A few weeks ago, I listened an interview of an author, who was talking about the way labor is being stripped of meaningfulness in industrial/corporate society. It was fascinating and disturbing all at the same time. His primary concern was that most processes for the delivery of goods and services are efficiency-sensitive instead of quality-sensitive. In other words, a product or service can be (and usually is) sub-par as long as it makes money. Bean counters prefer to put out a product that is “just enough” to sell it, rather than spending twice as much to put out a really good product that people won’t pay for. People, he concluded, feel like they are being forced to produce half-baked products, and they aren’t really proud of what they are doing.
This makes sense, and I do agree that there is a silent crisis of profound emptiness and dissatisfaction in work, but I think you also have to consider the loss of any sense of control or creativity over work. No longer is labor primarily about crafting and skill, making a personalized product that was passed to you by a Master craftsman and that is passed on to your own apprentice(s). Instead, it is about carefully following corporate guidelines to a “t.” The better you are at being totally unoriginal and rigidly steadfast to the company policy manual, the more likely you are to advance. Innovation, variance, and creativity – on the other hand – are corporate evils, to be hunted and put down without mercy.
The up side of this is that we get lots of affordable consumer products and services. The downside is that we get no sense of satisfaction out of our contribution to this type of economy.
Middle managers don’t escape this phenomenon. To the contrary, they enforce it. The primary function of most middle managers is to make sure the lowest-level laborers follow the book. Do you think the manager of a Super Walmart gets even a small say in product placement and inventory issues? I doubt it. Her job is to keep the blue-besmocked horde in line, coming to work when they are supposed to, stocking what they are supposed to, ringing up purchases as efficiently as possible, and safe from injuries that result in costly workers’ compensation claims.
High level management is also doing little other than feeding the corporate beast. Business decisions are made on the basis of exhaustively researched data gathered from marketing and purchasing departments, the laborors in which are probably equally dispassionate about the figures on their Excel worksheets. Nobody is asked to be creative, and – I’m guessing – proposals that run against the numbers are seldom heard, because they probably constitute professional suicide.
I think the same thing is happening in other sectors – even in the small business, academic and professional sectors, though in slightly different ways. But I’ll leave that one for another day.
In the meantime, what do you think?
- Even though work is much easier than it was, say 100 or 200 years ago, is there a case to be made that it is equally less satisfying?
- Am I right in saying that there is tremendous opportunity for Christians who are small business owners and managers to minister to those who work for them?
- And ultimately, what does the Church have to say to those who are trying to deal with the dehumanizing effects of McWork?