How the essence of work and society are being eroded
By Brett Johnson
December 2021. I had no idea work itself would be under attack in 2021 (going into 2022) when I worked on two books about work. We are on the knife-edge of a complex issue that could turn out well, or it could be a disaster. “The Great Resignation” – how quickly the labels stick. A Microsoft survey indicated over 40% of employees want to quit. The national numbers are evidently bigger. But why are people resigning in droves, and what are they resigning from? Is this a pandemic-induced-wakeup moment for society about priorities and meaning, or are government handouts an opiate causing lethargy and dependence? The answers are complex.
Some are ditching dead-end jobs and taking on more meaningful work like the single mother with three children who was terminated when the pandemic closed the restaurant where she worked. Through a cousin she learned about a potential job as a longshoreman and she now has a secure job, with benefits and retirement, at triple what she earned working in a restaurant. She upskilled. At the other end of the job market a bank CEO who spent most of her life away from her family wondered, “Why am I doing this?” and decided on a career change that gave her more time with her family. Millions of people are asking, “Do I want to go back to an office job? Would I rather freelance? Would I rather be my own boss?”
The drastic shortage of workers in the US is also empowering people who do go back to work to ask for signing bonuses, better wages and more just working conditions. Employers are having to figure out how to better work with their employees. This is good news.
You would think that the many “Help wanted” and “Staff wanted” signs outside businesses bode well for people wanting to work, but there is a dark side. Some people find it more lucrative to take government handouts than take a job. Businesses are closing for lack of workers. Who is paying for this? Everyone who pays taxes, and everyone who does not pay taxes. The consumer price index just had its largest jump in 39 years. As governments print money it is worth less… and we all pay. The poor pay more, however, and future generations will look back at the stupidity of these times and wonder why we stood by as governments mortgaged their future.
If “work is love made visible” as the old Shaker saying goes, what are handouts… government handouts in particular? It takes a long time to build a work ethic in a society and yet it can be destroyed in no time at all. Dependence is cousin to entitlement and laziness and the alliance of these triplets is hard to overcome.
I was walking back to the hotel from the famous Victoria Falls. As I got closer to the iconic hotel someone slipped alongside me carrying a stick. “To protect you from the animals…” he said. I noticed the badge on his uniform with three words, Unity, Freedom, Work.” I discussed this with my new companion and he said, “Us Zimbabweans are born to work.” I had to agree because, as humankind, we do our best when productively serving others through our endeavors of many kinds. In fact, I hold these truths to be self-evident:
In the Western world we have made such a big deal about financial independence, leisure and retirement that we have forgotten we are designed for work.
At a philosophical level, if you believe we are made in the image of God (who called his work “good”) then you might consider that the very image of God in us is under attack through the “you don’t have to work” programs. The cycle of righteous work is being broken by government (back by intellectuals and the cultural elite) intervention.
I will be doing a 31-day podcast series in January 2022 based on the short book “Work like God in 31 Ways.” Before we destroy the foundations of work and nations, let’s wisely ponder the work of God and the God of work.
In my book, Transforming Society, I postulate the cycles of value-adding work which should be in place in functional societies. From the diagram you can deduce that wealth creation is a function of value-adding work. “Working along the Continuum of Assets is not just a production issue, however, but one of mind-set. Slaves are addicted to finished goods; sons are content to start with raw materials then co-labor with their Father to create value. As I point out in my book, Repurposing Capital, living in a transformed society (you might call it The Promised Land) involves an interesting combination of assets and labor, capital and faith. It has nothing to do with living off handouts of finished goods. In fact, addiction to finished goods is a tool often used by those who wish to entrap, not empower, nations. To avoid the death-trap of consumption-oriented thinking, we need to regain the Value of Work.”
If the Societal Value-Chain I am proposing is true, is it not realistic to say there is a similar but opposite cycle of destruction at work in societies? This can take the form of colonization, asset colonization, or displacement of First Nations with subsequent placations of canned goods and sub-standard housing. Today, however, we see politicians bribing “workers” with free money in order to get votes.
One doesn’t have to be a prophet to see the trajectory of this folly. Businesses like cheap labor and Americans want better wages. Rather than remediate working conditions, why not open the borders and bring in people who will work for a fraction the amount a US citizen would expect? Legalize illegals aliens, or pass a work exemption given the self-created emergency of a lack of workers. The blue-collar workers suffer, not the political, intellectual or business elites. We might just create a new wave of “Trump-ish supporters.” Polarization gets accelarated.
Several years ago a CEO asked me whether I had an assessment to determine whether people he was hiring were legit: do they really want to make the world a better place, as they claimed during interviews? At the same time I was discussing work with Millennials who were wistfully wondering, “…if only someone would pay me to do what I am passionate about.” Since then many have struggled through the pandemic often without government assistance and they now have a different slant on work. There post-pandemic enlightenment is challenging Human Resource (or whatever you label them) departments. Human Capital/Resources are wondering how they attract and retain good people in a post-Pandemic era.
A new book, “Repurposing People: Finding work on purpose in a post-pandemic era” will be published in January. In it I explore the ABCs of hiring the right people for the right job for the right reasons. When I put pen to paper I did not know we would be in a post-pandemic crisis of work. Based on decades of experiences in helping companies create opportunities for people to integrate career and calling, the book helps NewGen (Millennials and others) assess whether the organization they plan to join is what they claim to be (there is lots of window dressing) and helps hirers evaluate whether the “world changer” they are hiring is ready to work in a transformational entity.
Since God works, why should I not have to work? Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For those who hope to punch a ticket to heaven in order to avoid work… bad news: there is work in heaven. In fact, what we do and the way we do it on planet earth is preparation for the real deal, a job for eternity. All of what we do on earth should be both work and worship (when we are not resting), and our scope of responsibility (opportunity) in eternity is influenced by how well we worked on earth. We don’t work to “be saved” and we don’t “get saved” to be freed from work. In scripture there is a tight integration between work, worship, identity and calling. Beware of snowflake thinking that says, “It’s not what you do but who you are.” Work is under attack and the answer is not found in government bailouts with printed money; we need to face the godless counter-work philosophies of this age with work. Work like God, work with God, work for God: fully leverage your creative capacities to serve as many as possible with all that you have.
When work is under attack, work while under attack.