Science & Technology

The Changes of Work Ethic

Work becomes the principal activity of human life in all eras where people love and passion to work, but no one can deny as something unacceptable (Lafargue, 1907, p. 9) . However, the purpose or motivation of being worker changes over time. That is the work ethic which means the fundamental reasons of values and norms that influenced to explain why humans have to work. The obstacles may be questioned what is the initial motivation of people to work and how it changes as well as what is its characteristics. Although the answer can be answered as the changing of values changes over the time from religious based to more openness value, this paper will discuss more deeply in three crucial ages.

Working is a human desire since pre-modern society which was formed by the monarchy and religious order. The economy was operated by agricultural commodities with less influence from science and technology. Although working in this era was specified for those who enslaved under feudalism and slavery system where in the Greek thought that the non-slave labours were only worked to exercise their body and mind (Lafargue, 1907, p. 12), people still had values and norms to be their reasons to think that working was a worthy activity. This ethic is a religion which was spread out to all over the world and regulated all human activities from born to death.

To think how religion turned into the actor behind the willingness people to work, it should construct the social order of traditional society. Weber has an assumption that all religion spread the norms on economy activities in terms of having a job and its rules (Hughes, Martin and Sharrock, 2003, p. 99). Although in ancient eras many system economics might be influenced and applied by the ideas of religions, one example of a case that is thought to represent this assumption is the rise of protestant ethic which was developed in the traditional society mainly in Western Europe and American. The main charasteristic of protestant ethich according to Weber is the idea of calling that refers to the religion encourage people to work as a religious task (Hughes, Martin and Sharrock, 2003, p. 100). The idea saw work as not merely for economic purpose, but also God considers work as worship that counted to after-life living. Believers worked very hard in orders to receive goodness from their religion. God`s order is to regulate people everyday life in all aspects with permanent and inviolable. This point brings to another characteristic that is predestination which means God has determined absolute destiny for each of his people where its decision is final, and no one can change it (Hughes, Martin and Sharrock, 2003, pp. 100–101). This belief makes people have to admit that God already decided their class: sin or loved. Consequently, Hughes, Martin and Sharrock (2003, p. 101) called it as ‘psychological burden’ that refers to act where people as if they are chosen by God with the right way. people will be motivated to work hard, with the aim that they can be recognized that they are people who are worthy of being loved by God. Different from ‘The calling’, this property causes the physical act to people for working hard in order to receive recognition of positive destiny, while the calling tends to play a role as an emotional motivation.

Although people nowadays never denied that working is to earn money, the traditional protestant society thought that the most critical salary is not money but the fulfilment God`s task. Weber (1930, pp. 103–104) argue the wealth as ‘a great danger’ where the desire to raise money is never ending and cannot be replaced by the interests of the kingdom of God. This means working hard is important, but people were unable to think to raise much money on work, and they were unacceptable to show or overspend their money, or God can be angry and enter believers to the class of sinners. This perspective describes how religion regulates people wealth where it can be described as asceticism. For instance, this non-profit oriented taught by Jesus in the verse that everything able to grow without efforts (Lafargue, 1907, p. 12). This command may explain God`s will give a growth for those who believe whereas hard work and money are not the most essential outcomes. Therefore, these three characteristics of work ethics in traditional protestant society strengthen segmented work as a god`s destiny and the way to fulfil the principles was determined by God. Economic development can be said to be not well developed with this principle; moreover, feudalism and slavery are the central system of economy which mainly run in agriculture with less-science and technology influence which may affect to workers do not have broad motivation.

After the significant role of religion on working in the traditional protestant society, then how it changes to modern capitalism, especially in Western European and American. It is a ‘spirit of capitalism’ that refers to Weber`s assumption about the modern capitalism was resulted from secularised ‘protestant ethic’ (Hughes, Martin and Sharrock, 2003, p. 98). Modern capitalism is composed of ideas that have been built by a pre-modern system, in this case, is Protestantism ethics. Moreover, in the early nineteenth, the world greatly changed to more complex where science and technology raised to influence all human aspects, include economy activities. People were able to think and decide personally in democracy system. Consequently, religion became a personal matter. It seems like modern society tried to separate between religion affairs and economy needs clearly. God`s task is not the primary goal anymore, but modern capitalism restored economic essence as a profit orientation.

The concept in modern society after Protestantism ethic in traditional society is Institutionalised Individualism. Parsons (1964, p. 183) explain this concept with the individual responsible for the value of ‘institutionalised’ to a good society through the individual goal. This principal describes ‘a good society’ may have different perspectives among individuals in a society because each individual has a right to choose his own definition besides the religion`s view; for instance, people in modern society may set their norms of work in justice, gender equality, social class equality, and human rights. However, it may be possible that a person still set their value in religion at the modern society. A worker in this era may need to integrate with the society to achieve the goal after determined their own value. Therefore, institutionalised individualism provides motivation for people in broader value, and people can determine that values individually freely. One of the vast different between modern and pre-modern society in terms of work ethic is how they manage and distribute their wealth. In modern society, earn much money and show the wealth were not a cursed action. Institutionalised individualism allows people working is entirely for profit-oriented purpose although the values behind the motivation of workers variety among individuals.

The context ‘institutionalised individualism’ in modern society had been growing in line with a more complex society until the perspectives came to today society. People in today era cannot be compared to modern society fifty years ago. Although people in both modern and post-modern society work in order to make money through broader values, workers in today age have placed in a complex system, facing greater needs, where technology is at the peak and shifting human roles, and changes in socio-economic forms throughout the world. Each individual is increasingly free to choose, and the motivation and the way to achieve a personal goal is to own their decision. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2002, p. 11) explain this phenomenon as ‘individualism’ which reflects individual has to decide their life besides the old paradigm (family, religion, and class) but this individual has to follow new rule; for example, job market and government policy. The individual has to make a choice and responsible to his direction. In order to determine a choice, late-modern society tends to examine themselves, what they have and what they want; for instance, an individual analyse their ability to realise what is their strength and their weakness as well as how to achieve the goal before they are totally integrating with the society to reach their target. It simply can be called as self-realism.

An example of the principle of individualism or self-realism is positivism. This idea begun in the last decade the economist thought that there is another variable to measure the economy growth which is happiness. In addition, happiness can be produced from optimism which is resulted from trying to thinking positive way or positive thinking (Ehrenreich, 2001, pp. 2–5). Similar to Protestant ethic that is religion becomes the principle that motivates people to work hardly, positive thinking is able to this value encourage people mentally to believe that satisfying results will occur if they have an excellent process. It may motivate people earnest to be more productive and uplifting at work because positivism believes that there are no bad results from a hard and optimistic process. Moreover, people whose positive thinking tend to participate in more prosperous social life and avoid depression in the workplace (Ehrenreich, 2001, p. 2). However, Ehrenreich (2001, p. 8-12) argue this principle still has deficiencies in a form ‘trap’. This is a paradigm where a condition if success is an absolute result of positive thinking, then failure is a result of insincerity. As a result of this, this occurrence used by capitalists to get the maximum benefit from employees who are required to work hard from this sense of optimism even with low pay. Therefore, positivism has two opposing sides, where one side can be a motivational value for people to work hard and, on the other hand, positivism may be utilized for the exploitation of parties who depend on profit orientation.

To conclude, it is clear that the value and norms that caused people to desire to work are changes over time. In the pre-modern society, what people want to achieve and how to reach it has been determined by God through religious understanding. Then, this ‘spirit of capitalism’ inspired new modern capitalist that is institutionalised individualism to grow new stigma on working where people have broader value to achieve their principle, and they are able to set their value and the method to reach their principle freely. In the latest post-modern society, a socio-economic system that increasingly complex brings the ethic on individualism that means the individual has exceedingly free to choose their value through self-realism in the new rule. The development of these values has its own dynamics where the human perspective for work continues to be different and the motivation of the values that are adapted also changes. During the change from pre-modern to postmodern, it appears that the weakening of norms and roles of religion in economic activities and the increasing role of individualism in work decisions. In addition, norms and values tend to emphasize profit orientation. Therefore, this could be a return to the Protestantism assumption that human desire to take advantage of money will never end.

References :

Beck, U. and Beck-Gernsheim, E. (2002) ‘Chapter 1: Losing the Traditional: Individualization and “Precarious Freedoms”‘, in Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and its Social and Political Consequences. London: AGE Publications Ltd, pp. 1–21. doi: 10.4135/9781446218693.n1.

Ehrenreich, B. (2001) ‘Introduction’, in Smile or Die. 1st edn. Granta Books, pp. 1–13.

Hughes, J. A., Martin, P. J. and Sharrock, W. W. (2003) ‘Understanding Classical Sociology’, in Understanding Classical Sociology. London: Sage Publication, pp. 95–102.

Lafargue, P. (1907) ‘A Disastrous Dogma’, in The Right to be Lazy. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, pp. 9–11.

Parsons, T. (1964) ‘The Link Between Character and Society (with Winston White)’, in Social Structure and Personality. London: The Free Press, pp. 183–235.

Weber, M. (1930) ‘Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism’, in The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism, pp. 102–125. doi: 10.1029/JD094iD12p14865.

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