Redeeming the time

Two weeks to “stop the spread” really has changed things. One thing that may be changed forever is the workplace. You might remember the Great Resignation, which saw droves of people change jobs, retire early, start businesses or quit outright. 

The new buzz word is “quiet quitting” – what Gallup calls “disengagement” – in the workplace. People just don’t want to do more than is required. Like the Great Resignation, there are many contributing factors – burn out, disillusionment and confusion over what is expected. Some employees see disengagement as a sort of soft industrial action, making sure the boss realises how valuable they are because of all they used to do. 

At the same time that workers are difficult to find and hard to keep, The New York Times reports (here without paywall) that workplace surveillance is on the rise. When a chunk of the corporate workforce was working from home during lockdowns, employers were keen to make sure no one was goofing off on the company’s dime. With inflation, margins are tight and businesses are keen to recover their pandemic losses. 

Amazon was criticized last year for its elaborate system of tracking “time off task”. It was a bid to meet promised delivery times but also, as it turns out, identify anyone who looked like they might unionize. But even white collar workers are now finding that their hard work is increasingly being condensed down to a “productivity score”.

The “productivity revolution” has even come for medical and care professions. As the New York Times story records, one chaplain admits resorting to “spiritual care drive-bys” to increase productivity scores. Visiting a dying patient when they are sleeping may be complete in less time, but as the writer points out – grief and death don’t run on a schedule. 

Oliver Burkeman is a journalist who writes about his attempts at being productive, contemplating how to best wring the most value out of our 4000 weeks on this earth (his way of quantifying a lifespan). In a recent post, he observes that a lot of us begin each day as if we have a “’productivity debt’, which we must struggle to pay off over the course of the day, if we’re to feel by the evening like we’ve earned our spot on the planet.” An interesting observation. 

It seems that he is onto something. In modern workplaces, everyone has their KPIs – from the CEO to janitors, managers to car park attendants. It may just be busywork, but at least we can cross some things off our to-do list! We don’t like being given a “score”, but the drive to feel we are useful, displayed in our “doing” is a strong one. You don’t even have to be in paid employment – ask any mom or homemaker whether she feels she gets enough done every day!

There was once a bumper sticker which warned (or perhaps joked) “Jesus is coming! Look busy.” Something inherent in fallen men wants to stack achievements all the way to heaven, assuming we’ll be judged according to what we did with our time. But we don’t really have a “productivity debt”, our problem is much deeper.  

Burkeman writes elsewhere that keeping a “done” list is a good way of recording what you’ve achieved. When it comes to the sin debt owed by every man, Christians know that this is what is found in baptism, in the Supper and in the Word – a “done” list. In the Cross of Christ, it is finished! 

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