Andrea Harrn Counselling Services

The Protestant Work Ethic and Mental Health


Protestant Work Ethic

Do you have the old Protestant Work Ethic of feeling guilty when you’re not working, and getting a buzz from feeling like you’re really busy.  Do you go into work even when you feel really ill?

The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and diligence as a constant display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith in contrast to the focus upon religious attendance, confession, and ceremonial sacraments.  In 1905 Max Weber a German sociologist, economist and politician wrote a series of essays entitled The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  He wrote about capitalism evolving in Northern Europe when the Protestants (particularly the Calvinists) influenced large numbers of people to work in the secular world, to develop their own businesses and engage in trade and accumulation of wealth for investment.  This protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated mass action that influenced the development of capitalism.

According to Weber

“the Calvinist believers were psychologically isolated. Their distance from God could only be precariously bridged, and their inner tensions only partially relieved, by unstinting, purposeful labor”

How influenced are we today by this ingrained sense of hard work for spiritual comfort.  There are some that will work no matter what.  Come rain or shine, through sickness or bereavement will go into work and soldier on.  This may be a matter of work rules or sickness payment benefits or even fear of redundancy or being beaten on the career ladder.  For many this will be a financial decision but for others it is a matter of principle.

We’ve all met the type that has never had a day of sick in 50 years.   A martyr to the job who may or may not let everyone know exactly how hard they are working.  Others quietly and diligently turn up each day for low wages and little remuneration.

Can going to work through difficult times be good for us.  Does it bring us comfort or perhaps a focus of distraction from our cares and woes.  It is true to say that when you are feeling negative or down long term wallowing in self-pity will not help.  However if we work too hard, take on too much responsibility and find it hard to say no this will lead to stress and poor mental health.

There are times when we all need a day off work to nurture ourselves, a duvet day or some unpaid leave.   Time to reflect, cry, grieve, sleep, communicate, walk in the woods and just BE.   Taking time for ourselves is not selfish but an important aspect of self-nurture and self-love.

So next time you feel like a day off ask yourself how much you are influenced by history and the judgements of others.

To learn more about what drives you take a look at The Mood Cards and especially the stress, guilt, strong and motivated cards

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