Productivity or the Worker?

by Giulia Paola Di Nicola and Attilio Danese

Conflicts in the world of work are far too often resolved with little consideration taken of the worker. The productivity of work is regarded as the main objective of the enterprise, and consequently there are laws made that answer to the marketplace and tend to penalise those who do not work or who produce little. The evaluation of public employees is particularly targeted. It may seem to be a clear process, but quis custodiet custodes? If we agree to the provocation “let us fire those who do nothing and reward the real workers” not to speak of the related proposal of an independent organisation that will evaluate public structures and their efficiency, we should ask: is this really advocating justice? Will it really succeed in producing a fairer public administration and factors of all-embracing development for the country?

In any case, we need to distinguish between “those who do nothing” and “do-nothings”. “Do-nothing” has a negative connotation as it implies that a person does nothing or very little due to laziness, craftiness or indifference. However, a person who does nothing may not be at fault. There may be a breakdown where they work, but it is often because of the shameful way that management works: managers that do their job badly, make unfair judgements, and do not evaluate the work done according to ability but on the basis of their own interests, and so they reward workers who are undeserving.

An independent organ that evaluates efficiency in public structures should be careful to justly attribute responsibility, either to the workers or to the bad administration. There have been quite a number of cases of mobbing, in which the worker does not work because the boss does not want him/her to work. The person is sidelined and not given tasks to perform, and is not only penalised in the final evaluation, but most of all by being excluded from the circle of those who are placed in conditions where they can be productive. We must be attentive that “those who do nothing” are not penalised from all sides, by whoever supplies the work to be done, by the family, by the “independent organ”, by a cut in wages and finally, because of the inevitable consequences on mental and physical health, by the demise of the person’s working life.

It is generally thought that penalties and the fear of being disciplined will bring about order and productivity. Everyone knows that you can be in the workplace for 24 hours and have your mind somewhere else, giving the service you are rendering one third of your potential and reserving the rest for whatever you regard as paramount in your life. This is an accusation directed especially at women, claiming that their minds are distracted in following up family problems. However, we can also obey orders while cursing the one who is obliging us to do something we do not want to do, just as we can be glued to our desks reading comics or writing poetry.

The primary objective should be to have employees who have no need of a boss. This is the goal of coaching specialists, the business coaches.

We need to foster an outlook that is significantly different from the severity and impersonal nature of penalties, one that creates a more humane environment. Shock therapy is not disputed, but it is integrated with something that is more essential and more important than penalties to be applied to “do-nothings”, and that is: well-being in the workplace.

It is a case of transforming a mediocre worker like “Fracchia” (a well-known Italian film actor) into a person who finds enjoyment in the task and who uses his/her talents to the full. This is an art that requires the integral development of people who can regard work as an important expression of their being in the world in a way that is full of meaning and that can translate their attitude to work into working practices and cooperation.

For people who work, it is very important to be with a leader who is able to carry forward an intelligent project with experience, transparency and coherence. This is a leader who allows the project to be a humane enterprise in which each person is willing to incorporate new trends and to generate value, and this goes far beyond simply earning money.


This is also about not looking on financial expansion and prosperity as ends in themselves. Twenty-first century leaders are those who are at the service of the majority, who teach through example, who build teams that work together and that are made up of people who are able to use their talents at work and to apply them in a way that benefits everyone. One of the key attitudes that managers should have in order to learn how to be a true leader, is to see the organisation as a whole that is built on balance and integration rather than on a mechanism of mere technical efficiency.

We should get used to thinking in terms of “we” rather than “I”. Employees need to take an active part in carrying out the vision of the organisation.

The era of carrying out orders after receiving a command has faded into history. We are living in an era of synergy that requires human gifts and convincing motivation.

Perhaps there is a dose of idealism in this, but in human enterprise pure realism is counterproductive. We need to direct our gaze upwards if we want the numbers to increase of those who cannot wait to go on pension when they can “finally” twiddle their thumbs. After a lifetime of stressful timetables and time cards to be clocked in, they will be able to have days of absolute repose and to go on trips. However, they will most likely go in search of broken threads and interrupted projects to take up again and perhaps they will work even harder on them than before.

This shows that human beings desire simply to work in the way that they find most suited to their possibilities. They want to be able to freely say yes or no and to use their energies without holding back. They do not mind if the means are more frugal, but they feel at peace in an organisation that is respectful of human needs that may not form part of the productivity programme.

The Book of Genesis itself, the foundation of our culture and faith, obliges us to try all the means possible so that work will not be a condemnation.

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