord
We don’t know the future. Our jobs aren’t a certainty. It’s possible that one day your job may be eliminated as well. But that doesn’t mean we need to fear the future, for ourselves or for others (Matt. 6:34). We don’t even need to worry about bad news (Ps. 112:7).
As you walk through this difficult task, let it draw your heart closer to Jesus, so that you can reflect his gentleness and peace to those around you. I hope you can be a voice of compassion and creativity in this moment.