Thursday, June 26, 2008


Roman and I have been talking about how the Rule of St Benedict is essentially the firast management textbook written in Western Europe. Here are some tips for effective managers.

After reading the antics of Kevin 24/7 and the reports of Federal Treasury officials working 36 hours straight, and my own depression caused by overwork, it is timely to reflect on what St Benedict says about work in the Rule. Chapter XLVIII of the Rule gives some guidelines on work hours.

He starts with:

"Idleness is the enemy of the soul. For this reason the bretheren should be occupied at certain times in manual labour, and at other times in sacred reading." Benedict goes on to describe the hours in which work is done and the hours in which reading is done."

He goes on:

"If however local necessity or their own poverty compels them to work personally at gathering the harvest, they should not be upset about this. For then truly are they monks if they live by the work of their hands, as did our Fathers and the Apostles. All their labours, however, should be kept under control on account of the less courageous".

Of course Benedict was writing for people who were not used to doing any physical work at all - that was for servants or (in the 6th cent AD) for slaves. However, there is a balance. He tells communities not to drive people into the ground, but let people work at their own pace.

Following this he gives instructions on the monks who are (called in Australia) - bludgers, and penalties to be given to such people. Finally he says:

"To the brethren who are in poor health or not strong, the work or craft that is allotted should be such as to keep them occupied, but not such as by its weight to break them down or drive them away. Their lack of strength is a matter for the Abbot's consideration."

In the monastery, or the corporation, we have a diverse group of people who bring all their own talents to build up the organisation. They cannot be underemployed as they will cause trouble (and in the case of a corporation, waste money). However, if a corporation give staff a huge weight that they individually cannot bear they will either collapse from overwork and get sick, and/or they will leave the corporation. In either case the corporation loses. The effective manager, like St Benedict's effective Abbot is concerned for everyone's welfare.

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