The joy of work

Trapped Chilean miners need routine to keep sane during trying ordeal that could last until Christmas

By Todd Humber (

In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada made a very enlightening remark when it recognized the importance of work to one’s self-esteem.

In Wallace v. United Grain Growers — which employers know well because it gave birth to bad-faith damages during the course of dismissal — the court recognized that, “for most people, work is one of the defining features of their lives.”

The routine of getting up in the morning, going to work and accomplishing something is a core part of the human experience. Sure, we all work for a paycheque, but there’s far more to it than just the bucks.

That’s not something lost on the rescuers trying to help the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped 700 metres underground since the roof of the San Jose copper and gold mine collapsed on Aug. 5.

Experts have been heaping praise on the conduct of the trapped miners, who have shown extraordinary discipline and courage in making their way to safety, rationing supplies and keeping their spirits up.

They’ve also arranged the miners into shifts, so while some groups are sleeping others are up and active and working. The plan is to try and keep some sense of normalcy for dozens of men who are in an extraordinary and almost unprecedented situation.

Now, word comes that the miners themselves will have to go to work in order to help the rescuers. That’s because the rescue plan involves drilling a small bore hole into the mine, which will then be followed by a much larger bore. The larger drill will cascade rock and debris into the mine, which the trapped miners will have to clear in order to keep the operation running smoothly.

This is good news. It will ensure the miners don’t have idle hands, and will give them a sense they’re able to help themselves out of the disaster — that they have some element of control and they’re not helpless in the coming months.

Everyone is hoping this tragedy has a happy ending, because it’s far from over. But in the meantime, the miners will be able to wake up, go to work and feel like they’re able to accomplish something. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of that.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit


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