These are the seven deadly sins of the workplace

Andrew Cave
Follow Andrew
MasterCard Priceless Table At Westfield San Francisco Centre Supporting Stand Up To Cancer
Gourmet dining: it's the new gluttony (Source: Getty)

Perhaps it was inevitable that someone would try to rebrand the seven deadly sins. After all, it’s 1,700 years since monk Evagrius Ponticus came up with the eight evil thoughts generally credited with the concept.

These were whittled down to seven by Pope Gregory I in AD590 – vainglory was the one to go. Now Mary Telford has given them a modern twist.

She argues in a new book called Sins that the seven have become invisible in a consumption culture founded upon convenient gratification and pleasure and no longer have the power to cause scandal and restrict behaviour

Downgraded to mere transgressions and lacking the traditional hellfire and damnation punishment, some have become so bland that they are easily legitimised.

Yet, even as minor peccadillos, Telford warns that they remain as corrosive as ever, representing the underside of human nature.

With that in mind and tongue firmly in cheek, here’s a guide to the rebranded seven deadly sins of the modern workplace.

1) Pride

Rebranded as: self-respect
Movie: Bonfire of the Vanities
Opposite virtue: humility

If we aren’t pleased with ourselves, who will be? We’re the best and should surely be appreciated, rewarded, even knighted. We don’t knuckle down to some inferior pest who happens to have more money, better looks and a richer spouse. We’re top dog.

Traditionally the most serious of the seven deadly sins, corporate bosses attempt to redeem it by extolling the virtues of collaboration and teamwork. “Not complying with our core values is usually the fastest way someone doesn’t make it in this company, says Brad Smith, chief executive of Intuit, the $31bn (£25bn) market-capitalisation US accountancy software group. “Very often if there’s a value when people stumble it’s winning together. We believe a player that makes a team great is worth more than just a great player. We’ll sometimes hire people who are incredibly smart but they aren’t yet a collaborator. They want to go off into a corner and do their work and they usually don’t work well at Intuit.”

2) Avarice

Rebranded as: ambition
Movie: Wall Street
Opposite virtue: charity

Money is what life is about. If we have it, we’re kings. If we don’t, we’re worthless. Plans need to be made and strategies honed. Coaches and courses urge employees to effectively be CEOs of themselves. Without it, nobody gets anywhere.

Philanthropy is the modern-day balm for this evil but be warned; it’s about more than just making a bank transfer. “Charity was often a matter of simply given money away,” write Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World. “For the new generation of billionaires reshaping the way they give, it’s like business. They’re using big business-style strategies and expecting results and accountability to match.

Jon Huntsman senior, founder of Huntsman Chemical Corporation, agrees. “People who put money in the church basket and people who go to church and pay the pastor: that isn’t real philanthropy,” he says. “That’s just like you belong to a country club and pay your dues.”

3) Lust

Rebranded as: desire
Movie: Basic Instinct
Opposite virtue: chastity

“We all have it,” says Telford. “Only a hypocrite denies it. Without lust and its gratification, we would be frustrated, dangerous lunatics, harming others, harming ourselves.”

Whereas lust in the workplace often ends up in lawsuits or tribunals, desire can be coaxed and redirected, Feel a need to be loved? Enrol in a programme. Sign up to volunteer. Or befriend a chief engagement officer. You may be useful.

4) Envy

Rebranded as: Aspiration
Movie: Maid in Manhattan
Opposite virtue: Kindness

Aspire or be despised. Covet the boss’s designer suit, dream of a corner office, fantasise about owning that estate on Mustique. It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses, but depriving them so they need to keep up with you.

That deprivation makes envy the second most serious of the seven sins but envy is also a key driver of capitalism. Retailers don’t want it banned, just renamed. Want a bigger house. Get a better job. Or start to like the home and work you already have.

5) Gluttony

Rebranded as: Gourmet Dining
Movie: Super Size Me
Opposite virtue: Temperance

Have you visited the latest Michelin-starred restaurant and worked through all 50 courses of its tasting menu? Do you wish it has a Roman vomitorium you can use to make room for more?

Restraint is not a well-known corporate leadership trait. Yet, the 329-year-old Lloyd’s of London is seeking to change that in banning staff in the boozy insurance marketplace from drinking alcohol between 9am-5pm. Half of Lloyd’s grievance and disciplinary cases are related to alcohol but not all workers are convinced, with one asking on the marketplace’s intranet: “Will we be asked to go to bed earlier soon?”

6) Anger

Rebranded as: Strong self-expression
Movie: Anger Management
Opposite virtue: Patience

Red blood is okay, even good sometimes. It shows we’re not to be messed with, rallies the troops, keeps us on top. Sometimes others need to be angrier too Former BT Group CEO Ben Verwaayen stopped a meeting and called for a little celebration the first time someone banged on a table in a meeting. “I said: ‘This is passion, this is fantastic,” he recalls. “I think a CEO needs to be unreasonable. I believe in constructive conflict.”

7) Sloth

Rebranded as: Chillaxing
Movie: Trainspotting
Opposite virtue: Diligence

This could be rebranded as a sin for Millennials. Don’t call it laziness; we’re chilling out. Corporates are having to reinvent themselves to attract talent that’s indifferent about companies that aren’t Apple, Google or Facebook. But Millennials do generally stir on issues such as climate change, pollution and world poverty. Change the world on your mobile phone. Now you’re talking.

Sins, written by Mary Telford with illustrations by Louise Verity, is published by Lilliput Press.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles