What is Work Ethic and Do You Need It?


Definition of work ethic: a belief in work as a moral good: a set of values, centred on the importance of doing work and reflected especially in a desire or determination to work hard.                                                                      (Mirriam Webster)

When you’re asked to define your work ethic, what do you think of? It can be hard to name the exact traits that you think a person should display in the workplace that qualifies them as having a ‘good work ethic’, however, we are quick to recognise those who show a poor work ethic.

Morals are the rules that we set for ourselves; personal and societal rules that are often unspoken. This is most obvious when as a visitor to another culture you make a faux pas out of ignorance, often unaware you might have caused some offence.

Simply, work ethics are the traits that we collectively define as most desirable in the workplace. Some of these traits we expect people are taught growing up, while others are skills that can be developed over time, and others yet are habits.

The following list is a top 10 work ethics guidelines as outlined by an academic institution.

  1. Appearance: Display proper dress, grooming, hygiene, and manners.
  2. Attendance: Attend class, arrive and leave on time, tell the instructor in advance of planned absences, and makeup assignments promptly.
  3. Attitude: Show a positive attitude, appear confident and have true hopes of self.
  4. Character: Display loyalty, honesty, dependability, reliability, initiative, and self-control.
  5. Communication: Display proper verbal and non-verbal skills and listen.
  6. Cooperation: Display leadership skills; properly handle criticism, conflicts, and stress; maintain proper relationships with peers and follow a chain of command.
  7. Organisational Skill: Show skills in management, prioritizing, and dealing with change.
  8. Productivity: Follow safety practices, conserve resources, and follow instructions.
  9. Respect: Deal properly with diversity, show understanding and tolerance.
  10. Teamwork: Respect the rights of others, be a team worker, be helpful, be confident, and display a customer service attitude. Seek continuous learning.

These imagined guidelines, that most employers expect employees to just show up with, are difficult to quantify. Such rules also favour extroverts, making it difficult for introverts or stoics to seem truly committed to their work.

Do you need a solid work ethic in 2020?

Dedication, commitment, loyalty – most employers want employees to show that they gain some enjoyment for their role, that they are grateful for their position and that they are indebted to the company for an opportunity.

So do you need a good work ethic in a sceptical world where it is increasingly difficult to find upward mobility?

Yes, you do, and this is why.

Good work ethic is a reflection on your work style and performance consistency. If you show people who you are simply by sticking to your work ethic, you open those opportunities for advancement and allow people to anticipate what working with you would be like. This works in your favour, even if you are an introvert, because people like predictability, especially when it comes to productivity.

Let’s take a closer look at 4 reasons why you should develop a good work ethic.

  • Goals achievement
    People with a good work ethic focus their work on achieving the goals of the company, often long term. They work tirelessly to adapt to the needs of the business and show loyalty in times of success and failure. They often achieve great success rapidly, as such people tend to go the extra mile in their work, showing interest, innovation and creativity as key to success.
  • Professional and reliable
    Arriving on time to meetings, being prepared for presentations, exhibiting a high degree of respect to colleagues, clients and stakeholders, being able to closely follow instructions and strategy and never settling for less than your best work are qualities of a professional. If you fit this brief, you will show to your leaders and peers that you are capable and a valuable member of the team.
  • Satisfied at work
    People with a good work ethic tend to find greater satisfaction in their roles because they apply themselves to their work and find ways to diversify and learn. Importantly, people who can recognise when they are less satisfied with their work will often find ways to improve their skills, or approach leadership for additional responsibilities.
  • Career progression
    Those who are visibly determined, work hard consistently and enjoy challenges will always be seen as ideal candidates for career advancement. While you might be in a workplace that has no upper mobility, if you are looking for advancement and you have shown real commitment in your current role, many leaders will be happy to recommend you in other organizations as they can respect your desire for greater challenges.

How to develop a good work ethic

Developing a good work ethic is a skill that it is never too late to learn. Some traits are learned skills, others are habits, while some take effort; but all the skills that you develop to engender a strong work ethic will serve you well in any career.

  • Love your work
    You do not have to love your job cleaning a fryer at a fast-food store, but you can take huge pride in how well you do your work. Always be proud of your accomplishments and do tasks to the best of your ability. If you show that you are interested in even the most menial of tasks, and you are willing to do them to a high standard, you will shine a light on yourself for potential promotion (if you have other solid work ethics).
  • Work hard
    Persist in the face of challenge and learn to adapt to change. If you are willing to show that you can grow, adapt and are willing to do the extra work it takes to be noticed, you will create opportunities for yourself.
  • Look for ways to improve
    Be it your work, productivity, communication skills or even typing skills, if you are committed to learning something new every day, you will never be bored in your work and you will show that you are committed to improvements that benefit not only you but the organisation. Creating SOPs, helping to organise shared folders, even creating a social club to get coworkers together are ways that you can contribute to improving yourself and your workplace.
  • Own your mistakes
    If you have integrity, you will go far in life. Mistakes happen, even very big and costly mistakes. If you have any sort of responsibility in your role, you will make a mistake. What is important is that you alert your boss immediately on discovery, own the mistake, and discuss how you will go about learning from the mistake. People who try and hide mistakes, correct them to avoid discovery or place the blame on others, such as coworkers or lower-level staff, show a lack of integrity, and such people are often passed over for career advancement.

It’s About You

A good work ethic is not about overexerting yourself with a blind commitment to an organisation that is taking you for granted. You must be honest with yourself and know what level of commitment you are willing to give, what you expect in return for your work ethic and what career path you envision.

We spend about 90,000 hours at work in a lifetime, probably more for millennials and gen Xers, so it is important to understand how to apply your positive work ethic skills. Love what you do and that time will feel rewarding. Show up, and you will be rewarded for your time.

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