The Demise of the Work Ethic
Submit Articles Back to Articles
"When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is
Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), Russian novelist, author, and playright
Airplanes, missiles, and space shuttles crash due to lack of
maintenance, absent-mindedness, and pure ignorance. Software support personnel,
aided and abetted by Customer Relationship Management application suites, are
curt (when reachable) and unhelpful. Despite expensive, state of the art supply
chain management systems, retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers habitually run
out of stocks of finished and semi-finished products and raw materials. People
from all walks of life and at all levels of the corporate ladder skirt their
responsibilities and neglect their duties.
Whatever happened to the work ethic? Where is the pride in the
immaculate quality of one's labor and produce?
Both dead in the water. A series of earth-shattering social,
economic, and technological trends converged to render their jobs loathsome to
many - a tedious nuisance best avoided.
1. Job security is a thing of the past.
Itinerancy in various McJobs reduces the incentive to invest time, effort, and
resources into a position that may not be yours next week. Brutal layoffs and
downsizing traumatized the workforce and produced in the typical workplace a
culture of obsequiousness, blind obeisance, the suppression of independent
thought and speech, and avoidance of initiative and innovation. Many offices and
shop floors now resemble prisons.
2. Outsourcing and offshoring of back office
(and, more recently, customer relations and research and development) functions
sharply and adversely effected the quality of services from helpdesks to airline
ticketing and from insurance claims processing to remote maintenance. Cultural
mismatches between the (typically Western) client base and the offshore service
department (usually in a developing country where labor is cheap and plenty)
only exacerbated the breakdown of trust between customer and provider or
3. The populace in developed countries are addicted to
leisure time. Most people regard their jobs as a necessary evil, best
avoided whenever possible. Hence phenomena like the permanent temp - employees
who prefer a succession of temporary assignments to holding a proper job. The
media and the arts contribute to this perception of work as a drag - or a
potentially dangerous addiction (when they portray raging and abusive
4. The other side of this dismal coin is workaholism
- the addiction to work. Far from valuing it, these addicts resent their
dependence. The job performance of the typical workaholic leaves a lot to be
desired. Workaholics are fatigued, suffer from ancillary addictions, and short
attention spans. They frequently abuse substances, are narcissistic and
destructively competitive (being driven, they are incapable of team work).
5. The depersonalization of manufacturing - the
intermediated divorce between the artisan/worker and his client - contributed a
lot to the indifference and alienation of the common industrial worker, the
veritable "anonymous cog in the machine".
Not only was the link between worker and product broken - but
the bond between artisan and client was severed as well. Few employees know
their customers or patrons first hand. It is hard to empathize with and care
about a statistic, a buyer whom you have never met and never likely to
encounter. It is easy in such circumstances to feel immune to the consequences
of one's negligence and apathy at work. It is impossible to be proud of what you
do and to be committed to your work - if you never set eyes on either the final
product or the customer! Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece, "Modern Times" captured
this estrangement brilliantly.
6. Many former employees of mega-corporations abandon the rat
race and establish their own businesses - small and home enterprises.
Undercapitalized, understaffed, and outperformed by the competition, these
fledging and amateurish outfits usually spew out shoddy products and lamentable
services - only to expire within the first year of business.
7. Despite decades of advanced notice, globalization
caught most firms the world over by utter surprise. Ill-prepared and fearful of
the onslaught of foreign competition, companies big and small grapple with
logistical nightmares, supply chain calamities, culture shocks and conflicts,
and rapacious competitors. Mere survival (and opportunistic managerial plunder)
replaced client satisfaction as the prime value.
8. The decline of the professional guilds on the
one hand and the trade unions on the other hand greatly reduced worker
self-discipline, pride, and peer-regulated quality control. Quality is monitored
by third parties or compromised by being subjected to Procrustean financial
constraints and concerns.
The investigation of malpractice and its punishment are now at
the hand of vast and ill-informed bureaucracies, either corporate or
governmental. Once malpractice is exposed and admitted to, the availability of
malpractice insurance renders most sanctions unnecessary or toothless.
Corporations prefer to bury mishaps and malfeasance rather than cope with and
9. The quality of one's work, and of services and products one
consumed, used to be guaranteed. One's personal idiosyncrasies, eccentricities,
and problems were left at home. Work was sacred and one's sense of self-worth
depended on the satisfaction of one's clients. You simply didn't let your
personal life affect the standards of your output.
This strict and useful separation vanished with the rise of
the malignant-narcissistic variant of individualism. It led to the
emergence of idiosyncratic and fragmented standards of quality. No one knows
what to expect, when, and from whom. Transacting business has become a form of
psychological warfare. The customer has to rely on the goodwill of suppliers,
manufacturers, and service providers - and often finds himself at their whim and
mercy. "The client is always right" has gone the way of the dodo. "It's my (the
supplier's or provider's) way or the highway" rules supreme.
This uncertainty is further exacerbated by the pandemic
eruption of mental health disorders - 15% of the population are severely
pathologized according to the latest studies. Antisocial behaviors - from
outright crime to pernicious passive-aggressive sabotage - once rare in the
workplace, are now abundant.
The ethos of teamwork, tempered collectivism, and
collaboration for the greater good is now derided or decried. Conflict on all
levels has replaced negotiated compromise and has become the prevailing
narrative. Litigiousness, vigilante justice, use of force, and "getting away
with it" are now extolled. Yet, conflicts lead to the misallocation of economic
resources. They are non-productive and not conducive to sustaining good
relations between producer or provider and consumer.
10. Moral relativism is the mirror image of
rampant individualism. Social cohesion and discipline diminished, ideologies and
religions crumbled, and anomic states substituted for societal order. The
implicit contracts between manufacturer or service provider and customer and
between employee and employer were shredded and replaced with ad-hoc negotiated
operational checklists. Social decoherence is further enhanced by the
anonymization and depersonalization of the modern chain of production (see point
Nowadays, people facilely and callously abrogate their
responsibilities towards their families, communities, and nations. The
mushrooming rate of divorce, the decline in personal thrift, the skyrocketing
number of personal bankruptcies, and the ubiquity of venality and corruption
both corporate and political are examples of such dissipation. No one seems to
care about anything. Why should the client or employer expect a different
11. The disintegration of the educational systems
of the West made it difficult for employers to find qualified and motivated
personnel. Courtesy, competence, ambition, personal responsibility, the ability
to see the bigger picture (synoptic view), interpersonal aptitude, analytic and
synthetic skills, not to mention innumeracy, literacy, access to technology, and
the sense of belonging which they foster - are all products of proper schooling.
12. Irrational beliefs, pseudo-sciences, and the
occult rushed in to profitably fill the vacuum left by the crumbling education
systems. These wasteful preoccupations encourage in their followers an
overpowering sense of fatalistic determinism and hinder their ability to
exercise judgment and initiative. The discourse of commerce and finance relies
on unmitigated rationality and is, in essence, contractual. Irrationality is
detrimental to the successful and happy exchange of goods and services.
23. Employers place no premium on work ethic.
Workers don't get paid more or differently if they are more conscientious, or
more efficient, or more friendly. In an interlinked, globalized world, customers
are fungible. There are so many billions of potential clients that customer
loyalty has been rendered irrelevant. Marketing, showmanship, and narcissistic
bluster are far better appreciated by workplaces because they serve to attract
clientele to be bilked and then discarded or ignored.
About the Author
Sam Vaknin is the author of "Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited" and
"After the Rain - How the West Lost the East". He is a columnist in "Central
Europe Review", United Press International (UPI) and ebookweb.org and the editor
of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory,
Suite101 and searcheurope.com. Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor
to the Government of Macedonia.
His web site: http://samvak.tripod.com
Follow us @Scopulus_News
Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-11-03 19:01:15 in Economic Articles