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The Cost of Excellence

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 15, 2010

In a previous article, I wrote about how Christians are called to “do all things well,” which includes how we conduct our professional affairs. However, this call presents a challenge to thousands of Catholics who want to do their best job, but are unable to because of a prevailing culture of mediocrity at their workplace.

Unfortunately, I’m not merely taking about one’s workflow being impeded by the mediocrity of others. I’m talking about situations in which your job, executed at a high level, represents a perceived threat to others in your work environment.

In the course of my career I have encountered many conscientious Catholics who would be putting their careers in jeopardy by putting a good effort into their work.

Sound crazy? Remember that I work in the shadow of Washington DC. It is a sad reality of life that in many divisions of the federal government, as well as in some government contractors, inefficiency is a way of life. It might be perfectly possible for an effective, hardworking, ethical individual to accomplish in two hours what takes the average person within their department eight hours to accomplish.

However, in some cases, those who bustle about and get things done eight hours a day, with an efficient and consistent focus, are putting themselves in danger of being reprimanded for many reasons—among them, jeopardizing company revenue (by completing a project too quickly and putting next year’s budget at risk). Persist in rocking the boat, and you can lose your job.

Even in environments where effectiveness is encouraged and rewarded, it is often the case that 20% of the staff perform 80% of the work.

In any case, as a Catholic working within an environment where quality is discouraged, you might ask yourself, “how am I supposed to ‘do all things well’ and still keep my job?” The answer to the question lies in common justice. If the compensation for the position was predicated on the equivalent of two hours of solid, smart work per day, and this is mutually understood by both employer and employee, than you have fulfilled your moral obligation—and can start trying to find other ways to “do all things well” in your spare time.

This article is not intended to be a blanket condemnation of government or contractor offices. I have also encountered places where great things are being accomplished and where work is performed diligently and efficiently. Sadly, however, this is not a universal state of affairs.

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