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COVID-19, Work Ethic, and Unemployment

June 22, 2020 - Reading time: 5 minutes

For many of us the coronavirus has meant less money, either through fewer hours or layoffs. This lack of social and economical means has caused estrangement in our society. Regardless of the necessity to further infection control actions aimed at delaying the spread of the disease by minimizing close contact between people. Methods like quarantines, travel restrictions, and closure of schools, workplaces, stadiums, theaters, or shopping malls are important. People can also apply methods of social distancing by limiting travel, avoiding crowded areas and physically moving away from sick people. Many areas now demand or recommend social distancing in the regions affected by the outbreak. Yet, this has meant a major cut in our daily lives, socially as well as economically. Which brought me to think about the different aspects of work.

Why do we work?

What is our motivation to work? Are we motivated by money, for a need for attention and praise, or for something that matters more? What drives us to work and get it right?

There is no doubt that economic remuneration and the desire for promotion are two of the most important motivating factors, but will they be the only ones? Will they be the most important? I don't think so, there are more and more indications that we feel driven by others, such as obtaining a better "mental salary" (salary related to quality of life) or even more importantly, by something more internal, by our desire to do things right, either by spiritual motivation or to overcome the personal limitations that we all feel sometimes.

Understanding what drives us to work can help us focus, it allows us to see what's really worthwhile, get past stages where you feel everything goes wrong, or that you're bored of work, or that your relationship with other employers is bad, because you know that what you're doing has a value that goes beyond your paycheck, or of getting along with your boss. All of these represent challenges and they are simply a personal challenge that has a motivation of its own. By having that personal motivation, it immediately makes you work better, harder, more dedicated and that often makes the difference between a good employee and an excellent one.

A great example was Konosuke Matsushita, a Japanese industrialist who founded Panasonic, the largest Japanese consumer electronics company. Here is an excerpt from the book entitled "Matsushita Leadership" by Dr. John P. Kotter, The excerpt gives us good insight into the character of Konosuke Matsushita.

A frail, sickly bicycle apprentice who survived unspeakable childhood tragedy, Konosuke Matsushita lacked formal education, wealth, charisma, connections and even a special talent. Yet, early hardships produced hidden strengths which opened Konosuke Matsushita's mind to the collective wisdom of others. The author reveals how a lifelong thirst for learning fueled the passion that led this humble, shy 5-foot-5-inch humanitarian idealist to pioneer management practices and advance his philosophy that the mission of a manufacturer is to relieve poverty and create wealth, not only for shareholders, but for society.

His brother-in-law, Toshio Lue, said of him: "I don't think Matsushita was a brilliant person or a man of great talent. However, his zeal and dedication to the work were exceptionally elevated." Surely many "gurus" would have said that Matsushita triumphed by having an outstanding IQ, and a spectacular vision, but his brother-in-law, who knew him well, chose something as far from it as commitment and dedication to doing things well.

The trick is not to look at the events that happen to us impatiently, stop measuring projects or jobs in terms of weeks or even days. Life must be given a chance, with short-term visions where we can focus and do our best regardless of the monetary reward for completion. With no work to do, the ethics associated with it do not generate distinctive value. The negative ethics of work and power structures that do not value the work done or attribute it improperly (in ethical terms) have dissolved the ethics present in society and emphasize individualism. Moreover, urbanization and large-scale businesses lead to the elimination of vital learning from work-related concepts.

These are all values my parents hold. Today however, the millennial generation is not identified with work but by their consumerist patterns (use of technology, fashion, popular culture) and not by the traditional concept of work ethic, but by tolerant (liberal) beliefs. This clash has been made more noticeable through the current crisis. In the 1940s work ethic was considered very important, and dissidents (nonconformists) were treated autocratically. The suppression of mood in the workplace was characteristic. A Ford Company worker, John Gallo, was fired for being preoccupied in the act of smiling.

As with all things, however, there is a happy balance, a balance which I hope we'll find before the end of the crisis.