W is for Work Ethic


Copyright © 2018 by Barney Rosenberg
President, Ethics Line, LLC™

I am certainly not an expert on this subject.  But I do hear a lot of chatter about Millennials and Gen-Xers and whatever groups come before or after them.  It usually comes in the form of criticism and is often from Baby Boomers who are lamenting that things were so much better in the good old days…when we were young and starting our careers.  We have written evidence from the ancient Romans that they thought the young folks were just not up to their standards.  Rubbish!  Surely they could rob, pillage and plunder with the best of them…until the Empire collapsed.  Or maybe that’s why the Empire collapsed.  Hmmm.

One definition of work ethic is: “The principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward.”  Another is that it is “a moral good.”  Try this one courtesy of Wikipedia:  “Work ethic is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character.”  Fair enough, if the opposite is slacking off as a life style or being born rich with a “silver spoon in your mouth.”

When did different become bad?

And hasn’t the nature of work changed over time?  Hunters/gatherers.  Farmers.  The Industrial Revolution.  The knowledge revolution.  The computer age.  How about universal education as a good thing?  If only it were truly universal.

How long should the work day be?  8 hours?  10?  24?  What if I am able to do in 4 hours what you can only do in 8?  Should I get ½ as much money as you?  How about twice as much because I am better at my job than you are?  What if I am a night owl and am most productive between midnight and 6AM.  Should I have to drive into a factory or office during “normal business hours”?  If it’s a factory job may.  That might be the only place where I can do the job because of the equipment.  What if I collaborate with colleagues halfway around the globe.   During what hours should we do that?  Whose time zone?

It’s performance review time.  Who is being reviewed and by whom?  Which age category do they fit in?  Does it make a difference?  How are we supposed to measure performance and what standards should we apply?  If I am a young, gifted, rising star and I manage a group of workers who are close to retirement, what do I tell them?  You have a future in this company if you do A, B, and C?

Help me out here.  I have read that new entrants into the workforce will have 8 careers during their lifetime.  Not 8 jobs.  8 careers.  One of my children works for Google which didn’t exist when she was born.  Neither did the technology and algorithms behind Google’s success.

So what will “work ethics” mean when her two-year-old daughter enters the workforce?

Any thoughts?


  1. This is a great topic for a long discussion because “work” is not as we’ve always known it. The rules of engagement have changed and I think the question about work ethics really becomes a question about what’s mutually beneficial for the employee and the employer and how clearly that mission is communicated.
    If we simply apply Weber’s concept that work is valuable for its own sake, then the work ethic is oriented toward the employee without consideration for how the employer has framed the work, level of support, on boarding and evaluations for continued success.

  2. It seems to me that ‘work ethic’ is not a changeable thing.
    It is a ‘truth’ of human experience. The definition of Wikipedia seems most appropriate. Genuine work that contributes to the ‘good’ of others, has a moral value Also, the one practicing this ‘virtue’ if you will, of ‘good work ethic’, benefits by building character and integrity. It does not matter what the ‘work’ may be, or where it is done, or by whom.
    ‘Work’ that is done well, for the building up of humanity has value….in time and in eternity.

  3. What an instructive conversation! This is what I hoped for when I began this adventure way back at A is for Audit!

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