Creating a welcoming place at work

Guest post by Kara Martin

When I started at my new job I was a little surprised by how unfriendly it was. People sat in their cubicles and seemed to avoid each other. If I stopped to say hello, sometimes they wouldn’t even look up. There was no sharing or offers of help. People seemed to prefer to avoid “hello” in the morning and “goodbye” at the end of the day. Sometimes I was surprised to discover I was the last person left in the building.

What this led to was an atmosphere that was the antithesis of hospitality. Hospitality is the generous welcoming of guests or strangers. It is about creating a safe and friendly place to build relationships and do work.

It is also something I see as foundational to being a Christian. Even in the ancient world providing hospitality was considered an obligation, the Greeks made it a virtue, but Christians added a new element: koinonia, providing fellowship.

Our God is a hospitable God: he creates and provides everything we need in abundance. Even when we reject him, he continues to reach out in love. In the Old Testament he provides specific commands to welcome the stranger and foreigner, and provide for them.

Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s expression of hospitality. He leaves a place of comfort, security and power, to enter our world as a vulnerable baby and a man rejected by all. In spite of the way others treat him, Jesus offers food and healing and welcomes all: even those who were ignored or rejected such as children, tax collectors, common sinners and prostitutes.

God, in his grace offers salvation to all, not wishing anyone to perish. This salvation is a free gift requiring no work or effort from us, merely assent. It is an offer to enter a hospitable place with God.

So, in offering hospitality we are bearing witness to the character of God, and also giving a glimpse of the coming kingdom. It is also a direct command: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.” (Romans 12:13).

I decided that I would try and make some small changes in my workplace:

·      I kept my door open so that I could see and hear when people walked by, and I called out to them.

·      Whenever people paused by my door, I would invite them in and ask them to be seated.

·      I made my office fun with coffee poetry magnets, posters, and interesting objects.

·      I had laughter if they had something fun to share and tissues if people felt sad.

·      I shared chocolate.

·      Whenever I went out for coffee I asked who else would like one.

·      When I was leaving for the day I went around the offices and said goodbye.

·      I invited people to lunch for one-on-one conversation, and for drinks when there was something to celebrate.

I have noticed some changes around the place. People tend to stop by and chat. No one leaves without saying goodbye to me. I have made good use of the tissue box, as people shared hard things. I have enjoyed many laughs. People have come in to share important life stage news with me: engagements, wedding arrangements, and pregnancies.

The German word for hospitality is Gastfreundschaft, which means “friendship for the guest”. In my small efforts to befriend others, I hope that I will help people make a move from being strangers to friends with the God whom I serve, to Jesus who is my inspiration, empowered by the Spirit to serve.

Henri Nouwen says it better than me:

Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour to a corner where there are no alternatives left, but open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories, and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. (Reaching Out)

 

Kara Martin is the Associate Dean of the Ridley Marketplace Institute. She has spoken previously at Life@Work events.

Image courtesy: dinahsnow.com