What Happened to Work Ethic

Each and every month for the past few years, front-page headlines have been made by reporting the current dismal jobs reports across the United States. And week after week, things remain the same. Unemployment lines are long with record numbers of people receiving unemployment benefits while the list of companies hiring are few and far between. Of course, these reports are slightly obscured, because while they report on Fortune 500 companies – they are not necessarily showing how many job openings there are in less prevalent North American businesses. Chances are the mom and pop fueling station up the road from your house; the thrift store, the hair salon, and the nearest hotel to your home are looking for laborious positions, with very few applicants.

We have suddenly become a society where the mundane, blue collar tasks of being a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant, the shampooer at the hair salon, part of the cleaning crew at a hotel or hired help on a peach farm are seemingly ‘beneath’ our level of acceptable jobs. They don’t pay well, and they entail quite a bit of hard labor – also referred to as ‘actual work’ that young people today quite frankly, aren’t willing to do. Decades ago, no one started out his or her career in an air-conditioned office sitting high above Main Street in some big city. Some of the most successful executives in the world were once confined to the mailroom – driven by the motivation to make something of themselves. Today, not so much.

So what happened to work ethic? Are young people being brought up to expect too much too soon as they enter the work force?

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, director of the Institute for American Values believe that our work ethic is not what has changed, but rather the kind of work that we as a society are willing to do has changed. She points out in round table discussions that not only are today’s employed working longer hours than ever before, often bringing their work home – but that standard office hours in most businesses have been elongated by several hours per day. In other words, there is no longer a 5:00 whistle that blows and everyone just walks off the job. She also says that, “The difference today is that the jobs of today, at least the ones that people want to fill – are not physically demanding.” Her take on our work ethic is that it hasn’t gotten worse, but perhaps simply softer. With so many migrant and immigrant workers still willing and able to fill the labor intensive, down and dirty job openings for little pay – Americans simply aren’t trying to compete. Or interested for that matter.

Plus, according to Tom Lutz who penned the book, Doing Nothing – people today have become smart enough to realize that according to mathematical equations – it doesn’t make much sense to take these jobs when they are being offered such impressive wage and benefits packages by the government. Essentially, it does not make sense for a single mom receiving $1500 in benefits each month to take a job making $6.50 an hour, which will negate her ‘free’ earnings from the government or entitlement programs. So why bother? Is it her work ethic that should be questioned or perhaps the sensibilities of the government paying her way that are slued?

Work ethic has also been complicated by so many laws and regulations which are government mandated that tell employers what they can and cannot expect from their employees. And with companies like OSHA and other regulating agencies making it their mission to mandate equality and ‘humane conditions’ in the work place – no Wal-Mart bagger is going to have the motivation to end their lunch hour early because they have a sense that the front end of the store needs a few extra hands to keep up. If you do business with most companies, you realize pretty quickly that customer service is not high on the priority list for many employees. Especially when companies hire young, entitled, and over expectant employees.

Just the other day, a mother of 4 went to her local Wal-Mart, paid for 22 bags of mulch, and drove her truck around to pick up the merchandise. The 20 something garden employee who’s sole purpose is to help customers load the products they buy – made every attempt to look as busy as possible, setting up a cost display, rather than have the decency to load (or at least assist) the 50 pound bags of product. Several decades ago, it would have been seen as cowardly and rude to allow a woman wrangling 4 children to load her mulch without assistance. And this act in and of itself would have been enough to fire the employee years ago, but in this day and age is not considered a plausible case for termination.

Work ethic today has been riddled with narcissism. People, especially young people – do not seem to care too much about customer service, quality products, and are just not willing to perform physically strenuous jobs. The quote from Maxim Gorky, a Russian novelist, author and playwright that says, “”When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is slavery,” has been taken almost too much to heart. And people are coming to work, or looking for jobs that will be ‘dreams come true,’ or “satisfy them creatively” rather than realizing it’s a ‘dog eat dog world’ where only the best will get ahead in life. If they don’t like what they are doing, there is little motivation to stay employed because in many cases, they are offered so much more remaining unemployed anyways.

Responsibility and work ethic are definitely ideals that are taught in childhood. When children grow up seeing their parents working hard in and outside the home in order to get what they want and excel in life, they too will be able to sow the benefits of hard work, because they have seen it action. However, when children are shielded from responsibilities and aren’t encouraged to engage in hard work for the ultimate payoff, or arent given glimpses of their parents hard work in action – they wontdevelop work ethic of their own. And so, work ethic suffers worse with each and every generation.



One Response

  1. GREAT article. As a small business with a max of 40 staff at a given time, we have been so curious about what happened to the work ethic in California. We have some 20 year old’s that work like we used to for our 1st jobs, and others that act as if we are causing them physical pain. This article helped tremendously, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.