Ten Commandments of The Virtues Of Work

“Choose a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Mark Twain

Labor Day arrives at the end of summer. But this is no ordinary year. It is the year of COVID, an economic downturn, and racial unrest. Colleges, universities, and K-12 are opening in ways we never imagined before the coronavirus. That back-to-school edginess for our kids is more so this year. Major League baseball has abbreviated and the NFL preseason games were canceled. This summer, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote but not all women. If you were black, voting rights were not fully in place until the 1960s. Inequalities in the workplace, however, still exist.

The Economic Downturn

As a result of COVID, our economy went into a significant downturn as social distancing became necessary. Unemployment in July 2020 was 10.2%, above the rate during the worse part of the Great Recession. The latest initial jobless claims remain stubbornly above 1 million, with total insured unemployment at 14.535 million people. While down from the worst numbers ever recorded, too many people who want to work are able to work but can’t find jobs. Not being able to work robs you of your ability to support yourself. More than that, it takes away your identity and purpose.

This post is dedicated to those Americans out of work and knows the value of work.

Origin of Labor Day To Celebrate Hardworking Americans

Today’s images do not mesh with Labor Day’s origins. We don’t necessarily pay attention to its creation to counter abusive work practices by factory and business owners. But we should. The virtue of work, to be productive, and have dignity is an American right in all our hearts.

The first Labor Day was held on September 5, 1882. Ten thousand workers took unpaid time off to march in a New York City parade from City Hall to Union Square. They protested poor wages, 70 hour-7 day work weeks, child labor, and hazardous conditions. It became a federal holiday in 1894, shortly after labor unions began to claim prominence in the American economy.

Things are not perfect in today’s workplace but fairer systems prevail. This is a far cry from the late 19th century. I always thought of Labor Day’s celebration as a demarcation between summer and the more casual days in late August into September. Normally, we would need a push to get back into the swing at work whether it’s after Labor Day weekend or the start of a regular week. This year, a significant portion of those working are doing so remotely. They may be able to remain home or go to various locations, especially if their children are having classes online.

It is a good time to consider the virtues of work whether you are seeking a job, are already employed, seeking a promotion, or evaluating your career. While the Ten Commandments don’t refer directly to work, it serves as a moral code in the workplace where values such as honesty and ethics are needed.

Ten Commandments: The Virtues of Work

Aristotle said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”  it is a sentiment worth aiming for whether you plan to work for 10 years or 40 years.

I always valued my work, appreciated its challenges, and a way to give meaning to my life.  Sure, there are always days I would rather not be working. However, I have sought fulfillment from my job and career. If you don’t feel you are in the right place, make changes. Explore and broaden your interests. Our jobs often give us a sense of pride, independence, identity, and purpose, a way to meet people, improve our skills, and of course, financial support.

1. Education As A Path To Work

From the earliest days at school, the value of a good education was a means to an end. That is if you earned a college degree, often seemed like the minimum, it was preparation for a good job or career. Having that degree no longer guarantees “you have it made.”  However, statistics still indicate that your first salary out of college would be above those without a college degree. Don’t rule out getting a vocational degree if college is not for you. Getting technical training for a specific career or trade is a desirable option.

Higher education or advanced training for a vocational degree puts you on a better path for long term earning potential. The higher your starting salary, the more likely your retirement savings will be higher so long as you consistently contribute to it. You will be in good shape if you have access and choose to opt-in to an employer-sponsored 401K plan. Many employers match part or all of your contributions.

Lifelong Learning Is Valuable To Employers

Even with a college degree, you may need further education such as graduate school or simply to expand your skillset. Colleges have been pivoting to provide students with skills that will help to make them attractive candidates for good jobs. As a professor, we have been amping up training to strengthen the skills and abilities that go beyond the classroom. Remember learning can be done out of the classroom or anywhere you may be The most successful people are often lifelong learners who are attractive to employers.

I sometimes hear how these employable skills like problem-solving and critical thinking should be integrated into the classroom and through internships. For young people, college lays the groundwork for self-discovery.  That exploration continues as you begin to work at your first job and beyond. Some students know what they want to do but many others are at the early innings of their long term plan.

Changing Directions

So let me tell you a little bit about my journey. I was a psychology major with an education minor, planning to go to graduate school for school psychology. I graduated in January and had been accepted to a prestigious graduate program to become a school psychologist in the fall. My interim plan was to work at a bank until I start school. However, my boss at the bank encouraged me to delay my program for a semester. The stars seemed to realign for me as I enjoyed learning the factoring business, providing loans to small companies.

Soon after, I went to business graduate school, taking evening classes while working at Merrill Lynch. My plans changed significantly but you can say I combined my two interests. I spent half of my career as an equity analyst on Wall Street and then I moved on to become a business professor. I am always continuing to learn and pick up new skills.

2. Skills Enrichment

“Increase thy ability to earn”

Richest Man In Babylon

Throughout your life, you should strive to strengthen your hard and soft skills through your job or on your own.  Hard or technical skills are teachable and quantifiable abilities gained through formal education or on-the-job training. For example, courses like accounting, computer software, finance, and marketing can be applied in any workplace setting.

Having Soft Skills Are Essential

On the other hand, soft skills are personality attributes that enable someone to interact effectively. Increasingly, employers are seeking these productive traits–adaptability, collaboration, critical thinking, interpersonal communications, problem-solving–as marks of success.

These valuable skills enhance personal and professional development. Skills are like learning a new language, coding, or artificial intelligence (AI) are prime examples of career enhancement tools. These important skills are transferable and can be combined with soft skills. They often overlap between your personal life and career. Billionaire Mark Cuban has studied machine learning and AI not only to better himself but because learning can be fun when you find your passion.

3. Gives Life Meaning And Fulfillment

“If you don’t know what you are living for, you haven’t yet lived.”

Rabbi Noah Weinberg

Acquiring knowledge through learning opens up many doors toward personal fulfillment. It makes your job that much more enjoyable. Having a positive attitude about learning throughout your life adds a dimension to your life and your character development. Picking up new skills and learning how to be accountable is rewarding.

Certainly spending a day at a job that you hate will do little for your self-esteem. On the other hand, being responsible enhances our feelings of self-worth, especially if we are engaged in meaningful work. What are the characteristics of meaningful work? We have some suggestions.

4. Characteristics of Meaningful Work

What makes work meaningful? It is often up to the individual’s personality and what kind of work they enjoy doing. Some people love working with their hands and seeing something tangible, others are rewarded by helping others, and many feel rewarded by making lots of money, affording a luxury lifestyle.

Paid employment is not always the only way to find meaningful work. Countless people find volunteering to be a meaningful part of their lives. Serving a societal goal and raising awareness and the quality of life for others in different fields is gratifying. There is no shortages of public issues that need addressing like health, climate, and inequality.

For work to be meaningful, it should:

  • Be purposeful.
  • Leverage your strengths.
  • Have tangible benefits.
  • Provide personal satisfaction.

Meaningful work means something different for everyone. For the dental hygienist, cleaning and improving someone’s health is rewarding. The painter surveys the rooms he just finished sprucing up with satisfaction.  he baker who is proud of the cake he or she just pulled out of the oven. All are personal accomplishments that each feel like time was well spent.

5. Hard Work And Determination

“You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.”

Psalms 128:2

Hard work and determination is the key to success.  All the talent in the world may not necessarily help you to achieve your goals. But are these characteristics enough?

Kent Humphreys, a consultant to corporate executives, cited a survey in his book, Letters To Workplace Leaders.  The study found that 40% of those surveyed said hard work was the main reason for their success, while 38% indicated determination. Spending hours on a certain task working hard by itself is not enough. You need to be effective and efficient, have grit and personal sacrifice, and good fortune.

Understand Your Goals

To realize your goals, you need to understand what it is that you hope to achieve. Make sure they are realistic goals. For some, it may be about accumulating a lot of money to buy luxuries and have a comfortable lifestyle or achieving a legacy, or simply having a work/life balance to enjoy work and spend time with family. Know what success will look like for you and decide if you can make the commitment that involves personal sacrifice.

I recall a certain young associate I’ll call Jack I had hired. Jack constantly complained of hard work and long hours despite being paid quite well. However, he was not keeping up with the aspects of the job which would help him to become an analyst. Granted, there is a big learning curve but that was part of the attraction of the job for me and others.  For Jack, it was not and he left shortly after, probably misjudging what the work required.

As in Proverbs 12-11 says, “He who works will have abundant food but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.”

6. Having Your Own Business

Starting your own business may not seem like a great idea in the midst of a pandemic and an economic downturn. However, it remains a worthwhile goal for many who want to be their own boss. The benefits are having control, flexibility, work as hard as you want, and own your successes. There are challenges, too. Besides raising capital to run your business, many owners experience volatile income.

More than one-third of US households experienced a 25% change in income year-to-year according to Pew Research. One of the biggest challenges for business owners is learning how to put away savings for business and personal spending when earnings are less predictable. Budgeting and having liquidity on hand play a big role.

Budget and Emergency Fund Play A Role

Many business owners may be subject to sporadic earnings unless you have a subscriber business. At a minimum, you need to create a budget for your business, understand your revenue inflows, fixed and variable expenses. Track your costs for potential reduction opportunities.

Make sure that you pay yourself a salary. Save as much possible for those times your monthly income is lower. You need to have an ample emergency fund for six months or more to pay for your living expenses. Arguably, your emergency fund should be for as much as a full year if your earnings are volatile.  You do not want to borrow money to pay your basic expenses.

Many small businesses are struggling now and may have even closed. If you have your heart set on setting up a business, you can at least start the planning process. The virtues of work are amplified when you own your business.  Read about the pros and cons of self-employment here.

Related Post: Why You Need An Emergency Fund (And How To Invest It)

7. Gender And Racial Inequality In The Workplace

“Around me, I saw women overworked and underpaid, doing men’s work at half men’s wages, not because their work was inferior, but because they were women… As man’s equal before the law, women could demand their rights, asking favors from no one.”

Anna Howard Shaw 

“If they give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Shirley Chisholm

“I do not demand equal pay for any women save those who do equal work in value. Scorn to be coddled by your employers; make them understand that you are in the services as workers, not as women.”

Susan B. Anthony

This may be the centennial for the women’s right to vote but women, especially those of color, still face challenges. The gender gap remains in the usual places for all women. Women get less pay than men, experience longer career pauses with time out for children and other dependents. As a result of fewer years of earnings, women save less for retirement than men.. Despite facing challenges, women are gaining ground. Slowly, women are reaching higher corporate levels and increasingly starting their own businesses.

Challenges Women Entrepreneurs Face And Overcome

Black Women Face Experience Racial Discrimination As Well

While non-minority women starting up their own businesses have difficulties, black women entrepreneurs are further impacted by racial discrimination. This adds more pressure to develop their businesses. On the positive side, black women-owned businesses have been growing significantly faster.

According to American Express 2019 State of  Women-Owned Businesses, the number of women-owned businesses grew 21% from 2014-2019. That rate compares to 9% growth for all businesses. There are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses. Employment grew by 8% to 9.4 million. Revenue grew 21% to over $1.7 trillion.

Hopefully, their progress will not be slowed by the pandemic or economic downturn. Black women account for a greater proportion of all black-owned ventures and 29% of all women-owned businesses. They have been inspiring as were their role models in the 19th century and early 20th century which we address here. They still, however, carry the weight of racial inequalities reflected in a sizable wealth gap.

Related Post: Financial Literacy May Help The Racial Wealth Gap

8. Dignity In The Workplace

When you master your job, you often have a feeling of pride in your work. You know how to do your work well and are recognized by your boss and colleagues. This is often called dignity in the workplace or in a workshop. You have expertise in a craft and enjoy what you do. Bloomberg News writer Noah Smith, making the connection between work and dignity, has said, “Jobs provide a kind of dignity that traditional welfare programs, or even innovative new ones like universal basic income, probably don’t.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous speech, “What’s My Life’s Blueprint”  to young students in 1967 about doing a job as best you can so you can find dignity and respect.

“Be A Great Street Sweeper”

“Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that the living, the dead and unborn couldn’t do it any better.”

He went on: “If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

9. Remote Working Is A Growing Trend Likely To Last

As COVID caused work disruption, many organizations who had already embraced remote working, quickly adapted their employees to a full-time virtual schedule. Remote working expanded dramatically as working from home became a necessity for many reasons. Companies have shared how they were able to quickly hook up their employees to their networks, enabling new remote working arrangements.

Remote working was already a growing trend before the pandemic. Millennials had sought flexible time as a desirable perk. Recent college grads and even Boomers have sought this desirable perk. Working from home is far more geared for those in certain careers that require higher education, are city dwellers, and in higher-income brackets. For example, people working in accounting, finance, and software engineering were more likely to work from home than meatpackers. The latter had to make tough decisions between facing the health crisis or stop production altogether.

Remote working doesn’t work for everyone, even for employees that are in suitable jobs where working from home is more common. According to the US Census, about 5.3% typically work from home. In the Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019  survey, 38% never worked remotely pre-pandemic, while 62% have worked remotely at any frequency.

For many, remote working provides a better work/life balance, with less commuting resulting in increased productivity and flexibility.

10. Be A Mentor

There are many benefits of being a mentor. As a mentor, you are reinforcing what you know, improving your own skills and leadership abilities, and boosting your own self-confidence. It is rewarding as you expand your own personal growth and a sense of fulfillment.

Employees who serve as mentors often report greater job satisfaction and commitment to their organization. There have been a number of studies that link mentoring with career development and growth. In a 2013 study, Rajashi Ghosh and Thomas G. Reio found that mentors were more satisfied with their jobs and committed to their companies than non-mentors.

In many fields, mentoring is used to attract talent and understand corporate culture. An employee or supervisor taking someone under their wing promotes a different kind of bonding and global knowledge sharing. This is good for the organization.

Final Thoughts

Having a job you enjoy is a meaningful part of life. Our work lives are separate from our family. Work gives us another dimension to excel, collaborate with others, and be productive. Many aspects of work have been changing, most for the better though challenges remain, especially for women and minorities. The pandemic and an economic downturn have created new hardships but hopefully, this is temporary, the shorter the better.

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