Mike Rowe on the War on Work

27 March 2009 at 10:08PM Leave a comment

Since my employer is looking at a $54M budget shortfall, my civic co-workers and I enjoyed an unpaid furlough day today. While spending some time this morning shoveling out after yesterday’s blizzard, I had a chance to contemplate the nature of work. Once my driveway and that of my neighbors were clear, I came in to catch up on world news. Coincidentally, I found this 20 minute video of a talk that the Discovery Channel’s Mike Rowe gave back in December 2008. Rowe explains how castrating lambs during a Dirty Jobs filming brought discovery and enlightenment about work.

This video is worth watching.  The first 7 minutes are the castration part, and then Rowe quotes Aristotle on discovery (ἀναγνώρισις or anagnorisis) over the next three minutes. At 16 minutes, Rowe hits on his theme: How modern American society has declared War on Work. See the whole thing:

Rowe’s great insight is about the War on Work. He points out that this was not a planned campaign, but that it is a civil war, and a cold war. Rowe correctly identifies four fronts in this War:

1. Hollywood
2. Madison Avenue
3. Washington DC
4. Silicon Valley

Listening to him provoked a minor bit of anagnorisis for me. As a technical recruiter, I’ve been guilty of fighting against skilled labor on the Silicon Valley front. At one point, I believed that everyone should become computer literate because ever job could be done with a computer. What I didn’t appreciate is that Innovation without execution is meaningless. I didn’t appreciate the hard work it takes to build great technological devices until I worked in a manufacturing plant. Every genius with a gizmo need people who can assemble multiple copies of that gizmo. That where the skill is.

Hearing Rowe talk about Madison Avenue’s message about the War on Work was enlightening. Thinking about America’s current struggle with “work/life balance”, I realized that Rowe puts the blame in the right place: on the Advertising View that works against Work:

So many of the commercials that come out of there (Madison Avenue) in the way of a message. What’s really being said is, “Your life would better if you could work a little less; if you didn’t have to work so hard; if you get home earlier; if you could retire faster; if you could punch out sooner. It’s all there – over and over; again and again.”

“Life is better if you work less” – that’s the core message we hear about work/life balance.  Not that we have to be effective. Not that we have to get ‘er done.  Less work doesn’t make people happier – accomplishments make people happy. Working, being needed, and demonstrating mastery are what make people happy. And we wonder what happened to the American work ethic.

To help raise awareness of the forgotten benefits of labor, Rowe has a new project:

People often tell me that Dirty Jobs reminds them of a time when Work was not seen as a thing to avoid. When skilled tradesmen were seen as role models, and a paycheck was not the only benefit of a job well done. We need to recapture that sentiment. We need to celebrate, on a bigger scale, the role models right in front of us. Dirty Jobs has given me the opportunity to do that. With a little luck and the right support, mikeroweWORKS, will take it to the next level.

Good work, Mike! For what it’s worth, I’m adding you to my blogroll.

Hat tip to The Anchoress for the video find.

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Entry filed under: Tips, Video, Work. Tags: , , .

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Troy Bettinger, SPHR is a Denver Recruiter, Public Speaker, HR Metrics Analyst and Human Resources Leader who has been recruiting in corporate and municipal environments since 1991.

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