Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
Proverbs 6:6-8 (NIV)
I am on the road again this week working with a client. One of my roles with this client is to mentor some of their young professionals. Most are in their first managerial role. Over the years, I have learned that there is a pattern to the challenges with which they struggle. Just yesterday, I heard one of the most common struggles: “What do I do with the poor worker?”
These are the frustrations and common complaints I hear from managers and supervisors regarding poor workers:
The poor worker is never on time whether it is first thing in the morning or returning to work from break. The only thing to which the poor worker seems to apply themselves is how to appear to be working while doing as little as possible. The poor worker takes thirty-minute bathroom breaks. Poor workers like to smoke because the fifteen-minute smoke break (immediately upon arrival, mid-morning, post-lunch, mid-afternoon) is treated as a smoker’s right on top of the normal breaks. When the manager returns to the floor from a meeting the poor worker can be seen scrambling to look productive. The poor worker encourages a general lack of productivity across their team so that the standard expectation of productivity will be generally lower.
I thought of the poor worker as I read this morning’s chapter and Solomon’s admonition to consider the ways of the hard working, diligent little ant.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I admit that I look back on my life journey and observe a stark difference in the average experience of a young person in today’s culture. The economy of my childhood afforded opportunities and expectations for learning a work ethic. When I was seven and eight years old I was shadowing my brothers on their paper routes. At ten, I was substituting as a newsie for my friend, hawking papers twice-a-day in the wards of the local VA hospital. At eleven I had my own route in which I not only delivered papers, but also collected money from customers, learned basic accounting, kept a ledger, and was held accountable for the quality of my work and the accuracy of my figures. By thirteen I was working in a restaurant bussing tables. At fifteen I was working a cornfield. At Sixteen I working retail evenings and weekends. During college, I often worked three jobs while taking a full load.
I contrast this to the “poor workers” with whom my young protègès struggle. I also observe what appears to me to be a great number of young people who are employed for the very first time in their lives post-high-school or college.
In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the simple virtue of hard work which was instilled in my early, formative years. I confess, like all young people, I had to be prompted, required, reminded, and scolded as I learned the lessons of said virtue. Some of those lessons are burned into my conscience. And, for that I am grateful.
Speaking of which, I have a full-day of training, coaching, and reporting ahead of me today with a client. My day begins early and ends late.
Time for me to get to work, my friend. Thanks for reading.