Work Ethic Deficiency

Shawnee Love   •  
June 6, 2013

A common complaint from business owners is the lack of work ethic in young people these days.  The evidence cited includes unwillingness to put in overtime and refusal to do anything extra without getting it back in pay or time in lieu, showing up for work just as the shift is supposed to start or even arriving late, calling in sick when they aren’t really… (Any further examples, please send them in by commenting below.)

It’s as if the younger generations are on work to rule, only there is no clear way to end the stand off.

Since it is highly unlikely that this deficiency is due to evolution, i.e., nature has not decided diminished work ethic is the way to survival, we have to look within our culture and society to discover what has nurtured this behavior.

Work to rule is a concept brought to us by our unionized parents and grandparents who decided that following the rules and standards precisely in order to slow down the business would be an effective way to bring their companies to heel.

Of course this mentality of doing only what is required (and nothing more) and obeying every rule to the letter is frustrating (dare I say for both sides) and had the desired result of bringing the parties together to come to agreement on the contracts at issue.

  • Is it possible that your younger generations have grown up observing the effectiveness of work to rule and made it their own?
  • Perhaps the fact that they have been laid off time and time again and seen their hard working parents get laid off after long term commitments to their employers has soured their attitude towards work?
  • Maybe they realize that once they get married, have kids, and gain responsibilities they will have to work much harder and so they are conserving their energy and preserving their time for pleasure now?

Although there may be some truth in the reasons above, individual employers can’t change the past nor society at large. Here’s a novel solution for individual employers:

  1. Find people who like or even could get excited about what you want them to do.
  2. Explain how what they do is important in the big picture.
  3. Remind them regularly why they are valued and important.
  4. Catch them doing good things.
  5. Thank them.
  6. Trust and respect them.
  7. Give them as much loyalty as they give you (i.e., don’t layoff at the first sign of a slowdown)
  8. Seek opportunities to keep challenging them. (Don’t be complacent).

Our younger generations are our best and brightest and they are your future leaders and managers.  In many cases, they are being underutilized at work and it is no wonder they get their kicks (i.e., interesting and challenging “work”) in their personal lives.  Figure out a way to make work challenging (in a good way) and watch them shine.

And if you are one of those companies where it is hard to make the work good for anyone then find another “currency” that will motivate your people.  Perhaps it will be money, perhaps it is the ability to work alone or at one’s own pace, or to have tons of flexibility.  Whatever it is, find the right currency and you can reveal work ethic you never knew existed.

Please comment and share your wins (and losses) when it comes to the younger generation at work.