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Dignity of labour


‘Karyestu karm vadanti anupasthita vargam sarvarth priyam prananti’

(One who works without discrimination and distinction is loved by all) – Matsya Puraan

 ‘No task is small, petty or insignificant. Our mind is either small or big.’ – Bertrand Russell

It’s a known fact among old-timers of Indian Army that the Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw would polish his own shoes despite having a retinue of orderlies at his disposal. He’d say that by polishing his shoes, he not only gave respect to his exalted designation but also kept reminding himself that there was no work that should be looked down upon!.

Yes, this is the point to reme [lean six sigma] mber till the wrinkled eve of one’s life that no task should be looked down upon. Gandhi ji would say that cleaning toilets and doing all works without anyone else’s help made him self-sufficient, ego-less and down to earth. He gave tremendous amount of respect, meaning and purpose to the dignity of labour leading by his own example.

When Raj Mehta of Little Italy, Pune opened his restaurant in 1998, the very next week, five waiters fell sick and didn’t turn up for the work. Without panicking, the enterprising owner served the food like waiters at his own restaurant and even after establishing a chain of restaurants in India and abroad; he religiously serves food & washes plates on a specific day of the week. This helped him stay grounded and he inculcated the same habit among all the employees to serve even symbolically so that they remained grounded and respected all sorts of work.

This is dignity of labour. When Mr Modi holds the broom and sweeps the road on his own, the sight is bound to galvanize others as well to take a broom and follow suit.

It’s ironical esp. in India that we follow English language, English music, English films and etiquette but we conveniently ignore the British work culture which emphasises self-tasking and doesn’t consider any work to be degrading or demeaning. British PM and orator Sir Herbert Asquith would himself keep the visiting room scrupulously clean even when he was the PM. He could have had it done by his servants. But he preferred to work all by himself. He had two objectives in doing that-

1. To set an example to his staff

2. Also to show that no work is petty

Japanese firms and organizations see to it before employing candidates, whether they’ve an intrinsic love for all kinds of work and whether the candidates discriminated or hesitated when it came to doing a particular task.

Hesitating candidates are rejected and willingly-working employees are hired!!

When it comes to Japanese motto of WORK IS WORSHIP, there’s no parallel as Japanese people deem work to be a prayer and they never distinguish whether a work is significant or insignificant.

When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were being rebuilt after 1945 devastation by atom bombs, the entire Japanese parliament and all ministers along with the architects and engineers wholeheartedly assisted to rebuild the entire cities and no one took special credit for that. Because that was their moral responsibility and innate goodness towards their own country.

The same Japanese philosophy of working without distinction seeps into KAIZEN and it gives an accent on work being the utmost priority. When KAIZEN is applied, it encourages from the DIRECTORS to DOORKEEPERS to work in tandem and there’s no organizational hierarchy in doing any work. All works in a company, organization or factory can and should be done by any member irrespective of his/her position and status. That infuses EGALITARIAN WORK CULTURE and induces productivity manifold.

In short, if we respect work/s, work will respect us back. Let me quote a relevant pasage by the Japanese Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, ‘Even if you pick up stones from the road and throw them away, it helps the road to become clean and gives you a deep sense of satisfaction that you’ve done something worthwhile.’

All tasks, regardless of their face-value, give us an inner joy and one feels that he/she is a part of the cosmos in a creative manner. Here, I can’t restrain myself from quoting a verse from Bhagwad Gita which summarises the dignity of labour so articulately and emphatically:

Sarvārambhā hi doṣeṇa dhūmenāgnir ivāvṛtāḥ: There is what is called dignity of labour. Every work is equally good. We should not say, “Why should I do this kind of menial work? That person is doing better work.” There is no such thing as menial work and better work in this world. It is all a contribution from one’s own point of view for the total welfare of humanity. Every work is equally divine; every work is equally contributory to the welfare of one’s own benefit as well as others’.

Here are 5 tips for developing Dignity of Labour:

•           Go to the Gemba and do Collective Cleaning / Clean Toilets too

•           Run a machine/ work with hand at least one hour every week

•           Distribute salary with own hands & thank everybody for their contribution

•           Meet associates at their home every month & build a bond

•           Serve food at annual function to all associates once a year


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