Historically in America, our understanding of dignity in the workplace has been closely aligned with a work ethic steeped in diligence, discipline, thriftiness and personal accountability. Generations have been raised to believe that the formula for success depends on a can-do attitude, hard work, and a little gumption. But like so much else in the current moment, the pandemic has upset our understanding of work and what counts for dignity.
Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor and behavioral social scientist, writes, “Social science, ancient philosophy, and common sense all testify that meaningful work and the means of earned success are vital drivers of happiness, human flourishing, and our sense of basic dignity.” Brooks has traveled the world exploring ways to bring dignity to people, particularly those at the margins of society. He concludes, “Nothing destroys dignity more than idleness and a sense of superfluousness—the feeling that one is simply not needed.”
Even as we scramble to understand the full shape and scope of current shifts within the American workplace, it is clear that our basic “need to be needed” axiom is in jeopardy. A recent Pew Research study estimated close to 10 million U.S. workers lost their jobs in the first year of the pandemic alone. This, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that, in November 2021 alone, a record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs. What is happening in the American workplace and how can we find the dignity of work we desire?
Of course, in God’s economy, work and dignity are inseparable. Work is one of the most tangible ways we live out our relationship with God and practice discipleship with those around us. The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture has published my long-form article about the impact of COVID on the workplace and our common quest to find dignity in our life’s work.