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Work ethic not ‘workaholism’

WELCOME to our special monthly series called Bible School Business School (BSBS).

The Human Capital Telescope with Brett Chulu

BSBS, now in its second year, searches for deep insights from the Bible pertaining to business, strategic human resources (talent, leadership and culture) and personal development.

This month is dedicated to elucidating the fine distinction between work ethic and ‘workaholism’ through the lens of ancient Hebrew culture. Workaholism is harmful to one’s health. Work ethic boosts one’s health and wealth. Counter-intuitively, a workaholic may slog out the same hours as the one who has a work ethic. That’s quite a poser. That brings us to a very salient point—the nuance between workaholism and work ethic is not so much about the hours dedicated to labour. It’s about how the hours of toil are organised.

To get a handle on the nuanced differences, we first need to explore the philosophy of work ethic from an ancient Hebrew cultural eye.

Work ethic
The philosophy of work ethic is grounded in the Biblical-creation model as recorded in Genesis 2:15 (KJV): “And the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it.’’

Three terms in this verse, dress, garden and Eden, are critical to our understanding of what work ethic entails. These three concepts, coming as they are from the first book of the Bible, aptly called Genesis, which is derived from the word gene, are of foundational import. The term dress comes from the word awbad in the original Chaldean language, which means either to work or serve. The term keep is shamar in the original language and takes on several meanings; To guard, to protect, to be circumspect, or to preserve. The term Eden simply means pleasure.

Two key elements that underpin work ethic can be drawn from the Garden of Eden account.

First, work should be a source of pleasure. Part of the pleasure springs from being productive. That flows from a sense of accomplishment when one can trace how value has been added as a result of their personal effort. That is the first pillar of work ethic. In brief, work ethic results in positive psychological benefits, or what we may refer to as psychic rewards. Two people can work very, very hard, hour for hour, but if the work of one does not psychically reward them, they are just a workaholic. Their station, instead of being a ‘Garden of Eden’ becomes a ‘Garden of Torture.’

Leaders often fall short on this one. Many a time leaders harp on the need for employees to earn their dues through hard work but fail to ensure that jobs are deliberately designed to be enjoyable. Commonly, this comes by way of placing people in jobs that they do not enjoy. In the Biblical creation account, there is a discernible pattern, in which God after completing the work for the day would remark as in Genesis 1:31(NKJV) : “Then God saw everything that He had made , and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” God Himself derives pleasure from work!

Second, sustainability is always at the centre of the work ethic philosophy. The expectation placed on the ‘gardener’ was to preserve or protect the garden. Thus the assurance of continual pleasure rested on the ability of the worker to apply the principles of sustainability. This means that the same principles of preservation and protection the worker uses in the ‘garden’ have to be applied to their own person.

They are a ‘garden’ themselves. How ironic would it have been if Adam and Eve had been excellent at preserving the Garden of Eden yet being unable to preserve their own bodies?
The Garden of Eden work system had an in-built mechanism cleverly instituted to guard against Adam and Eve drifting into workaholism.

Work ethic versus workaholism
This protective mechanism is summed in one word, rest. In the Biblical creation account, God Himself clearly demonstrated the principle of rest. Isaiah 40:28 (NKJV) makes it abundantly clear that God does not tire: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.” Here is the irony of ironies– a being that neither faints nor tires sets aside time to rest: “Thus the heavens and the earth were, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Genesis 2:1-2, NKJV). Simply put, the Creator Himself does not subscribe to workaholism, He worked very, very hard, derived pleasure from His hard work, but set aside time to rest.

A surface understanding of this verse might lead us to erroneously conclude that ‘you must not rest until the work is done’. The evidence from the Biblical creation as chronicled in Genesis suggests that the Creator divided His work into phases with milestones. After completing a phase, the Creator would pause to reflect.

Rest-cycle cure for workaholism
The cure for workaholism is to order your work according to the nature’s rhythm. Did you know that history records that France’s productivity severely decline after it instituted a 10-day working week as part of the sweeping reforms following the famous 18th Century French Revolution?

We now know from medical research that sleep before midnight is far superior in terms of mental and physical benefits than sleep after midnight. Medical science tells us that close to two hours before midnight, a hormone called melatonin (sleep hormone) is secreted as part of the natural biological rhythm. Latest research has established that the sleep hormone helps in mental retention.

If this research is indeed accurate, then there is a case for ordering our work and rest patterns in sync with nature’s rhythms to optimise our productivity. Where individuals have a choice, instead of working past midnight into the early hours of the morning, one can sleep well before midnight and wake up very early in the morning to work. Each time I break this natural pattern, my productivity for the day slumps severely.

The adage ‘early to bed and early to rise makes one wealthy’ is not far from the truth.

Reflect on it
Early to bed and early to rise makes one not only wealthy but healthy too.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in both listed and unlisted companies. — brettchulu@consultant.com.

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