How much Work Ethic is Too Much & When to Stop ?

How much Work Ethic is Too Much & When to Stop ?

Once upon a time God gave the responsibility of holding the earth to 2 humans- X & Y. Both X & Y were equally talented and were very keen to do their best in the job. X’s style was “All time On Rigor”, while Y’s style was “Time to Time rigor & let go”.  X held the earth with his complete strength for the full time while Y held it strongly for half the time & relaxed the remaining time. When X asked about this, Y responded saying “It is not like the earth is going to fall off just because I hold it with one hand instead of two for a little while”. As more weeks passed, X started worrying about the risk of the earth falling. After multiple attempts to convince Y to always be ON, X felt it was not working. One month into their role, X decided to spread his hands more to cover up the earth’s weight at those times when he felt Y took it easy. What started with X having to spread his arms thrice a day slowly & gradually doubled. When X asked Y, Y’s reply was “It is not like the earth is going to fall off just because I hold it with one hand instead of two for a little while. Your hands are anyway there a backup”. As six months passed, X had his arms spread full time some days & held up the earth as well as ever. One day, X was unwell, but because X had stopped trusting Y, X pushed himself to keep his arms spread the entire day until he was so tired that he shook the earth a little to adjust his arms. God’s anger knew bounds when he felt this shake and realized that X & Y had slipped in their job. God came and asked X & Y the reason for the slip for which X replied “I am unwell and tired and hence the slip. I apologize for this” and Y replied nothing. God warned them and went away. On his way God met the Devil & said to it “X seems too weak and is giving excuses for his slips. I prefer Y to X. You may take away X”.

  • Should X have left Y to do the job and minded his own, considering may be Y had the capability?
  • Was X right in stepping into Y’s shoes for the larger good of the result?
  • Was Y right in letting go just because he realized his part was getting done either ways?

This brings me to the larger question of “How much work ethic is good and when to stop?”

Work Ethic is not always associated with just the career aspect of life, but extends to all spheres of life as a trait of an individual. Unsurprisingly, someone with a high sense of work ethic at work, ends up extending that in personal spheres like parenting, household chores, travel and other dimensions too. Such individuals may contribute more than their right share of work to a task but only because they initiate the cycle to do so out of their own sense of duty & pro-activeness and not because they were asked to do so. This leads to the question of whether they should be rewarded for it considering they help enable the outcome better or should they be penalized for it considering they forcefully create free loaders out of people who may have otherwise contributed. Those on the Reward route get the description of “All-rounders & result oriented” and those on the penalty route get the description of “Poor Collaborators & not a people’s person”. These descriptions may have different adjectives ranging from “Micro manager” to “Intrusive” to ‘Dependable” to “High achiever” in different spheres but the routes are always the same. This leads to two different impacts left by society on the two stakeholders (The Individual & the collaborators) – Impact on the collaborators & Impact on the high work ethic individuals

Impact on the Collaborators: When a high work ethic individual initiates the cycle of over stepping into a collaborator’s work, the collaborator is left with two options, either to conveniently move out and let the individual take over or to step up and match the step, respecting fully well that it helps the outcome. Ironically society bestows sympathy on the collaborators on which ever route they choose, and hence the impact on collaborators is usually positive.

Impact on the individuals  When such individuals initiate the cycle of over stretching themselves, not only is there one obvious impact of doing more than their fair share but the more important impact is that of higher disappointment.  The reason been that when such individuals step up, they realize they are doing so by compromising on something else and hence their expectation from the outcome increases more than what it was before, implying not only are they expecting more now, but with lesser resources, making the probability of disappointment obviously higher. Hence the impact on these individuals in usually negative.

Even though it is obvious that the impact on such individuals is unfairly negative yet society has strengthened it further by putting such overly high work ethic on a pedestal, equating it to an aspiration and sometimes even a sacrifice. Mythology has also played its part in building that pedestal with the Hindu concept of “Karma” propagating learning on duty such as “Do your best and leave the rest” condoning the exact cycle that it conveniently penalizes when overdone. The larger question continues to remain the same- “How much work ethic is good and when to stop?”

The thought that was the spark for these random musings here,  struck me last night when I was journaling the past weeks’ events in my head –  “Could this be one more of society’s conspiracies to take more from the givers? Like Income Tax may be, but only that the currency of work & time is way more valuable and deep rooted than currency of paper”


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