Frankly, I start to simmer when I hear otherwise intelligent people declare that "the work ethic is dead" -- or that "people nowadays are just too lazy or disinterested."
Nonsense! While there may be some people who would rather not work at all, there is a very great difference between not wanting to work and beng dissatisfied with the particular job you happen to be working at. Perhaps the biggest problem today is to reorganize work in ways that will enable workers to derive satisfaction from it.
I believe the best prospects for overcoming the problems I've been describing are offered by what has come to be known as the quality-of-work-life movement.
The core of this approach is to encourage employees to participate in the key decisions that affect and determine day-to-day patterns. It recognizes that the person who does the job is the person who knows the job best. And it seeks to draw upon the expertise and creativity of a better-educated work force to help redesign and reorganize work in ways that meet the needs and demands of working people today and encourage them to maximize their contributions to the productivity of the organizations that employ them.
If the proper work environment is created, the long-term payoff will be productivity improvement through better interpersonal relationships, stronger employee job interest and satisfaction, less absenteeism and waste, and a more useful flow of ideas about how to improve operations.
Now, I do not mean to leave you with the impression that the very important human factors in the production process are the only ones that matter -- or that high employee job interest and satisfaction alone will guarantee the kind of productivity improvements we need. Obviously, many other factors play crucial roles in determining the total productivity picture -- including high standards of education, strong and relevant labor skills, creative development and management of new technologies, economies of scale, and -- most important of all -- healthy infusions of capital investment.
In terms of what we do in this country, however, we must recognize that we simply cannot afford to underutilize any of our physical, financial, or human resources. As an economic act of faith, we should make a strong national commitment to improve productivity growth. An important part of that commitment must be to recognize that while government tax and regulatory policies of climate in which this country can overcome the economic anemia of recent years, another essential key to shaping our economic future lies in effectively utilizing the creative talents and energies of people.