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Undignified Work

Dignity is defined as.

. . .the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.

With that definition in mind, do you find your dignity in your job?

I know I do.

Dignity in Work       

Dignity found through work is generally associate with a person’s education, which provides for a higher level of responsibility, skill, and acclaim.  Generally speaking, white-collar work, which is mostly associated with higher-educated people, offers more personal dignity than does blue-collar work.

Blue-Collar and White-Collar

Recent studies show that four-fifths of all high schoolers will not follow the typical career route of high school-to-college.  This means that eight out of ten kids have a higher likelihood of becoming a blue-collar worker.

Unfortunately, in our culture today, blue-collar work is increasingly seen as undignified work.  Our culture perceives that people performing blue-collar work do not get dignity from their jobs.

Twenty years ago and more, most television shows were about the lives of blue-collar workers.  Cliff from Cheers was a postman, Homer Simpson was a grunt laborer at a nuclear power plant, and Al Bundy from the TV show Married With Children sold shoes.

Today, most shows are about characters who work as business professionals, managers, and other white-collar jobs, and are telling us that this is the norm. Television programming is saying that our American society is predominately an idealized “American Middle Class,” and simultaneously making it appear as if the working class does not exist.

In reality, however, the middle class is shrinking, and the gap between the rich and poor is continually increasing. The more modern sitcoms ignore the working-class family completely.

Additionally, although not new, this current election cycle has emphasized several different forms of “free college.”  These proposals are ironic in that they are based on creating a population class with higher income potentials, but are to be paid for in increased taxes on those without that income potentials.

In reality, free college is an insult to the populations who choose not to finish high school, not go to college, not go to vocational school, or drop out before finishing college—which is estimated to be over 63% of the US population.


We mostly don’t see the blue-collar workers anymore.

Trash trucks become part of the neighborhood background.  We don’t interact with the mechanic who works on our car.  Construction sites are fenced for safety and security reasons, so we don’t see the framers, machinery operators, and truck drivers.

And the blue-collar workers we do interact with, such as appliance salespeople, waitresses, and clerks, are so busy they have little time to visit and answer our questions.

Its no wonder the blue-collar class is suffering from a lack of dignity.

Provide Dignity

Dignity is fundamental to our well-being and human thriving. Since many of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, work is often the only source of dignity in our lives.

According to scholar Andrew Sayer, dignity is a fundamentally social phenomenon that arises through interaction.  It involves recognition and trust, as well as autonomy and self-mastery. In dignified work relations, people carefully avoid taking advantage of the inherent vulnerability of employment relationships and power differentials in organizations.

As business leaders and entrepreneurs, we have the opportunity to provide dignity to those around us, especially to those who appear to be doing undignified work.

How Can We Do That?

First, for those who work for us, we need to remember to treat them as humans and people, before treating them as employees.  We need to listen carefully, take their concerns seriously, and fully respect their opinions and ideas.

Second, for everyone else we encounter, we need to acknowledge them and thank them.  I love going to sporting events where they acknowledge an Armed Forces member who is in attendance.  They never fail to get a standing ovation.

We live among many people who deserve similar acknowledgments.

It takes little effort to say thanks to the mechanic, the plumber, and the computer programmer.  A short note to those who have given us service thanking them for their effort and consideration goes a long way.

The Bible

Jeremiah 22:13 says.

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
    and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
    and does not give him his wages,

And in Luke 12, in the Parable of the Rich Fool closes with.

 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

We are all made in God’s image, and there is no “undignified” work.  As business leaders, we need to treat those around us with respect and show everyone that the work they do has great dignity.

            We have a chance to make a big difference; let’s not miss it.