ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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'Work Culture': Myth and Reality

Is poor work 'culture' culturally rooted at all? If this were so,then sloth and poor work discipline would be evident across all sectors. As it is, it affects only or primarily the state sector and may well be rooted in the cumbersome administrative practices that are in place.

Having figured itself as one of the regions branded for poor work efficiency and rusty administrative machinery over past several decades, West Bengal of late (and perhaps suddenly) has waken up to the need for removing this stigma by bringing in much-publicised phenomenon of ‘work culture’. Indeed the term ‘work culture’ – especially after it had received a propagandised priority of the ruling Left leadership (perhaps partly in the face of currently blowing wind of globalisation) – has recently gained a fair amount of currency in public discussions and debates across a broad spectrum of the Bengali society. A petty shop-keeper, a high-nosed corporate executive and even the staunch self-styled Marxist babu all alike presently appear to single out the lack of ‘work culture’ as a key factor in their seemingly well-meaning analysis of the state’s relative backwardness. Since the term work culture is commonly used as a catch-all category, and since much impression naturally surrounds this notion, it would be useful to examine the extent of validity of this pervasive perception and the implied remedies.

What is the core content entailed by this popular notion of ‘work culture’? A pervasive apathy, laxity and laziness towards work and job responsibilities is widely held to characterise the prevailing state of ‘work culture’. People are commonly believed to have become negligent towards punctuality; they are seen typically slacking on their job responsibilities and duties. The majority of the working population are allegedly habitually late in coming in and early in leaving the workplace; they appear to spend a lot of time gossiping and even socialising within prime duty hours; there is also a common complaint regarding their intermittent disappearance from the office desk on various private and non-official pursuits. Since all this is popularly perceived as manifestations of a poor ‘work culture’, the evil is thus diagnosed to lie in the cultural sphere. According to this popular understanding, it is the broad cultural milieu of the society that breeds such a low standard of work efficiency and motivation. Hence the policy prescription is to bring about – either by means of moral persuasions or by stricter enforcement of work rules or perhaps by both – cultural change favourable to motivating working masses for better work performance and more job responsibilities. However, this rather casual diagnosis and policy suggestion, as I argue here, deserves careful scrutiny, and is largely misleading.

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