IT IS NO EXAGGERATION for us to say that the life and thought of Pope John Paul II have been significant influences on our work. When we were both graduate students, we wrote our dissertations on work (Alford at the University of Cambridge and Naughton at Marquette University), and John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) helped us to integrate a moral and spiritual vision into the disciplines of manufacturing engineering and business. John Paul II’s vision created the possibility for an interdisciplinary approach to work, taking seriously both its theological meaning, with its importance for the development of the human person, and the practical realities of work.
Another document of John Paul II’s that has given direction to our work is his letter to Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities). This document calls those of us who work in these institutions to examine our vocations as teachers and administrators, and it questions us as to whether we are educating students in a way that can help them discern their own vocations. Since we were teaching business students, the question we put to ourselves was whether we were helping our students toward a genuine and healthy integration between their faith and their work. So often, people experience a gulf between what they believe their faith calls them to and what they are expected to do at work. Were we helping students face this gulf and overcome it? We saw that we needed to help business students make connections between the philosophical and theological insights of the Catholic social tradition and the business theory and practice they were absorbing in class.
As we began to engage these questions with our students, what hindered our progress in teaching an integrated vision of business and Catholic social thought was the lack of teaching material on this topic. Many of the scholars involved in Catholic social thought focused on the larger questions of political economy, and many of those involved in business ethics did not look to Catholic sources in their textbooks. There was a gap in the materials available to us that limited our ability to communicate the links between the Catholic social tradition and business to our students. It was in response to this lack of material that we wrote the book Managing as if Faith Mattered: Christian Social Principles in the Modern Organization.
Pope John Paul II’s influence can be seen throughout our book. For instance, in the chapter on job design, the encyclical Laborem Exercens provides the basic tenets that we use to evaluate the way jobs are designed from the perspective of the Christian tradition. John Paul II helped us to answer the question: What happens when people work? In answer, we can say that two things happen. When human beings work they produce some kind of output that can be seen and measured: they serve a customer, they mount the exhaust system on a car, they sow wheat or millet or rice, they write a piece of software, they make a trade on the money markets, and so on. At the same time, inescapably, they also “produce themselves.” As we all know from experience, even on an unreflective level, people with different kinds of jobs tend to have different traits. What we do in our work, therefore, helps to form our characters.
This is why the design of jobs and the organization of work are so important. Through their work, people have the chance to develop as human beings, to become more fully human in a genuine sense. Or, they can become stunted and limited in their growth and even regress from the level of development they had reached if their work is boring or pointless. Equally inescapable, during the course of its everyday operation, a business is developing both objective, instrumental goods (such as products, services and profit) and subjective, inherent goods (such as growth in virtue, growth in skill, and deeper, more genuine growth in human relationships). Or, it is developing the opposite of these qualities, what we might call “bads.” As we evolved our ideas along these lines, John Paul II’s thought made it much easier for us to engage the Catholic social tradition with the business disciplines.
In the book, we were able to connect this thinking with the practical examples of cellular manufacturing and the interesting modern development of what is called “human-centered technology.” By describing these modern techniques of job design and linking them to the basic approach to work outlined by the Pope, we were able to start helping people make these kinds of connections not only in job design but also in other aspects of work. When people begin to see that it really is possible to link faith and work, they start to do it themselves in all sorts of new and exciting ways. Other chapters in our book aim at assisting people who work in human resources (with regard to compensation) and in marketing (with regard to new product development). Yet others are addressed to business people in general (with regard to the question of ownership in the business).
Managing As If Faith Mattered has been adopted for business ethics courses in several Catholic universities. Since its publication, we have continued to develop new connections between faith and work with the help of John Paul II’s deep and penetrating insights. Now that the Pope has gone to his reward, we ask his intercession so that the Lord may bless the development of our future work.