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Saturday 24 March 2018

Why work? (Part two)

The recently published 2014 Global Competitive Report lists the following four as the biggest impediments to business in Trinidad:

•Government bureaucracy


•Work ethic

•Crime and theft

In different order every year, these are often the same top four complaints.

People talk about what we should be doing to address each one, but maybe they all don’t need a full frontal attack. Maybe we ought to focus on just one — work ethic.

The logic is simply this: you can’t talk about becoming globally competitive with a culture that abhors or avoids work, and a poor work ethic —at least partially—explains the other three complaints. People who don’t like to work won’t be interested in increasing productivity or service levels and are more likely to use crime and corruption as shortcuts to what they think work is primarily about: making money.

If we make a real difference in our national work attitudes, people would be more likely to want to cut waste and increase service levels, and people who might be susceptible to crime and corruption might realise the real promise of honest work: sustainable prosperity, longer life, helpful communities, cherished environments, safety etc. etc.

How do we change our national work attitudes? By replacing the current destructive work context with a powerful one.

First a bit about context: context simply answers the question why? Your work context answers the question, “Why do you work? Why do you get up everyday and sit for two hours in traffic? The answer you give will also explain why you might be taking every sick-day possible or staying late and working overtime.

In many cases people simply grew up surrounded by negative conversations about work. These conversations are most likely rooted in slavery and the industrial revolution — two periods where people were forced into labour or were trained to be a cog in a system that benefitted only owners and bosses.

These periods have created persistent negative work contexts that we still pass on to our children in our attitudes, expressions, tones and conversations about work. Children get the message when we are upbeat about Fridays and depressed about Mondays.

If you’re into government solutions, a simple one would be to de-vilify work in a national advertising and PR campaign that seeds positive conversations about work. This could be reinforced in our schools, documentaries etc, where we could showcase people who enjoy their work and why.

I’m not talking about indoctrinating people into a good work ethic —although that might be better than what we have now—but about taking care that our young people learn how to consciously manage their own powerful contexts for why they work.

And we can do that by doing a better job at connecting work to dreams and ambitions. In my seminars and talks, the following question provides a foundation for everything else: “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

Regardless of your age, the story of what you are creating with the rest of your life is the story of your ambition, and the real purpose of why you work: to fulfill your ambition.

Often, the reason people are not passionate about their work is because they don’t see their work connected to anything they really care about. If you’re not turned on by the purpose of your work, you’re not likely to be turned on by the work.

Here, common education narratives have not been helpful. Their message is that the purpose of getting an education is to get a good job so that you can make money … especially lots of it.

Conversations that glorify money and superiority trump even anti-work narratives, and as long as people see the primary reason for work as money, they will entertain and even seek other avenues to attain it. Which means crime and corruption are viable options.

Money is of course an important part of why we work but not THE most important part. Work is about making dreams come true, helping our friends, families, and communities live better lives, about making the world a better place in some way.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with mainstream 21st century education. More than at anytime in history, children today really have the opportunity to be almost anything they want to be. But instead of nurturing them to dream and to think about the difference they could make, the thousands of things they could create, do, and be in their lives we focus them on what subjects they’re going to take and on having a degree. We produce degreed young people who can’t do anything and have no ambition.

As a result, young adults find themselves jockeying for jobs that mean nothing to them.

Carnival demonstrates that Trinis are capable of working extremely hard when they are turned on by the reason they work. Imagine channeling that passion for work into the other nine months of the year. Not only would we rank among Switzerland and the United States as the world’s most competitive countries, more importantly, Trinidad and Tobago would be a safer, fairer, more joyful place to live and raise our children.

Peter Anthony Gales is a speaker, consultant and trainer who helps businesses realise human potential in the workplace.


quote for box

‘How do we do change our national work attitudes? By replacing the current destructive work context with a powerful one.’


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