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Work Values as Part of Human Values

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If elementary school teachers are to help their students become aware of and develop a personally meaningful set of work values, it is essential that these teachers themselves have a clear understanding of the changing nature of those work values, the implications such changes hold for ways in which "work" itself is defined, and the equally important implications for ways in which the word "career" is defined.

Just as career development can be perceived as part of human development, so can work values be pictured as part of one's system of human values. Human values, including work values, begin to develop very early in life: - even before elementary school. They are heavily influenced by the value systems of the particular society in which one resides, and are especially susceptible to the influence of values held by one's family, associates, and peers. There is good evidence to indicate that human values, including work values, are heavily influenced by early childhood experiences, can be sharply altered by the school as an instrument of the broader society, and are susceptible to a certain amount of change throughout life, due largely to the social environment in which the individual lives.

In general, it is through such values that an individual finds meaning, direction, and purpose in his life. It is through his work values that an individual finds, or fails to find, meaning, purpose, and direction in both the concept of work and in the particular work that he does. Thus work values are of major importance in individual career development. Our schools, as instruments of society, have always been in the business of imparting certain value sytems to youth, of helping youth develop and find personally meaningful value systems for themselves and, typically, of trying to accomplish both of these purposes simultaneously. Career education asks that work values be incorporated along with other value systems now being taught in our schools.



Work values, like the nature of work itself, are undergoing rapid societal changes. The work values of many youth today are different from those of their teachers or other adults with whom they associate. If we are to be successful in helping youths understand and accept some of the values of a work-oriented society, we cannot hope to do so by ignoring or undermining the values they have developed for themselves. An adult committed to the values, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!" may feel that youth prefer the value, "If at once you don't succeed, forget the whole thing!" The adult may be convinced that he is right and the youth is wrong, but this conviction is not likely to be a positive force in the development of that youth's work value system.

If there were a different work ethic for each stage of society, its nature would be simple to describe and understand. One could conceive of a subsistence society, without buying, selling, or bartering, in which there was no survival without producing one's own food and shelter. Work would be clearly necessary for survival, and the non-worker would be immediately perceived as a burden upon the worker. Throughout most of its history, the world has approached that model, and much of it still does; but it has never been an exact description.

Weber, in his book on the Protestant ethic vs. the capitalistic spirit, argued that some of the theological concepts of Protestantism aided the development of a work ethic necessary to the emergence of capitalism in its early stages. The pre-capitalist work ethic had admonished: "Produce what you consume with a little extra for kings and priests." The emergence of capitalism required that significant numbers of people produce more than they consume and invest those savings in capital equipment to increase human productivity. Previous religious doctrine had argued that one should accept his place in the society and economy as the will of God for him. Now just as Luther argued that every man could be his own priest, approaching God directly without an intermediary, Calvinism offered a rationale for the pursuit of material wealth. Salvation came by the grace of God who chose to save whom He would, regardless of individual effort.

But the elect of God had a duty to accumulate wealth in order to demonstrate his election, yet was prohibited from ostentatious enjoyment of wealth-a perfect recipe for capital accumulation. Work, be frugal, save, and invest . . . these were the proper criteria for the work ethic of the capitalist. He probably preferred that his workers retain the old, rather than grasp the new work ethic. However, the "get ahead" spirit soon replaced the acceptance of the status quo for the worker too. If he could not become a capitalist himself, he could unite with his fellows to demand a larger share of the joint product of his work and his employer's machines.

Hard work and frugality was an appropriate work ethic for an infant capitalism, but a mature model supplied machines to perform much of the physical work, and non-frugal consumers were necessary to keep the wheels turning. A postindustrial work ethic would downgrade frugality, relegate physical efforts to machines, and emphasize the human services and intellectual skills not easily automated. Given growing affluence, many can afford to serve without financial reward. In a fully post-industrial society, the work ethic might become a service ethic, but achievement and productivity would still be both a societal and individual necessity.

The world in which we live combines elements of all stages, and no such simple work ethic is possible. It is currently fashionable to proclaim that for many persons in today's society, the classical "Protestant work ethic" is dead. While there is much truth in the allegation, the formulation is too oversimplified to be helpful. In the first place, few seem to be exactly sure what the term "classical Protestant work ethic" really means. In the second place, the concept of work values, in its most basic form, has existed for as long as civilization itself so that, to the extent that the Protestant work ethic included some of these basic values, it must surely not be altogether dead. In the third place, to simply recognize that the variety of work values held by different members of society is increasing is not at all equivalent to saying that any single form is "dead." We need to look at the whole concept of work values much more carefully.

In a preliminary attempt to present work values in a fashion for rational discussion, we have prepared three lists which are shown in tabular form below. Each is intended to picture the values of a work-oriented society from a different perspective. While far from perfect in their arrangement, these three different lists of possible expressions of work values can serve as a basis for thought on the subject. List 1 is intended, insofar as possible, to illustrate those work values that were most commonly held during the time when the work force had primarily an agrarian base.

The individual worker had indeed a great amount of responsibility. He generally knew what his job was and why he was doing it, and was convinced of the importance of doing it.

List 2 is intended to be somewhat indicative of work values that were commonly held during the industrial period of our occupational society (roughly 1860-1950). This was a period where productivity and output were universally valued, where the concept of large industries flourished and were encouraged, where mass production was converted from a theory into a practical reality of the world of work, and where the principles of labor-management negotiations were fashioned and put into practice. The manufacture of goods produced by workers in a factory and distributed in a worldwide market to persons not involved in their production was given highest priority. It was the age of the "industrial giant" and the era when America emerged as the leading industrial producer in the world.

List 3 is meant to be indicative of work values that might be more meaningful to those who work in a service-oriented society. For the last twenty years we have devoted more effort to producing services than goods. With about 85 million people now working in this country, well over 50 million are involved in the production of services, with fewer than 35 million involved in the direct production of goods of any kind. Services include sales, distribution and repair, education, government, finance, recreation, and many other activities.

It would be a very simple matter if each of the above three lists could be said to represent a straightforward and delimited version of work values as they existed in these three periods of our occupational society. However, this is obviously not the case. For example, the phrase "Those who can't work will be fed" was an essential part of the early Protestant work ethic; the phrase "Work is essential to societal survival" has been true for many civilizations over many hundreds of years; and the phrase "Work is a means of gaining societal rewards" is one that even the most "far out" members of today's youth would not strongly argue against.

Thus, rather than a number of discrete sets of work values that were appropriate at various times in our history, we see instead a tremendous mixing of work values from all three of the lists. The phrase "values of a work-oriented society" increasingly takes on a variety of meanings with any one individual's views different from others. In general sense, the magnitude of the problem can perhaps best be seen if we recognize that as a nation, we are predominantly involved now in the production of services. Where "productivity" is the goal, work values such as in List 2 appear most appropriate, whereas if "service" is the goal, then those in List 3 might be more compatible for a given worker. The net result is that there is no single set of work values that could be given teachers to transmit to students under an assumption that this is the set we hope all pupils will adopt for themselves.

It is especially important to recognize that employers are likely to expect their employees to possess work values which emphasize productivity. Customers expect sound products and good service from the businessmen and tradesmen with whom they deal. Each individual must build his own set of work values; but the school will have failed if it does not teach each individual that each part of society rewards work values differently. A commune may expel a person who saves the pay he has earned, while a bank may promote him for this same activity. A high output of work may earn praise from a foreman but draw censure from fellow workers.

The student who builds work values which are not accepted by employers can expect to have difficulty in securing and retaining employment. The student who builds work values which are not accepted by consumers will have difficulty in succeeding as a businessman. The student who strives hard for promotion in employment may lose some of his friends.

It would be both unwise and unfair to attempt to impose a productivity-based set of work values on those for whom it does not appear to hold promise of personal meaning. Many other sets of reasons for working exist, each of which can provide personal satisfaction to some members of the occupational society. Such reasons include, but are not limited to factors related to standard of living, fringe benefits, security, surroundings, associates, self-image and self-respect, a desire to be of service, or simply the need to get away from home or to avoid boredom. There is no reason to criticize individuals who build viable work values on such factors. On the contrary, there is every reason to allow individuals to learn of their basic nature and to decide for themselves the extent to which they should be embraced.

As we move further into the postindustrial period, with its emphasis on services and the processing and dissemination of information, the formulation of sets of work values deeply rooted in a desire to be of service to one's fellow human beings becomes increasingly appropriate for ever larger numbers of people. Eventually it may become the most appropriate system of work values for the majority of people.
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