New terms entered our society recently: “essential worker” and “non-essential worker”. While these words’ intent was simply to categorize employees according to what governments identified as “essential businesses” and “non-essential businesses”, well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions.
Regrettably, the unintended consequences of this classification was to further demoralize tens of millions of hourly workers who were already out of work. If anyone asked you, the employer, if your business is essential, you’d answer in the affirmative.
Likewise, you’d defend your hard-working employees as being essential — every last one of them.
That’s because they are essential. Every worker in every industry, all over the world, is essential. Workers are not only essential to the functioning of the business, but they are essential to the fabric that binds society together. The body is not one member, but many.
If there are no workers, there is no business. If there is no business, there are neither goods nor services. If there are neither goods nor services, there is no commerce. If there is no commerce, there is no society.
Work is not just work. Work brings dignity. It gives people one of the many purposes they require to become fulfilled individuals. People need to feel they contribute something meaningful to themselves and others, and work is one of the primary avenues for this.
Without work, there cannot be dignity. Without dignity, there is despair. From despair comes the worst that society can offer: addiction, abuse, crime, and suicide.
Our culture is teetering on the verge of despair because of mass unemployment. One of PayActiv’s users contributed a quote to an upcoming project of ours. It is heart-breaking because its truth rings so loudly:
“I never felt non-essential until you told me I was”.
It does not have to be this way. You can help.
Saint John Paul II frequently spoke about human dignity. He said it wasn’t static, but a goal to be understood and embraced, for that is how they would achieve wholeness.
To that end, he said, “Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.”
It is a callousness of our society that anyone should be referred to as “non-essential”, especially in a time of crisis. The children and loved ones cared for by a “non-essential” employee would certainly consider their caretaker’s ability to feed and clothe them to be essential. The ability to do so comes from work.
Work can bring purpose to life. It provides connection to other people, structure, responsibility, and personal accountability. Work that is performed well can bring a sense of pride, success, and happiness. Work produces things of value. Work is a creative force, whereas unemployment is a destructive force.
These are all values that many workers already hold, yet many also need encouragement. As an employer, you can help to instill these values, particularly if you had to furlough workers that will be re-hiring. You may not realize that many workers internalize our culture’s general disdain for manual labor, or that their job is beneath them.
You can push back against this by referring to them all as “essential workers”…because they are. Every last one of them.
Artwork by Sunny DiMartino. Copyright Round Table Companies. Used with permission.
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