Wednesday 5 December 2012

Whither Productivity?

By Edmund Lo, S.J.


As part of my formation as a Jesuit, I have been teaching at the Jesuit-run Campion College at the University of Regina for the past three months or so. Extensive time spent in my office to research and prepare for my course seems to be the norm; nevertheless, there are also these rare moments when I would run into my colleagues either in the hallway or the photocopying room. More often than not, we would still be in our own respective “work modes”, with our brains going a hundred miles an hour about our courses. It is then of little surprise that our conversations would usually revolve around work: “Yeah, my day has been productive; got a lot of marking done”; or “today was a slow and unproductive day; didn't get much done.” This did not go unnoticed by me: in many ways, an equal sign has been drawn between my productivity and the quality of my day. But is this equal sign justified?

The idea of work has been highly regarded in the Catholic tradition. There is certainly a practical aspect about work. In the parts of the world where people grow what they themselves eat, work directly translates into food. In other places where one's work may not be involved with food per se, wages allow one to purchase food and other necessities. We may recall the passage from St. Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, that “… if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” (2 Thes 3:10) Having said that, the purpose of work is not just about practicality. In his encyclical Laborem Exercens, the late Pope John Paul II comments that “… work is a fundamental dimension of man's existence on earth” (LE 4). It is part and parcel of the meaning of our lives because we are called to be good stewards of what the Lord has given to us through creation. This is what ultimately gives meaning and dignity to work. (For more reflections on the nature of work, please refer to my fellow Jesuit blogger's previous account)

The purpose of my entry, however, is not on the nature of work, but on its productivity thereof. When work is considered in the right perspective, it has much to do with living out the proper relationship between the Creator and the creature; in this case, productivity matters. On the other hand, productivity for its own sake is problematic. We are then considering the means to our goal as the goal itself. We can easily slip into this line of thinking if we are unaware of it, and it is this mentality that I would like to focus on.

Seeing the fundamental importance and dignity in work is one thing, but making it our raison d'être is a different matter. Having a lousy and unproductive day at work is certainly unpleasant, but what about the quality of our relationships with others? Was I also grumpy with my colleagues, shooting curt responses at them? Did I greet them and give them the dignity that they deserve, or was I just hoping that they would get out of my face so that I could continue to mind my business? How about our family and friends? How was the quality of my relationship with them? What about that stranger whom I met on my way home?

Work is undoubtedly important, but our lives are comprised of more than just being productive at our jobs. My question is, what kind of productivity should be most valued? What if I am churning out good results after good results at work, but I continue to bear bad fruits in my life outside of work? How much do we value the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) in our lives? This is not an either-or question. Our primary role as Christians is to glorify the Lord with our lives, and we are called to bear these good fruits of which St. Paul speaks in every aspect of our lives, be it at work or outside of work.


The quality of our day, and ultimately our lives, is to be judged by the good fruits the Lord is bearing through us. We may have an unproductive off-day at work, and that is understandable; like professional athletes, our ability to perform at an elite level comes and goes. What remains constant is our call to live authentic lives as Christians; this never comes and goes. We are all called to be productive in producing the good fruits that the Holy Spirit can bring. With this in mind, how productive are we really, then?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for your blog. I woke upvlate at night and still thinking about problems at Work. But your writing has turned my direction. Appreciate it so much!