Value Lost


May 29, 1991|By CLINTON C. GLENN

New York. - You have no doubt heard of the term ''value added.'' It refers to the enhancement of an established product or service. Well, this article is about ''value lost.'' The reference is not to a product or service but to the work place.

This is not new information but it may help to say it straight on: The old work ethic is gone, the deep rooted one that almost everybody, at some level, would like to believe still exists. It is the one jam-packed with values which boil down to a simple equation: ''Let's make a deal. I will give you an honest day's work. I will be loyal, dependable, dedicated and true to the company, in return for which I will ask you to give me a measure of security, occasional promotions, incremental raises and eventually a retirement dinner and a watch.''

Sounds like an old scenario doesn't it? It reveals a mind set, an ethic, which had as a major ingredient the idea of longevity. The things that make for longevity in the work place have to do with loyalty, dediction, dependability, security, pride and appreciation, all symbolized by retirement dinners and watches.

This ethic has run deep in the American work culture. It will not be quickly erased or easily forgotten, but as a force it is gone. To the extent that it still exists, it is but a wish or a longing. Reality obliterates that pretty quickly.

A bright young person came to work in an office recently. She was thrilled with her new job, willing and anxious to learn, devoted to her task and doing it well. She was often seen leaving the office late, much later than her colleagues. The work she was doing was very important to her and she expended a lot of energy doing it.

She is gone now. Tears were in her eyes when she said goodbye. ''I really liked this job. I worked hard. Gave it my all. Look what happened!'' She said the executive who laid her off told her, ''Don't take it personally, it was a business decision.'' Was she bitter? No, it was not bitterness. It was disillusionment. She was experiencing ''value lost.'' Scales fell from her eyes that day.

This is not a lament that business decisions impact negatively on personal lives. In the normal business dynamic some people are going to be hurt by the decisions that are made. The concern here has more to do with the reality of an increasingly intense, spiritless workplace focused strictly on the bottom line. ''Don't take it personally'' reverberates down many a corporate corridor and it happens so often, so widely and, one might add, so randomly that virtually everyone becomes braced for its eventuality, and not a little cynical in the process.

This did not happen overnight. There never was a declaration that said, ''Let's do away with the values that make for an affirming work place where people feel good about themselves and the things that they do.'' That ethic more or less leaked and then hemorrhaged out of the work culture, leaving an ethically anemic (one could say ''spiritually barren'') context within which to work.

''Value lost'' has to do with the relative diminution of the ethical frame or context within which to engage in work. In the last analysis, if people cannot see the good of loyalty, dedication, etc., in the workplace, what is left? What remains if a sense of well-being, security and satisfaction are not underpinning the whole enterprise of work?

These are questions of the same genre as those which ponder a world without music or color. They are not merely questions of aesthetics, they are ultimately value questions. What is the workplace if it is perceived as without a set of value assumptions? It is a mighty barren place.

People cannot (or will not) give their all if they believe that a ''bottom-line force'' will come sweeping through their offices today or tomorrow and blow them away with the disclaimer, ''Don't like it personally. It is a business decision.'' It is the apparent randomness of the ''bottom-line force'' that creates the ethnical vacuum. There simply must be some measurement for a sense of workplace security. People cannot ''run scared'' all the time with respect to this most important feature of human life.

Bertrand Russell once posed a philosophical question which seems appropriate here. He has a chicken speak to members of the flock on the subject of the farmer who was seen approaching the hen house.

The chicken says, ''How can we know for sure that the one who has come to feed us every morning heretofore, is not, on this occasion, coming to kill us?''

In a ''value lost'' work place this is the relevant question.

It is not as simple as it used to be. It is reasonably clear where we have been with respect to a cohesive work ethic, but it is not clear where we are going or what will emerge to give maning to work in the future.

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