America’s Labor Pains

Sarah Jean Seman

9/2/2013 8:58:00 AM - Sarah Jean Seman

The United States annually celebrates its historical economic achievements by taking a day off. This seems a bit counterintuitive— to celebrate work by not working. The practice, however, is very reflective of how the culture views their nine to five duty.

Seventy percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their jobs, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report.

Unfortunately Americans spend over eight hours a day in activities they do not find stimulating. What is more, their disengagement comes with a price tag.

“Actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity,” Gallup estimates.

Part of the reason for the detachment could be due to a cultural change.

“Our Founding Fathers understood that moral character and a flourishing society were inexorably linked,”said Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.

He claims the country was founded on what German philosopher Max Weber dubbed the Protestant work ethic.

“One did not need to be a practicing Protestant to embrace this ethic and profit from its practice, yet it gave all those who adopted it a moral framework in which they could integrate their work with all of their lives,” Whelchel explained.

Certainly the Founding Fathers were large proponents of living virtuously. In a 1785 letter to nephew Peter Carr, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Nothing will be necessary to place you in the highest points of view, but to pursue the interests of your country, the interests of your friends, and your own interests also, with the purest integrity, the most chaste honor. The defect of these virtues can never be made up by all the other acquirements of body and mind. Make these then your first object.”

Perhaps work engagement, and subsequently work productivity, would improve by adopting such an integration of work and private life.