The erosion of the work/life balance

The culture of dependency is becoming a dominant feature of contemporary society. Economic crises puts pressure on both the labour market and the provision of welfare services.

As uncertainty increases, many are becoming dependent on institutions over which they have no control. Some may be totally dependent on social security; others on their jobs. Both areas are increasingly volatile.

Governments are facing pressures to downsize their social security system and deregulate labour. Businesses are finding it hard to cope in the current economic climate. More often than not, this leads to redundancies and a deterioration of working conditions.

These dependencies are creating a number of hardships. Pope Benedict XVI explored these themes in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He remarked that being dependent “for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering.”

The work/life balance is steadily eroding. Parents are not always able to balance their professional life with family life, creating additional pressures on marital and family life. Other individuals and families find themselves caught up in a welfare trap.

This situation must propel work-related issues to the forefront of debate. The starting point  must be based on the assumption that there is an inherent dignity in work. I will attempt to succinctly list some themes which may be considered for debate.

Work does not solely include paid employment. Volunteers, home makers, students and care-givers produce output which may be difficult to measure or reward in quantitative terms. Their decision is not an opt-out from economic activity but an equally valid choice – their contribution to society deserves acknowledgement and respect.

Work is not a mere financial transaction but a central component of the creative process. The Catholic understanding of work views human beings as co-creators – participants in God’s creative acts.

The workplace can be dehumanised if a clinical and impersonal approach becomes the primary method. This approach could stifle individual initiative and lead to a negative view of work. Rather than de-humanise the individual, work could be an incentive to make the individual more human.

Blessed Pope John Paul II emphasised this in the encyclical Laborem Exercens: “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 fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more of a human being’.” The right to private property and economic initiative, secure employment, a just wage and work which respects the skills and capabilities of individuals are not mere slogans but elements which safeguard human dignity at the workplace.

The inherent dignity of mankind can only be truly respected if it is recognised by the individual rather than enforced through a legal bill or policy decision.

Nonetheless, the current situation requires some form of regulation. The challenge for policy makers is to strike a balance between protecting certain rights without hampering the entrepreneurial and creative spirit.

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