The pace of change in the working world shows no signs of slowing up. During or following the recession of 1990-1992 almost every minor company set about restructuring its organization. This process resulted in hundreds of thousands of men and women being made redundant. The official unemployment figures were masked to a great degree by the fact that many people retired early and did not join the dole queue.
These changes were made on economic grounds, but there has also been the dramatic transformation brought about by new technology. Whether you look inside a power station, a printing works, or in heavy engineering, you will find only a small fraction of the number of people who were there 15 years ago. They do not need any more, technology is doing the work.
Mergers and takeovers are taking place almost daily and companies are becoming bigger and more global. The traditional British family company, many started in the last century by Quakers, men of Huguenot descent, or other Nonconformist groups, have been eclipsed by international consortia, as the business players increasingly occupy a world stage.
But the transformation has not been limited to the economic, technological and international aspects. There has been something of a social revolution too, inspired by the emphasis on the individual rather than the group, and on flexibility instead of permanent, established patterns.
Flexibility is changing the working week, with more people facing pressure to work on Sundays. Individual employment contracts are giving managements the discretion to introduce variable work rosters, as best suits the requirements of the business.
Job-sharing and homeworking are two other features of modern working life which have helped to transform the working scene. Work used to be spoken of as a location and regarded as a place of social contact-‘going to work’. Now the word is used to describe an activity-usually a frenzied one: ‘I’m working. ‘ ‘I’ve got to work.’
With contract work replacing traditional employment in many areas of working life, Government statistics published in the June 1995 issue of the Labour Force Survey showed that 13% of all ‘workers’ are now self employed, and this percentage is steadily increasing. In fact there are now 700,000 more self-employed people than there were in 1984.
The concept of a job for life for one company has disappeared during the past decade. The heyday of the goldwatch is past, end there will be no need for the column inches in the company house journals which used to be devoted to the extensive list of loyal employees receiving long-service presentations. Already, the under-30 age group seems to be used to the new approaches. The young, some of whom have not experienced traditional employment, seem fully prepared to live by their wits in the insecure world of contract work.
Because of the pace of change and the fact that the decisions which generate change in the world of work are increasingly based on secular philosophies, Christians can easily find themselves floundering. What seemed a fixed and familiar pattern of working life has in so short a time been overtaken by new structures and methods.
In spite of all the changes, many Christians still find themselves rubbing shoulders with a wide range of contacts and colleagues, whatever their precise job titles, and whether or not they have a permanent work base or a fixed term contract. What are the opportunities for personal witness in the course of their work? What are the pitfalls and temptations, the trials and problems? How can churches support and encourage their members in the working world?
What are the ethical dilemmas-the issues of Christian conscience – which affect the follower of Jesus Christ in the workplace? What will happen if he or she makes a stand? Is the church praying over such matters?
With the internationalizing of business, more working people are making more trips abroad in the course of their work. Can contact with Christians in other countries be arranged, even though business trips abroad usually demand long hours of work to save on contract time and hotel bills?
What are our churches doing about the many French, German, Japanese and former Eastern Bloc business visitors coming to our own companies? Are we aware that the company down the road is frequently visited by colleagues from overseas? Do we know which hotels are used by the local companies? Can we make contact, in order to offer a warm Christian hospitality and welcome? What precisely can we offer?
All these are important responsibilities for Christians and churches, given that the vast majority of people of working age- 85% of men aged between 16 and 64 and 71% of women aged between 16 and 59-are now involved in employment of some kind.