Labor Day Reflections

Pride of workmanship and the dignity of work

Point 12 of W. Edwards Deming's 14 Points for Management reads in part, "Eliminate barriers that rob people of their right to pride of workmanship." Deming was highly critical of the ways that too many American management practices destroy people's inherent right to experience pride and joy in the work they perform.

On another occasion, Deming noted that unemployment is not inevitable.  Instead, "Unemployment is a sign of bad management; lost the market." When a man loses a job, he loses much more than a source of income.  Even more costly is the blow he suffers to his pride, self-esteem and dignity. In the late 1800's, Pope Leo XIII observed that unemployment is not just another "economic indicator." The relationship between work and the common good is so intrinsic that the Church views unemployment as a "real social disaster." 

Pope St. John Paul II expanded on past Catholic teaching and Deming's point when he wrote,

"Work is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it...  Work is a good thing for man - a good thing for his humanity - because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human being'."

Like Deming, John Paul insisted that one's focus must be on the laborer and not on the task performed, as if the worker were merely an instrument of production, along with raw materials and machines.  To fulfill one's dignity, John Paul declared that people have a right to work. Deming added that people also have a right to pride in their work.  This view is completely consistent with John Paul's position that when management focuses only on the task performed, this leads to "towards an instrumentalization of persons" - dehumanizing the worker and robbing him of dignity.

What practices exist in your organization that rob workers of dignity?  What barriers exist in your organization that might rob people of their right to pride or workmanship? These are good questions to ponder on Labor Day 2015 - an beyond.


W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis, MIT Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge, MA (1986), pp. 77-85, 107.

John Paul II, Laborem Exercens (On Human Labor), Papal Encyclical, Sep 14, 1981.

Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, (On Capital and Labor), Papal Encyclical, May 15, 1891.

_________________, Management's Five Deadly Diseases: A Conversation with Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Videotape, Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation, Lake Orion, MI (1984).


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