Employers and teams fall over themselves to find workers with a good work ethic. But what does that mean, and how do you know it when you see it? This article will investigate what it means to have a good work ethic, including what is a good work ethic? How much does it vary between work culture and the startup culture in particular? Is it defined and moderated by culture? How can it be attained? In light of work ethic, what should we keep in mind about, not only self-presentation, but also how we understand and evaluate our teammates and potential candidates?
The idea of work ethic or the rules that are followed at work, as opposed to at home or at leisure, is something that all cultures have in some form or other. However, the rules within that work ethic do vary between geographic, as well as work cultures, and the startup culture in particular.
There are many assumptions about work ethic, such as the idea that it’s inherent or that some are born with it while others aren’t. There is also the common assumption that if one isn’t raised with a work ethic as a child they will never attain it. Both of these assumptions are damaging to individuals applying different cultures, or even from different industries. At the same time, these assumptions harm a business’s recruitment potential.
This is because work ethic is something that can be trained and cultivated. A business’s most powerful tool for creating a culture of hard workers is social modeling, which can be spurred on with motivation and instilled through their over-arching business ethics and company culture.
What is Work Ethic?
Put simply, we use “work ethic” to refer to a set of moral principles that modify an individual’s work performance. In this case, work ethic is a means to an end and the end is productivity, quality, and performance.
In some cases, however, the perception of work performance takes on a more dogmatic tone. Among these individuals, work ethic represents an individual’s belief in the value and benefit of work for its own sake, as something that strengthens and builds character.
Whichever way you decide to define work ethic, it’s common not to have a system for it, meaning that you tend to “know it when you see it.” Some signs of a person’s work ethic include their attitude, communication, and behavior, as well as the level of respect with which they treat coworkers. This means that it’s not just an individual’s performance that employers track from their team, but also how your attitude and actions validate the work they are doing.
For example, an individual’s work ethic reflects how they feel about the importance of their particular job or the field as a whole. If this doesn’t represent the position in a good light, employers can often take it personally.
The words “work ethic” are an umbrella term for a variety of definitions and impressions, which may confuse talent that is applying for jobs. Some employees identify themselves this way. But other employees may see it as a red flag about the kind of employer who looks for work ethic.
For example, positions that need to state that they are looking for employees with “strong work ethic” will often have experienced high turnover for this position. Similarly, companies with high absenteeism will often turn to recruiting work ethic as an answer for employees who are inclined to call out too frequently. These red flags lead some talent to wonder where those businesses are falling short when it comes to inspiring loyalty.
Work Ethic in the Scope of Global Business
Globalization undeniably complicates the question of ethics, since individuals from different cultures may understand business conduct differently. Nonetheless, cross-cultural education has demonstrated that work ethic is something that can be taught and trained, as opposed to something that is inherent to a certain part of the population.
Work ethics exist in all cultures. However, the actual parameters of the work ethic aren’t consistent across all cultures. This is particularly clear when it comes to the specific values emphasized and the ways of demonstrating these values.
There are many aspects of work ethics that translate across cultures, such as the idea of giving and showing mutual respect. Other ideas, such as the intrinsic value of hard work, gain little traction, especially when it has monetary compensation to contend with.
Most Companies Identify These Behaviors as the Keys
Focus and Persistence
Those who focus well and are able to work through their own tasks are perceived as having good work ethic. This is because the ability to focus greatly increases individual productivity. It allows individuals to work for longer periods of time. One of the keys to focus is minimizing distractions or not engaging with them when they present themselves. Many believe that focus allows individuals to work harder.
Just as with work ethic, there are many contrasting definitions of hard work.
Many will identify hard work as work that requires self-discipline. Self-discipline refers to individuals who can push themselves to complete tasks, as opposed to requiring intervention from others.
One important key to hard work, however, is the ability to overcome fear on demand. In the social environment of work, most fears that need to be overcome are based on an individual sense of adequacy.
For example, there are times when we will hit a roadblock while working. (We might need a number of assets to be completed before continuing. We need to learn a new technique or method before we can complete something.) These roadblocks take us out of our flow and focus. To work harder, then, is to dig into this problem and start doing what we can. Sometimes this is a focus issue, but most often, it’s actually a fear issue. The mind is concerned about failing when it faces something that it has little experience in, or something that is does not identify as its strength. In this case, being a hard worker can be explained as the persistence to face one’s fear and put in the work that allows adaptivity, learning new things, and improvement.
Sense of Responsibility
Individuals who are perceived as having strong work ethic tend to show a sense of responsibility for their work. This includes the ability to finish tasks efficiently and an emphasis on quality.
Individuals who begin working on a project will often feel that it becomes their responsibility to get things right, to complete the project, and to see it through. Additionally, they understand that their projects reflect on them as a worker.
Self-responsibility for a project can be a source of stress among reliable workers. This is particularly problematic in startups where individuals are often shoe-horned into positions and projects that they have little mastery over, after having been successful with projects that were already in their wheelhouse. This is a major case where the cultivation of work ethic requires support from the company culture.
Integrity is a work ethic value that considers the morality of one’s behavior at work. Integrity refers to doing the right thing, even while no one is watching or keeping track of your actions. Integrity requires the employee to use judgment about one’s surroundings and one’s own actions. This means that integrity, in particular, is a learned behavior that may require modeling for individuals who are not groomed in the work context to become more familiar with the rules and guidelines of proper conduct.
Integrity often requires a level of consistency, accordance with workplace rules, and ability to work with others. While it may seem like a more sentimental value, acting with integrity can be important for cultivating trust around a workplace. Integrity is also modified by a person’s perceived honesty, such as their ability to give honest feedback or to own up to their own mistakes.
Individual integrity is extremely reliant on social modeling, and requires workplace and cultural complicity in the integrity model. That is to say, if employees who work with integrity notice a management culture that exhibits less integrity, it can decrease the integrity of the entire workplace.
What constitutes professionalism may vary from field to field. Some fields may require workers to keep their personal lives and public identities private, while others encourage employees to have some form of public representation for their professional self. Professionalism may be influenced by an individual’s sense of personal organization as well as ideal organizational behavior. Professionalism is often modeled by other individuals. However, at its heart it is a sense of organization.
Additionally, professionalism relates to attitude, workplace values, and demeanor. Positivity invites a strong workplace culture. Part of developing professionalism is learning how to constructively criticize, identify, and solve problems without insulting the workplace or speaking negatively about peers and products.
The ability to stay calm and make rational decisions or, when necessary, objections is important for professionalism and showing respect to the company culture as well as teammates and coworkers. Additionally, respect is shown by listening to others, following a company’s rules or codes of conduct and dress, exhibiting diplomacy, abstaining from unfair treatment, and avoiding gossip or negative talk about others.
This is also demonstrated by one’s ability to handle teamwork and cooperation. While many talented individuals know that teamwork is not always the most productive way to handle parts of a project, the ability to exhibit cooperation and respect for team members is an important part of organizational behavior. An employee with strong work ethic ultimately understands that they are part of a larger team, so it’s important to set aside their ego and communicate to other members of the team.
Nothing Can Go Without Reward
For many people, the days when work ethic was a reward in and of itself are gone. Just as work ethic is developed from other underlying habits, it is now an underlying motivation. The fruits of good work ethic may be upward career mobility for some.
For many workers in the entrepreneurial and startup field, the real results of work ethic are the development of an amazing product and brand which places the culmination of that work as an end. Hard-working talent with strong work ethics will frequently want their talents to be a part of something bigger. A business that offers this opportunity with a cultural climate that invites the employee to do their best and remain focused will find stronger rewards than simply demanding loyalty with little to give in return.
One of the contemporary problems that companies have with recruiting individuals with work ethic is, either not cultivating a company culture that promotes work ethic, or inconsistently rewarding work ethic. Many of the ideas inculcated in work ethic are learned behaviors. This means that companies who prioritize these values need to offer workers a structure in which to exhibit these behaviors. Companies who want trustworthy employees should be trustworthy themselves.
Work ethic is social and trained, and companies that have a difficulty hiring loyal or ethical employees might need to examine the ways in which they reward, or in many cases exploit, those who do exhibit work ethic.
How Can Business Ethics Create a Culture with Strong Work Ethics?
Many of the characteristics associated with strong work ethic are effects, not causes. This means that they rely on a foundation of other positive habits, as opposed to standing alone. To cultivate a strong work ethic, therefore, one must cultivate habits and attitudes that bring this about.
For example, before one is punctual, one is time-aware. Before one is efficient, one knows how to work through a process to the end. These are things that can be taught, trained, and most importantly, socially modeled.
Good work ethic isn’t born in a vacuum. It is cultivated through more basic habits, and developed through a culture of social modeling and exchange.
What Can Startups Do to Cultivate Positive Ethics?
In some cases, these positive habits are only made possible by the underlying condition of an individual’s ability to achieve work-life balance, which increases motivation, decreases burnout, and allows for maximum productivity and focus during the work hours. However, for many employees, the availability and possibility of work-life balance depends on the demands that the workplace puts on them. If a workplace expects employees to be constantly connected in their off hours, motivation is likely to suffer as individuals feel that they are working all the time.
A company culture that validates its employees and effectively addresses their concerns is more likely to promote the kind of attitudes by which employees, in turn, validate the company with strong work ethic.
There are a number of behavioral, attitude-based, and productivity standards that fall under the umbrella of what are normally called work ethics. Some of these are morally driven and others are driven by the idea of maximizing production. They require a sense of effort and loyalty from workers. Ultimately, though, the development of a strong work ethic within a company is not a one-way street. The company in question should model the kind of behavior it expects and reward those exhibiting a strong work ethic.