Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Our Work Ethic - A Critical Look

It was interesting to come across profound philosophy with such practical overtones from two diverse streams of thought from two very different civilisations, so to say, and yet be so similar.

As I reflected on this, it dawned on me that this knowledge needs to be spread far and wide as we in India suffer from a very poor work ethic.

Those of you who need to interact with municipal authorities or any government agency or department , on a regular or one-off basis, will have borne the brunt of a callous and inefficient administration. Things just do not move. Let us take a peek into the minds of the officialdom and see this problem at close quarters. Go back and remember when you applied for a passport, driving license, birth or death certificate or had to apply for your parents' pension or withdraw your provident fund on retirement. The malaise runs deeper and applies  even to departments which have no interaction with outsiders.

This is a subject that has no end and one can keep waxing eloquent about our shortcomings. In this post, I will steer clear of all discussion on corruption and focus on a widely prevalent poor or absent work ethic seen in most government / municipal departments.

We see this affliction manifest in many ways. I have listed some that are easily visible for anyone to see.

  • Procrastinating,
  • Not attending to work at all and keep it pending,
  • Poor punctuality,
  • Spend much time in gossip, office politics, back-biting and frequent refreshment breaks,
  • Wherever there is interaction with members of public - be surly, do not co-operate, mislead or keep raising new doubts or queries every time the person comes to get work done, expect monetary benefits are just some of the few qualities on display,
  • Antiquated administrative rules and proceedures and lack of basic housekeeping and poor hygiene factors, and many others that my blogger friends could point out based on their personal experience.
Is this lack of motivation only attributable to salaries / benefits? or is there more to it?

I sense a complete lack of pride in the job they are supposed to do. There is complete abdication of responsibility and duty is considered as a burden. If one complains or higher authority seeks to discipline then there is a revolt and a "devil-may-care" attitude. Fresh blood infused also catches on and become part of the system.

Negativity spreads fast, becomes a habit and soon becomes a way of life.

What could possibly have contributed to this state of affairs??


BK Chowla said...

It is said that in India one needs to bribe from the moment one is born--birth certificate till one dies-- death certificate.--
M.C.D. Delhi,has a fake employees numbering 22380.which accounts for afake salary bill of Rs 204 crores per year.
Lack of accountability is the main cause of all the ills.

Gopinath Mavinkurve said...

As BK Chowlaji has already mentioned, No. 1 on the list of causes is lack of accountability. Nobody seems to ask them why there is no action on any application - not their bosses, not their auditors and not even the applicant! Even in case the applicant has made errors or has not submitted papers in order, there is no communication from the dept until some representative follows up and moves from desk to desk to locate the file. Even if there is a deficiency pointed out, it does not mean they cannot come out with another deficiency after a week or a month. Their deficiency letters do not even specify whom one should approach nor do they provide their tel nos or email addresses very often (though this is improving lately).
If only govt audits were to question delays and question flimsy grounds of objections/denials, will we find better accountability in Govt departments. Things do change but not to our liking...

manju said...

Yes, I also think that no accountability is the main reason.

No government employee can be fired even if does no work at all. And if some action is taken against him- it is only to transfer him to another department.

Vinod_Sharma said...

In my view, the prime reason is that once someone gets a government job, he is set for life. It is near impossible to punish anyone, thanks to the CCS & CCA rules which makes awarding even minor punishments such a long drawn and difficult affair that no one wants to bother himself with this additional and 'unproductive' workload.

With the job totally secure, bonus guaranteed every year for doing nothing, and a number of promotions too available for 'free' many openly do side businesses. Some remain absent for years.

The beauty is that the same guys behave and work very differently in a private sector environment, as has been seen proved in the case of government companies that have been privatised.

Mavin said...


Our Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika also has many absentee and fake employees.

Another way of siphoning money...

My point did this lack of accountability creep in???...especially when we consider that ours is an ancient civilisation and cultured society.

Mavin said...


I know that in your professional life you have had to contend with some departments notorious for their corruption and administrative rigidity and inefficiency.

Tough times...but there has to be some attempt at reform....things cannot continue as they are...

Mavin said...


I understand lack of accountability but is there no such thing as your own conscience.

Does it not make these people toss and turn at night.........or am I too simplistic.

Mavin said...

Hi Vinod,

Welcome back....where were you? My Voice looks forward to your comments.

These administrative procedures for punishing erring officials were drawn up by the British.

The whole structure was designed to make punishing a white officer almost impossible. Now the brown sahib has taken over and has taken a liking for these rules.

My only point is....does it not hurt these guys to behave like this for decades. Their whole lives must be spent complaining and wallowing in negativity....

I wonder if this can ever be reversed...

Smitha said...

Like most others have said, lack of accountability is definitely a huge factor. I would like to add that lack of incentives to promote ethical work practises also adds to it. I remember meeting somebody who told us that around 30% of their salary would be taken by their superior - in a govt office. After that nobody cared about who came to work or what work was done..When the ethics have gone down to that level , I guess people have no motivation to work.. Unless there is a complete shakeup - top-down, I guess, nothing will change. When everybody around is that corrupt, I guess very few people will remain ethical.. Which is so very sad..

Krishnan said...

Mavin, as usual, you have hit the nail on the head.
"Negativity spreads fast, becomes a habit and soon becomes a way of life"
100% correct. It is so deeply entrenched.

Mavin said...


The situation is grim and incidents are shocking. This just shows how far we have strayed from our roots.

Krish -, however, depends on us to make a difference. A small effort is good enough to start a biggle ripple.