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LTE: Oars Are Not Whips

To control one's work life does not lend itself to any sort of successful work-life "balance."

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I was fascinated by the editorial by Alec Stubbs ("American Workers Feel Alienated, Helpless, and Overwhelmed"), accessed November 14. First, disclosures: I retired from a slot as Marsico Lecturer at the University of Denver. Earlier I served or labored in four "regular" or "civilian" careers, experiences in which helped immeasurably at DU. In one of those lives I was a staff economist. I am also an investor.

It is disconcerting to see that a significant part of labor shortages that have made noticeable portions of the national and more local economies sclerotic apparently has arisen through the voluntary [non-] action of what once passed for a labor force. In case anyone is considering heating tar and feathers, I detest replacement of people with robots or any form of machine or technology. You'll never see me in a self-checkout line. What might be useful for us all is for those who choose not to work to observe that a good portion of the inflation we all experience may be traced to the absence of labor to make things, services, and places run.

To control one's work life does not lend itself to any sort of successful work-life "balance." Much of that is actually within the control of the employee. It's about how one conducts his daily tasks. Beyond the farming sector, which for the most part has no choice of work hours, if one devotes more than a few moments to the I-Phone during work hours, instituted by employers because they need to be able to coordinate with suppliers, government, professional service providers, and customers (remember them?), then that worker's productivity is impaired. Not very many make "widgets," but if one must scramble to honestly complete his daily task or "to do" lists (even if the employee generated the list), perhaps there is a reason why "billable" hours can seem oppressive.

All employment is always "precarious." Even the President works at the pleasure of those who hire him or her. And no man or woman is an island. If the chain of team effort is broken at any point, it is useful to ask who might not be pulling his weight. Suffering spreads whenever someone takes a mulligan. If there is to be food, there will be weight.

Work and life satisfaction comes almost exclusively from within a person, not without. Regarding meaning in work, many of us must bring that with our lunch pail. Then we have something to contribute to the overall context of work -- especially the work behind the time clock we punch. If living purpose ignores or is subsumed by one's job, then both paths lead to the wrong destination. And one's "work ethic" is shown by one's commitment, not the other way around. We ought to neither work to live nor live to work. But without work we lose much more than an identity. The next to go is pride, in oneself.

I have heard that some refuse to work in a job without a title. Not everyone can be a manager. The responsibilities of managing people and work production must be a part of that equation, part of (due) diligence. As a society it long ago became a habit to make the first question upon introduction, "And what do you do?" Why not find out who [you] are? Eventually we begin to believe our status -- our stature -- rests in what is on our business card. Perhaps we fear making our way in anonymity more than anything.

Employees have been known to execute a buyout of their employer. Now, there's democratic control. Maybe even work with meaning. What it generally means is a longer work week. And to whom does one complain then? Try the mirror.

Work can be boring, demeaning, even threatening. I can tell you volunteer work isn't any bed of roses, either. No hide hung on the wall of human endeavor appears by accident. It comes about through effort. If video games are your (example of a) consuming passion, then I pray all  parents are wealthy.

-- Gregory Iwan, Longmont