A Revolution in Labor Ethics – A Discussion on Why the New Generation Despises Hard Work

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Protestant ethics and its impact on our lives

In ancient times, people had to constantly engage in hard and exhausting work: plowing, harvesting, pumping water, and carrying goods. No one had much of a choice – they could only do what their parents had been doing. Life was hard.

This was until John Calvin proclaimed the Reformation. Among his ideas was the idea that everyone is free to choose their own type of activity. With only one proviso: all people must work, even the rich, since labor itself is the will of God.

This is how the very Protestant work ethic was born. Its motto can be as follows: “Work must be hard – that’s why it is called work.”

The hallmarks of the Protestant work ethic are diligence, neatness, and deferred remuneration.

Originating in Europe, the Protestant work ethic quickly spread to the New World. As time went on, people’s lives became less dependent on the church, and the purpose of the work was no longer serving God, but the public good. Hard work was considered worthy of respect. Society rejected lazy people, and we still promise lazy children a bleak future.

What have we arrived at in the end? Work has become our main distinguishing feature and a criterion for evaluating others. Working a lot, without lunch breaks and weekends, sitting in the office at night – make up a good reason for complacency.

Many of us live the way a modern Sisyphus would live: maximum effort and zero meaning.

But all this only works until we come to a critical point. When the opportunity to buy something expensive ceases to please, and every morning, we will only think about how to make it to the evening. When everything around seems small and trifling.

Chaos as salvation

What usually happens next, the classics call “the feeling of incipient chaos within” – an irresistible desire to give up everything and start life anew, finally go against the flow. Most of us hide such thoughts away – after all, we are under too much pressure from the outside, which forces us to conform, obey, follow orders, and do only the right things.

We look at how everyone around us trains their will and continue to endure, and we think that we need to do the same.

Although, in reality, phrases like “you have to endure”, “courageously endure”, “concentrate on the good” not only do not support motivation but, on the contrary, kill it. We explain everything around us as “God’s will”, “Universe”, “Destiny”, and we believe that nothing happens without reason. As a result –we just let life go by itself.

The new millennium ethics urges us not to do this anymore. Instead, we should trust our inner feelings and welcome more freedom and creativity into our lives. We shape our own fates and are responsible for whether we feel happy or just “normal”.

Productivity or efficiency?

Everyone strives to be more productive in modern offices. The paradox is that there is no point in trying to fit a certain number of “work units” into a certain period of time or squeeze more into a smaller one.

Productivity is a characteristic of machines, not people. If machines can work 24/7, humans cannot.

In pursuit of productivity, many try to continually do something. Fill every moment with action. And things never end. Today’s executives believe it is much better to focus on efficiency. Instead of doing more and spending more resources, we should think about how to produce the same output with fewer efforts.

Free time as the measure of efficiency

The point is to free up more time to enjoy it outside of work, for example, for hobbies or socializing with family and friends. Or just do nothing and enjoy the rest. If you have three hours of work a day, stop there. Don’t add five more to keep your head busy or feel productive. Not doing what you shouldn’t do is a great way to pass the time!

Sometimes we all have to go an extra mile and work more than eight hours, staying late at the office. There are force majeure situations, significant projects, or the mood when we want to do a thousand things. The thing is that it doesn’t happen often. In most cases, we drive ourselves into a corner. Maybe it’s time to calm down?