Work ethic is a set of values based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. An example would be the Protestant work ethic. A work ethic may include being reliable, having initiative, or pursuing new skills.
Workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately promotion. Workers who fail to exhibit a good work ethic may be regarded as failing to provide fair value for the wage the employer is paying them and should not be promoted or placed in positions of greater responsibility.
What was once understood as the work ethic—not just hard work but also a set of accompanying virtues. Many conservatives believe that laziness is morally wrong, even reprehensible, because one is not doing their share of the work and living off of the hard work of others, and for this reason oppose welfare programs.
Countercultural groups and communities, most notably freethinkers who don’t believe something simply because they’re told too, have challenged these values in recent decades, characterizing them as submissive to authority and social convention, and not valuable in and of themselves. An alternative, more mainstream perspective has arisen that may viewed as “work smart”. In the 19th century, alienation of workers from ownership of the tools of production and their work product was destructive to the work ethic and they saw no point in doing more than the minimum. The notion of work ethic was revised to include giving up control over the work process to acknowledge management control.
Marxists, think “work ethic” is not a useful sociological concept. They argue having a “work ethic” in excess of management’s control doesn’t appear rational where the employee can’t hope to become more than a manager whose fate depends on the owner’s decisions. The French Leftist philosopher André Gorz wrote: “The work ethic has become obsolete. It is no longer true that producing more means working more, or that producing more will lead to a better way of life. The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as-yet- unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more, but by producing differently, producing other things, or even producing less. This is especially true in regards to our needs for air, water, space, silence, beauty, time and human contact.
Neither is it true any longer that the more each individual works, the better off everyone will be. In a post-industrial society, not everyone has to work hard in order to survive, though may be forced to anyway due to the economic system. The present crisis has stimulated technological change of an unprecedented scale and speed: `the micro-chip revolution’. The object and indeed the effect of this revolution has been to make rapidly increasing savings in labour, in the industrial, administrative and service sectors. Increasing production is secured in these sectors by decreasing amounts of labour. As a result, the social process of production no longer needs everyone to work in it on a full-time basis. The work ethic ceases to be viable in such a situation and workbased society is thrown into crisis.
Others believe that the concept of “hard work” is meant to delude the working class into being loyal servants to the elite, and that working hard, in itself, is not automatically an honorable thing, but only a means to creating more wealth for the people at the top of the economic pyramid.
WHY AMERICANS WORK SO HARD – ANALYZING THE AMERICAN WORK ETHIC
In the American get it done yesterday society, your job and personal identity go hand in hand. Families have two parents that work, younger workers are putting in excessive overtime, job satisfaction is low and the stress level of the average American is undeniably high. Consumerism is King in America and landing that high-paying job is the only way to afford all of the objects you desire. The idea is this: if you work really hard and stick with your company for thirty or more years, when you retire you will be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. This idea is what has saturated the American society’s mind, but why do people buy into this work ethic?
Media and Consumerism
Our highly commercialized and consumerism-oriented society has transformed the media into a breeding ground for corporate ideology as millions of messages saturate our lives each day. There is an extreme and obvious influence that consumerism in media has had in America; from logos to fast food chains, it has permeated the American lifestyle.
Marketers and advertisers use multiple techniques to sell their product, to be number one, to be well-known, whatever the consequences. Whether it is food chains spending more than 3 billion dollars a year on advertising or commercialization invading the school systems with company sponsored learning programs, consumerism is everywhere. Through manipulation of advertisements, company ideologies, and even psychological tactics, the media is in complete control of the American audience.
We are, all of us, awash in media – television, movies, the internet, billboards, newspapers, magazines, radio, newsletters. Individually and collectively we spend more time with more media than ever before-an average of 10.5 hours a day, about 25 percent of that time using two media simultaneously. An estimated 68 percent of kids two and younger spend an average of two hours a day in front of a television or computer. This complete saturation of the average person is astronomical. With the amount of media usage, it is easy for companies to manipulate their audience.
This saturation is exactly how companies use the media to get consumers to spend. The flashing of a new toy on a children’s only station or a fast food commercial after a favorite cartoon show is a way to start with the young audience. And it doesn’t change as we age. More aggressive messages are sent, the older the audience becomes. Magazine ads, commercials, pop up ads on the Internet, billboards, and of course; celebrity endorsements catch the average adult and feed their want for products. Want creation through sales promotion techniques and political opportunism are inherent components of the modern economic system.
This breeding of want in American society drives the value of material objects way up. And how do we afford the things we desire? We work our whole lives to pay for them. Following this path from consumerism to why we work so hard, we stumble upon the needs and shifts in technology.
The advent of Internet, speech recognition software and automation in general, makes it easier for workers to work from home or put in less man hours. However, technology and the workplace offers up another set of issues.
Teleworking is being heralded by many as a way to improve your working life. Increasingly people are choosing to work from home – a practice made easier by the introduction of high-speed unmetered internet access and a greater willingness to invest in the necessary technologies such as virtual private networks. However, research has shown that teleworkers put in even longer hours than their office-bound peers.
This teleworking is a double edged sword. Although technology provides a way for workers to work from home, it also opens up that door to increased accessibility. That helps explain why time pressures seem to be getting worse. Globalization and the Internet create great new opportunities, but they also ratchet up the intensity of competition and generate more work – especially with the existing corporate structure still hanging on tightly.
Work more. want more
The hope holds out that the stuck-at-work epidemic will turn out to be a transitional phase. Historically, as countries and individuals get richer, they work less. The idea that society is on its way to a lighter work and stress load is optimistic and hopeful. Adding new software and more people to reduce the cost of collaboration is great – as long as it doesn’t create even more work. To really ease the work overload – and, not coincidentally, make corporations more nimble – it’s also essential to identify and eliminate unnecessary interactions. The idea that there needs to be a separation between your work life and personal life is simple, yet foreign in American society today .
With all of the advancements in the world of technology, there seems to be one goal these technological improvements are striving for: more output. It comes as no surprise (or at least it shouldn’t) that companies want to make money. No matter how many company picnics or inspiring meetings a business may have; the objective is clear. Everyone is there to make money. From the president of the company, to the receptionist at the desk.
This desire for more and more output (and more and more income) is what drives the heart of American companies. The free market system favors those with more income in the sense that not only do these people obtain more output but also they have a greater influence on the kinds of commodities that are produced.
Using the media as the worm and technology as the fishing pole, corporations can reel in the money. Looking closely at the pattern being created, it is obvious what this increase in output gives birth to: more want.
Puritan work ethic.
The desire for wealth is one that seems to have lived in America as long as people have, but of course that isn’t true. It all began when the Puritans came to “the New World”, seeking a “clean slate” to write their ethics and ideas upon. The Puritans, being a devout religious people, believed “that suffering is required to redeem our ‘original sin’ as human beings”. This “no pain, no gain” mentality underlies American society even today.
The Puritans believed that honest toil, if persevered with, led to mundane and spiritual rewards. The modern equivalents of these archaic religious beliefs are: i) Hard work is the main factor in producing material wealth and ii) Hard work is character building and morally good.
The “Puritan work ethic” is undeniably still alive today in America, and has spread around the world. Working hard means you can afford and collect more material wealth. Working hard means that you are a good person, you have a “good work ethic”. Having a good work ethic automatically gives a person credibility in American society. You are defined by what you own. Your car, your home, your clothing; all of these things define you. It is exactly that “worthiness” that the Puritan work ethic is all about. The hard work ethic has conditioned us to see happiness as something that must be earned through toil. In effect, this is saying you have to suffer in order to get happiness, or to put it another way, you must be unhappy to be happy.
Why is the opposite of working hard being lazy? Once again, we can trace the answer back to the work ethics that were founded along with America. If working is salvation and worthy, then not working means abandonment and dishonor.
There is no doubt that in American society (as well as around the globe), there is a focus upon “what you do”. When asked “What do you do?”, one might assume that it is their profession that is being inquired about. However, around the world this has different meanings. “What do you do?” can mean what you do for “fun”, something that might never enter an American’s mind when asked. The real question that should be asked is; do you live to work or work to live?
Even children are focused on what they want to “be when they grow up”. The focus of achieving job success is implemented even from the time of childhood. This ideal is sown into young minds and watered with the promise that with success, your wealth will grow.
Work and family
Long hours at work are becoming an epidemic. More and more UK workers are pulling in 60-hour weeks and suffering from stress as a result of the rigours of office life. If you are working a 60 hour week, where is the time for personal enjoyment? The family is now the great multi-tasker; wake up, get the kids ready for school, work all day, come home, take the kids to their extracurricular activity, make dinner, eat dinner, get ready for bed, sleep. How can this speedy lifestyle leave room to create valued relationships in a family?
About 60% of us are sometimes or often rushed at mealtime and one-third wolf down lunch at our desks, according to a survey by the American Dietetic Association. To avoid wasting time, we’re talking on our cell phones while rushing to work, answering e-mails during conference calls, waking up at 4 a.m. to call Europe, and generally multitasking our brains out.
It seems as though job satisfaction is rare to come by these days. With demands on needing a high income, many settle for jobs that pay high, but hold no personal fulfillment. Without being acknowledged for hard work, you can never totally relax because nobody ever comes along to say, once and for all, that you’ve worked enough.
Boredom with work is common as 75% of the work force engage in work that is little more than simple, repetitive tasks”. This of course leads to job dissatisfaction, for how can a worker feel confident in their job when their job seems meaningless and monotonous?
Low pay is truly a cause for work-related stress. When a person isn’t acknowledged for the hard work and extra work that they put into a job, they have a definite reason to be stressed. Those putting in the hours aren’t being rewarded by their efforts – most are on flat annual salaries with no added compensation for overtime. Three quarters of all employees regularly put in overtime and of these only one third are paid extra for doing so.
Increased accessibility is an invasion of non-work associated life. With rapid technological improvements on communications, workers may be reached through so many ways. Email, cell phones, email on cell phones, all of these allow the workplace to be in constant communication with the worker.
Many jobs don’t allow breaks and if they do, they are not of sufficient time to recover. Many workers eat their lunch at their desk and work simultaneously, not using the lunch break for relaxation. Vacation time is a hot topic amongst young workers, keeping tabs on how many days they’ve taken off on their calendars in hopes of not using them all up.
It is the American way of work and the American work ethic that very often we don’t begin to take all of our vacation. And we even recognize a lot fewer holidays in America than they do in European communities. On the whole, the American work force tends to want to and need to work as much as possible…we live in a very fast-paced society today and sometimes we’re more project-driven than leisure time-driven. We tend to work until we get the work done, even at the sacrifice of our leisure life.
The differences between American and European workers are highlighted. Americans, on average, work 350 hours more each year than Europeans. That’s 9 weeks of labor. This number is large, but it is not the numbers that matter; it is the value that lies behind the number of hours. Americans, and those countries that reflect the same American work ethics, are living to work. Working has become the only way to prove your worth and to gain more belongings and in doing so the quality of life has decreased.
In France…national law guarantees workers 11 public holidays, a minimum of five weeks paid vacation, and a 35-hour work week. Americans do celebrate 10 public holidays, but many companies don’t honor all national holidays, and U.S. firms are the stingiest in the developed world when it comes to vacations. To an American worker, five weeks minimum paid vacation is only a dream. A dream that is hard to fulfill and is rubbed in one’s face by television commercials for resorts in the Caribbean or cruises amidst the Hawaiian Islands.
Many companies do not offer paid vacation over two weeks, no matter how long a worker is with the company. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an American in his or her first year on the job gets 8.1 days of paid vacation on average. The average doesn’t rise above 10 days until year three. This blatant disregard for the value of a worker’s personal time has a direct effect on how a worker feels unappreciated and job satisfaction goes down.
Although some countries treat their workers differently, the hope of having an American society not focused on working seems slim. In the American society of corporate owned media outlets, the messages getting through to the public are not all that helpful.
The American media promotes work ethics and ideals through television programming, newspapers, movies, radio and the Internet. At any given moment, you can tune into the television to see a show based entirely around the workplace; shows from “Just Shoot Me” to “Stacked” that are both about the workplace and the employer/employee relationship. This workaholic ideal is embedded deeply within every aspect of American media.
Websites like CNNMoney.com and television channels like CNBC are all about stocks, jobs, money and the workplace. Newspapers have business sections and money sections, focusing on everything from stock options to how to spend your money on the latest gadget. Advertising through all of the aforementioned mediums holds a huge focus on the work ethic of America. Every television channel, Internet pop-up, magazine or radio station has commercials for buying something. An advertisement for the latest BMW model, the newest Coach purse, or Tiffany jewelry can be heard, read or viewed at any moment. The idea of whether or not the average American reader or viewer can afford these material goods is not addressed. It is a given that if you work more, you’ll get more. It is assumed that everyone knows that in order to achieve the material success that is advertised, they have to work hard.
The media also enforces that only once you retire, can you rest and relax. As if this is good news. The focus is set on the future: retirement to achieve happiness. Once again, the Puritan work ethic comes to life; “happiness is earned through toil”.
One of the greatest examples of an American oxymoron has to be that of holiday stress. How can the word “holiday” and “stress” even be put together? Holiday in other parts of the world means just that; a vacation or celebration. Time off to relax and rest. But with consumerism running rampant in American culture, the holidays are turned into yet another money-spending, stress spree. The commercialism of holidays, whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, is a sad testament to American culture. Holidays are focused around money; buying gifts and decorations to prove your families’ worth is what it seems to be all about.
All of this evidence suggests complete hopelessness. Even when a holiday is offered, it is not spent relaxing and enjoying. Americans are pushed to work hard to get to their vacations so that they can spend the money that they worked so hard to earn. Is there an answer or an end to it all?
The hope holds out that “the stuck-at-work epidemic will turn out to be a transitional phase. Historically, as countries and individuals get richer, they work less”. The idea that society is on its way to a lighter work and stress load is optimistic and hopeful. “Adding new software and more people to reduce the cost of collaboration is great – as long as it doesn’t create even more work. To really ease the work overload – and, not coincidentally, make corporations more nimble – it’s also essential to identify and eliminate unnecessary interactions” The idea that there needs to be a separation between your work life and personal life is simple, yet foreign in today’s society.
It is promising to think that some day there can be a less overloaded way of life that lets people take charge of their time while still making a decent living and a real contribution to society. To be able to separate your identity from the job that you work and the money that you make would be fulfilling, to say the least.
There is hope that such a life can exist in today’s society. The goal of leading a purposeful life that has meaning and worth, regardless of what society enforces upon someone. A life that is worth more than the job someone works, the money they make, or the possessions they own. A life that is not postponed until old age to enjoy, but to harness right here and now.
However unhappy a person may be, the moment he knows the purpose of his life a switch is turned and the light is on. If he has to strive after that purpose all his life, he does not mind so long as he knows what the purpose is. Ten such people have much greater power than a thousand people working from morning till evening not knowing the purpose of their life.
REVIVING WORK ETHIC IN AMERICA – GENERATION Y AND WORK ETHIC
Eric Chester, is the author of Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. Eric is an acclaimed expert in school-to-work transition. He has presented for more than two million youth at 1,500 high schools and colleges and has spoken to hundreds of leading companies and organizations. He’s the founder of the Bring Your ”A” Game to Work youth training and certification program and is the president of Reviving Work Ethic, Inc. He talks about what’s wrong with work ethic in America, why Gen-Y is having trouble with work ethic.
What’s wrong with work ethic in America?
The decline of work ethic is not uniquely an American problem, but one that is affecting all Western nations and a growing number of those in the East. However, if we examine the American workplace today with a comparable example from the 1930s, 1960’s, or even the 1990’s, it’s easy to see that America has lost sight of the virtues that comprise work ethic—the very things that helped build our country.
The pursuit of happiness and the American Dream drove progress and innovation, but they came with unintended side effects. In many cases, for instance, healthy ambition has morphed into avarice. Urbanization and an emphasis on large-scale businesses means fewer and fewer kids are learning about work in the natural course of family life.
Technological advances that make life faster, more fun, more entertaining, and easier to navigate are also consuming our time and energy while eliminating avenues for learning vital concepts about work. And pop psychologists have pushed parents to focus on building self-esteem in their children, creating at least two generations of me-centric workers. No wonder so many employers are use terms like entitled, disengaged, unmotivated, and disloyal when describing their current workforce and potential labor pool.
Generation Y – the Millenials
Which generation of workers is having the most trouble with their work habits and why?
America’s emerging workforce—those in the sixteen-to-twenty-four age bracket—bring some amazing skill sets and personality traits into the labor pool. The challenge is that Millennials don’t always want to work, and when they do, their terms don’t always line up with those of their employers. All too often, the young worker shows up ten minutes late wearing flip-flops, pajama bottoms, and a T-shirt that says “My inner child is a nasty bastard.” Then she fidgets through her shift until things slow down enough that she can text her friends or update her Facebook page from her smartphone.
All too often, these bright and ambitious recruits see work as something to avoid or as a necessary evil to endure prior to winning the lottery, landing a spot on a reality television show, or getting a cushy, high-paying job with a corner office and an expense account.
Before you write this off as unfair stereotyping, consider what millennial workers had to say about themselves and their peers.
In February 2010, the Pew Research Center released an extensive report titled “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next” that proves this generation doesn’t identify with work ethic. The Pew research found that 61 percent of Millennials say their generation has a “unique and distinctive identity.” That’s about the same percentage you’ll find for other generations, but what’s different are the things Gen Y sees as its distinctive qualities.
In an open-ended follow-up question—“What makes your generation unique?”—work ethic was mentioned as a distinctive characteristic by at least 10 percent in the three older generations—Gen X (ages thirty to forty-five), Baby Boomers (ages forty-six to sixty-four), and the Silent Generation (ages sixty-five and up). That put it among the top five responses for those generations, and it was number one for Baby Boomers. It didn’t make the list for Millennials. Millennials said that what made them unique was technology use, music/pop culture, liberal/ tolerant beliefs, greater intelligence, and clothes.
Top 3 tips to become a motivated worker?
1. Do whatever is within your control to eliminate the things that demotivate you. For example, when you’re choosing who to go to lunch with or hang out after work with, surround yourself with coworkers who enjoy their job as opposed to those “Debbie Downers” who are always complaining about the boss, the company, etc. If the break room makes you feel like you are in a jail cell, volunteer to come in on your day off and repaint it or bring in some table games, or posters, or music, etc. In other words, take steps to create a more positive space for you to operate.
2. Get out of the mindset that ‘work sucks’ or that ‘you’re stuck’. This is a free country and no one is making you work where you do. No matter who you are, what skills you currently have, or what you do to earn your daily bread, you have options. You can work harder and perform better in an attempt to get a promotion. You can use your off work time to take classes or improve your skills to move up in your present company or to become more hirable to another. You are in control of your career, so don’t allow yourself to develop a defeatist attitude or you will end up stuck, or worse, fired.
3. Work like you’re showing off. Approach your next shift as if your every move is being video recorded for a worldwide audience and that your parents, kids, friends, and future employers are all tuned-in. If you perform your normal job as you would under these conditions for an entire day, it would be impossible to feel down and disengaged. In fact, it will be impossible for your employers not to notice you. Very soon, you will be the very best at your job, and once you are, you will be promoted, you will see a dramatic increase in your pay, and you will be sought out by other employers. When you are the best at your job, your future is unstoppable.
Is it possible to work hard if you hate your job? Why or why not?
Passion doesn’t fuel work ethic; work ethic fuels passion. Most people want to go about it backwards. They want to let their passions propel their efforts. They want an emotion-driven life, but our emotions don’t always lead us where we need to go or keep us where we need to be.
You won’t produce heat in your fireplace by saying, “Once there’s a fire, I’ll put in some logs.” You put the logs in and build a fire, and then you’ll see some heat. Likewise, the passion you have for a job is directly related to the initiative you put into it. Many highly successful people in all walks of life have discovered that because they put a great amount of effort into their job, their job eventually becomes their passion. They didn’t set out to be the world’s greatest carpet installer, data entry clerk, or fry cook; they just set out to be the best they could be while in their jobs, and the next thing they knew they were awesome at it!
If a young worker says, “I don’t have a passion for selling shoes,” the first thing he needs to do is show some initiative by making selling shoes a short-term passion. If he throws himself into it, does all he can to learn the business and make himself the best, and he still doesn’t develop a passion for the job, that’s fine. He has still improved his reputation for adding value to a job, made himself more hirable, and developed his work ethic in the process. And then he can do his boss and himself a favor and quit. She’ll likely give him a good reference or help him find another position within the organization.
Reviving Work Ethic
Over the past ten years, I’ve interacted with, listened to, and surveyed more than 1,500 employers (business owners, C-level executives, HR professionals, managers, supervisors, etc.) in an attempt to understand what work ethic looks like from their perspective. In each exchange, I listened to their various laments about that lack of work ethic and responded by asking this question: “What do you expect from each and every employee?”
At the risk of sounding simplistic, hundreds of responses can be summarized in one sentence: Employers are searching for positive, enthusiastic people who show up for work on time, who are dressed and prepared properly, who go out of their way to add value and do more than what’s required of them, who are honest, who will play by the rules, and who will give cheerful, friendly service regardless of the situation.
There are no negotiables in this summation. By that I mean that there isn’t any one of the seven core work ethic values represented above to which you, as a leader, don’t personally aspire and hold yourself accountable. Likewise, you expect these same core values to be evident in everyone you work for, work with, and oversee.
We can shorten the summation by defining each value with these seven terms: attitude, reliability, professionalism, initiative, respect, integrity, and gratitude.
LAST HOPE FOR AMERICA’S WORK ETHIC
The election-eve mood is tinged with sadness stemming from well-founded fear that America’s new government is subverting America’s old character. President Obama’s agenda is a menu of temptations intended to change the nation’s social norms by making Americans comfortable with the degradation of democracy. This degradation consists of piling up public debt that binds unconsenting future generations to finance current consumption.
So argues Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist and demographer at American Enterprise Institute, in “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic.” This booklet could be Mitt Romney’s closing argument.
In 2010, government at all levels transferred more than $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services to recipients — $7,200 per individual, almost $29,000 per family of four. Before 1960, only in the Depression years of 1931 and 1935 did federal transfer payments exceed other federal expenditures. During most of Franklin Roosevelt’s 12 presidential years, income transfers were a third or less of federal spending.
But between 1960 and 2010, entitlements exploded from 28 percent to 66 percent of federal spending. By 2010, more than 34 percent of households were receiving means-tested benefits. Republicans were more than merely complicit, says Eberstadt:
“The growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. . . The Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush administrations presided over especially lavish expansions of the entitlement state.”
Why, then, expect Romney to reverse Republican complicity? Because by embracing Paul Ryan, Romney embraced Ryan’s emphasis on the entitlement state’s moral as well as financial costs.
As evidence of the moral costs, Eberstadt cites the fact that means-tested entitlement recipience has not merely been destigmatized, it has been celebrated as a basic civil right. Hence the stunning growth of supposed disabilities. The normalization and then celebration of dependency help explain the “unprecedented exit from gainful work by adult men.”
Since 1948, male labor-force participation has plummeted from 89 percent to 73 percent. Today, 27 percent of adult men do not consider themselves part of the workforce: “A large part of the jobs problem for American men today is not wanting one.” Which is why “labor force participation ratios for men in the prime of life are lower in America than in Europe.”
One reason work now is neither a duty nor a necessity is the gaming — defrauding, really — of disability entitlements. In 1960, an average of 455,000 workers were receiving disability payments; in 2011, 8.6 million were — more than four times the number receiving basic welfare benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Nearly half of the 8.6 million were “disabled” because of “mood disorders” or ailments of the “musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue.” It is essentially impossible to disprove a person’s claim to be suffering from sad feelings or back pain.
“In 1960,” Eberstadt says, “roughly 134 Americans were engaged in gainful employment for every officially disabled worker; by December 2010 there were just over 16.” This, in spite of the fact that public health was much better, and automation and the growth of the service/information economy had made work less physically demanding.
For every 100 industrial workers in December 2010, there were 73 “workers” receiving disability payments. Between January 2010 and December 2011, the US economy created 1.73 million nonfarm jobs — but almost half as many (790,000) workers became disability recipients.
This trend is not a Great Recession phenomenon: In the 15 years ending in December 2011, America added 8.8 million nonfarm private sector jobs — and 4.1 million workers on disability rolls.
Stop the scandal of plundering our descendants’ wealth to finance the demands of today’s entitlement mentality.
A Colorado farmer tried to replace a third of the seasonal workers he hires from abroad with local residents interested in extra summer cash. He was surprised to find few takers, especially for the back-breaking work involved in picking sweet corn.
But foreign migrants have always performed hard labor in U.S. agriculture, no matter what the national unemployment rate. So when Americans complain about the lack of jobs today, they are drawing a line somewhere. For many people of the unemployed, it makes more sense to collect unemployment or disability or other benefits than it does to take a temporary job that they cannot or will not do, for whatever reason. As President Obama seeks more extensions on unemployment benefits, even some jobless Americans are asking if providing this bigger safety net is the right, or the only, thing to do in this economy.
Hard work is part of the national self-image. How has our definition of it changed? How can we describe the American work ethic today?
Not Lazier, but Softer
America’s work ethic has not changed for the worse. We still work longer hours, with less time off for vacations, sick days or family leave than workers in other advanced nations.
Americans will always look to a fresh wave of immigrants to do the work that we can’t or won’t do.
What has changed is the kind of work we do. We aren’t getting lazier but we are getting softer. More of us spend our workdays sitting behind desks or counters, exercising our minds and our fine motor skills but scarcely moving a large muscle group.
It’s easy to forget how physically demanding everyday work once was. America was built on backbreaking labor. It took muscle and sweat and mindless repetitive effort, day after day, in searing heat and brutal cold, to clear land, build bridges and roads and railroads, extract ore and oil, plant and harvest fields, dig canals and waterways. This was 5,000-calorie-a-day work, and much of it was done by African-American slaves, prisoners, hardscrabble farmers and successive waves of immigrants. Women and children, too, bent their bodies to the yoke of field and factory and grew old beyond their years.
Fewer Americans today lug things for a living. Even the military, firefighters, construction workers, day laborers and farm workers who do hard physical labor have heavy equipment and protective gear and robots to help them. As for the rest of us, there is little need to wiggle a muscle.
This is a mixed blessing. On the plus side, we are spared the pain and wear-and-tear on our bodies. We avoid the risks of serious injury on the job. We are protected from the elements. On the minus side, we become addicted to comfort. We lose confidence in our bodies’ capacities. We suffer greater distress from physical hardship. We become a less hardy people.
As in the past, so it may be in the future – Americans will always look to a fresh wave of immigrants who are leaner, tougher, younger and more willing to sacrifice their bodies to do the work that we can’t or won’t do.
Much of this is owing to the structure of our economy. In 1776, when we adopted the principles of Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” our economy was based on manufacturing. Today, the service industry comprises 80 percent of our GDP. This means that 80 percent of our jobs require more mental dexterity than physical. The continuance of this format has deteriorated our capacity to aggregately achieve physical tasks that were once possible.
During the Great Depression, one of the biggest threats to immigrant farmworkers was that there were plenty of native-born workers fleeing the dust bowl and eager to take their jobs. It was in part because of this willingness to “take back” the jobs that the government undertook the Mexican Repatriation. Nowadays, were they to do that, countless tons of produce would rot in the fields.
As for the “seasonal” nature of the work, many are neglecting the fact that there is ALWAYS something in season to pick. Farm labor has many seasons, making it a year-round occupation.
I’m an unemployed teacher in an area with few teacher jobs available; I have done EVERYTHING I can do get a job for the past three hiring seasons, to no avail.I could go back to being a teacher’s aide but the salary is about $11/hour for a 32 hour week. Calculating the commute and all the payroll deductions, including union dues, I would be working two of the five weekdays JUST to pay for gas and deduction! Given that being a teacher’s aide is actually pretty hard work because we work directly with the children with behavior, emotional, social and learning problems, I don’t see it as worth the stress for the money involved. I don’t need the money as badly as some others do so I have decided that the education profession, which was Career Plan B for me, is now history. I’d rather let some young person try to get his or her foot in the school building door– they can also work a second job after school hours and on weekends. I’m too old for that, even though teacher aides my age I used to work with often have two or even three jobs!
I wasn’t aware of any demand for corn-pickers in my area. Just the gas for a four-hour commute to pick corn would cost more than the entire value of the corn. Since 95% of us live where 95% of the jobs are, it should be no surprise that we’re not abandoning our spouses’ jobs to go scramble for the other 5% of the jobs.
There are low-wage unskilled jobs nearby, although they don’t involve heavy lifting that can be done more cheaply with machines. But there are also lots of people without graduate degrees scrambling for those jobs. It makes no sense for those employers to hire an out-of-work engineer or actuary or scientist, who will quit the job as soon as they find employment that actually uses their qualifications.
The problem isn’t that people from moderate-unemployment sectors of the economy are failing to switch to high-unemployment sectors. It’s that there’s not enough effective demand.
I picked fruit for a number of years in the `70`s from Washington to Florida. Cherries, pears, plums, apples, oranges, limes, lemons,& grapefruit. It was ALL piecework and it developed a good work ethic which I maintain to this day. The wages were very good for the time. I met people from all over the country & world, worked in new places and had a job while there. Traveled a lot and slept out under the stars, worked in fresh air and saved money due to the lack of overhead expenses. After being in business for 30 years, I do not regret that experience in any manner way shape or form. It taught me much in regard to agriculture, farming, crop care, different cultures & work ethics. In the experience I learned what I was capable of achieving. Physical work compliments intellectual learning & gives an education to the participant in hands on knowledge in many minor things which add up to broader based abilities in the future. There is no substitute for getting your hands dirty in whatever field you choose to pursue and in which an interest is present. The people I worked with, and for, were the most hospitable folks I have ever met to this day. Gracious and kind, willing to lend a helping hand. Granted they did not have the same material possessions settled folks seem to own, they nevertheless had a spirit about them which I appreciate still. Most seemed to have a better concept of working together and regarding one another as fellow humans without the “whats in it for me ?” attitude. Hard work will do that for you…minor differences become just that, minor. We as a nation have passed a point where we were united in community labors and community agricultural endeavors. When you sweat with another person working side by side, a deeper appreciation and respect is developed and it is easier to come to terms & understanding in issues
What are the conditions of migrant farm laborers in this country? Intolerable housing, no medical care,uncertain employment conditions, isolation and gouging on food, clothing, etc. This work is not a walk in the garden of plenty. Revise the laws and permit seasonal farm workers from other countries to advance the US agricultural economy.
You’ll never see a line of white men looking for a job in the fields until they legalize marijuana. Farming is hard work and family farmers continue to struggle financially. By necessity they must hire lower paid labor to remain solvent. The combination of hard work and lower paying jobs runs counter to the message we have been preaching to our kids for the last fifty years. I am guilty with my own kids, telling them that they should pursue their passions and careers with freedom to live well. The best advertising firms would have difficulty painting farm and ranch work as anything but challenging.
The crazy thing about the message I’ve been sending is its profound hypocrisy, I worked in farming and ranching for most of my teen years and into my early twenties…and loved it. If I could go back and choose a period of my life to relive, I would really be tempted to pick the farming and ranching years. If I could drop everything I do now as a renewable energy project manager and take up the career of my choosing…ranching would be at the top of my picklist.
What is so different today with my own children or the other young people I know that I haven’t encouraged them to try farm work…? The only honest answer I can come up with is that I don’t believe that they would handle the long hours, the uncomfortable working conditions and the challenging pay. Not that they couldn’t do it, my oldest son just completed an enlistment as a Marine infantryman that included tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but they are not accustomed to hard work and the discomforts of farming and ranching…especially when you compare the wages to the jobs their peers hold.
Given my understanding today, if I were to be given the opportunity I would do things differently in my own life and I think I would raise my children with a greater appreciation for the joys of hard work.
It’s amazing that we as a country blame the “immigrants” on taking American Jobs and getting all the benefits and contributing nothing…give me a break….if we all did not have access to super grocery stores we wouldn’t be able to exist… And as far as jobs are concerned …it’s easy to say…I can get a job here or there earning X amount than be paid minimum…well good luck. Kids in school don’t want to work for minimum and feel they deserve above that…no more…now even a college education doesn’t guarantee employment or a living wage.
My eyes tell me that like never before in my sixty years Americans have become pudgy and there are more borderline obese people than at anytime in memory. I believe many people do believe that some work is beneath them. I can understand how work that is physically intensive in the outdoors could be life threatening to many overweight, out of shape people and people who have light skin and/or a family history of skin cancer. Although America still has a vital manufacturing base, we have lost much of it as service sector jobs have replaced agricultural and manufacturing employment. When I was a young sprig I got the opportunity to go to Alaska in the early 1970’s and work in the oil business for a summer, and although some of the most physically exhausting work I ever did, it also was some of the most rewarding. That was the last time I saw mostly “white people” doing physical labor everyday for months on end. I doubt we’ll ever have a prominent Washington politician who has a background having featured physical labor employment. Politician or not, many go from inside a temperature controlled motor vehicle to a temperature controlled building with stops for sugary caffeine beverages and anglicized Mexican food to take back to their job cubicle/cave. Don’t fall for the stereotype that immigrants are only better at running circles around Americans in physical labor jobs and lack the intellectual faculties the natives are secretly smug about. The shift in population ethnic demographics is long underway and the old assumptions will be exposed for what they are – falsifies.
Is the atrocious pay perhaps a reason?! I’m relatively young and I’d work in the fields, but a living wage and safe working conditions would go a long way. I’m not “soft” for now wanting to be exploited. What’s next… you’re going to ask that I work in a sweatshop? Its a tragedy that immigrant workers have to work like slaves for a few dollars a day.. for sure they are being exploited given they have no rights to challenge the pay or conditions of work.
Modern manufacturing (heavy or not) is quite different than that of 40-50 years ago. Computers and machines do most of the heavy lifting and the most dangerous work. The workers are there to design, operate, fix and upgrade the machines. The fact that people don’t have to do dangerous work is both a measure of technological progress as well as socioeconomic policy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this outcome. It is not some indicator that we are lazy or anything else; it is an indication that our goals and sights are aimed higher.
The issues come from the fact that as productivity has gone up, there are fewer and fewer jobs. If our economy were structured differently so that everyone had an equity stake in it, it would be possible to support every American simply through the gains of these advances. But, our economy does not function this way. It funnels much of the wealth formed by these advances to a small group who (as far as I can determine given the experience of the past few decades) just spend it on frivolous stuff or overpay for frivolous things. This is the fundamental flaw; it is the cause of all the political and economy strife.
The least-desirable work in this country has always been done by the least among us (slavery anyone?). It would be nice to see those sanctimonious folks here try to take care of a family on nomadic, seasonal field work with no health benefits. Even the young and reasonably fit would find it hard to keep up with seasoned field hands (i.e. immigrants who are accustomed to such labor) in terms of productivity. Pay being commensurate with productivity, it seems it would be a very difficult way to provide for a family. I’m casting no stones.
I don’t forget how back breaking work can be everyday – I do it. I work construction, with illegal immigrants many days. Outside in the heat. In unheated storefronts during remodeling in the winter. Etc.
I have never seen any “Robots” around to help me and others unload 300 sheets of 75lb drywall from a flatbed truck and carry it into a building.
I’m sure I could do farmwork. Without a doubt. Not at the productivity rate that the (mostly latin) workers now do it at – but that comes with a trained workforce, Training which they unfortunately have given over to the lowest paid comers.
Barbara sounds like she has never worked a day in her life with her hands. (have any of the columnists – by proxi being through academia and at a desk?)
This is a major problem- when inteligencia’s “postulations” are not based on experience.
Can I get paid to bat an opinion around? Who cares if it has any weight or is proved wrong – there is always the next news cycle.
You can make a living and still have your kids go to college doing farm work. I know several Mexican-american children of immigrant farm workers who have gone to college. I live in a rural area with lots of migrant workers. And I’m going to point out that local farms have a hard time finding non-immigrant tractor drivers. Driving tractors pays upwards of $10/hr and yet almost no american takers. If you can drive a specialized tractor like a grabber, combine or sprayer you can expect to make about $13-$15/hr. Americans need a reality check. If you only have a high school diploma, you are not going to make $40k/yr to sit in front of a computer.
One thing that I think is really difficult for people who have spent their entire lives in an urban/suburban environment is just how HARD field labor really is.
When I was 17, I spent the better portion of a summer doing weeding on a farm in California with a short handled hoe. I and a couple of other HS students were part of a crew otherwise entirely composed of Mexican laborers of all reasonable ages — some of them girls of only 14.
We began the work at 6AM, and finished at 2PM, to avoid the heat as much as possible — it was quite common for the temperature to rise above a hundred. The short handled hoe required us, of course, to perform the work bent over almost the entire time.
I and the other HS students simply couldn’t keep up with the crew — including the 14 year old Mexican girls. We lagged less far behind at the end of the summer than at the beginning, but we never kept pace. Suffice it to say that the embarrassment of being beat out by 14 year old girls was motivation enough to keep us pushing as hard as we could; so I don’t see much of an argument that we weren’t trying hard enough. It really did set me wondering as to whether the Mexicans by genetic heritage might have been better suited than we to perform this sort of work; but if it was not genetic, it certainly must have been based in some aspect of training and acclimation that exceeded the length of a single summer.
One of the first things that pleasantly surprised me about Americans upon my arrival in 1978 was the strong work ethic, “the belief in work as a moral good.” The Webster’s Dictionary claims that the word “work ethic” was first used in 1951. I was contrasting it with the socialist workers’ paradise work ethic I saw in my twenty years of life under the communist party regime – “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”
Daddy used to tell us stories about his young team of misfit apprentices who hid as soon as they arrived at work to continue their morning sleep. Dad had to look for them in new nooks and hideouts every day. It was a challenge and an irritation to get people to work because they could never be fired, no matter how bad they were. The communist party dictated that, in order to keep the masses quiet, everybody had to have a job and a meager salary. In their pursuit of a better hiding place, some hapless greenhorns crawled into dangerous areas with toxic fumes and liquids. Dad worked in a large refinery that had supplied oil to the German Army during World War II under another misguided regime.
The employment card each worker carried only showed a stamp with the place and time of employment – no room for work performance evaluation or any such capitalist “exploitation.”
I was in awe at the long hours Americans worked, their dedication to the work place, productivity, personal responsibility for errors, much better remuneration based on merit, and pride in a job well done. I soon understood why – people could get fired for non-performance and inability to do the job in a timely manner. This is something that socialist countries like France, Italy, and Greece are not allowed to do by law.
Unfortunately, things have changed in the 35 years since I arrived in the United States. Half of the population subscribes to socialist welfare, work ethic long forgotten. Why try so hard to work when welfare, food stamps (EBT cards), disability, out of wedlock babies, and 99 weeks unemployment are so much more lucrative? Let the other 50 percent idiots go to work and earn distributive welfare income for the rest. Government taxation and income redistribution are very generous. All welfare recipients have to do is keep voting Democrat and the bonanza follows.
I am not sure if Americans arrived at this attitude because of our government largesse, with the help of the Democrats who promise more social justice, or because they have followed the lead of the European socialists. Surely they cannot believe that it is morally and socially just to steal from the labor of those who work and give it to those who prefer sloth.
The Greeks, for example, have exercised for years their political options based on self-interest. In codependent complicity with the political class, the welfare class changes their votes to the party that offers most goodies. If statistics are to be believed, 70 percent of the population receives some sort of benefit payment for partial or total handicap.
An old man lamented that “Greeks have forgotten how to work.” Therefore a new mantra emerged, “Politicians pretend to govern and Greeks pretend to protest.” Anarchy stoked from the far right and the far left gains more converts by using the mantra of pretend, nobody puts forth any real effort. Greeks seem to love anarchy because it is so financially profitable.
Tax cheats abound at the local and government levels. People don’t like taxation and some successfully avoid paying taxes. The railroad borrows 700 million euros for daily operations and winds up with a 600 million deficit. The sink hole of the Greek economy is caused by collective duplicity, politicians, society, citizens without a work ethic, unions, business owners, and the European Union who turns a blind eye to all the corruption.
Greece is a good example of the deliberate demise of a country caused by the depreciating work ethic. Greece, once famous for its art, architecture, and military genius, is now infamous for its social, political, and economic bankruptcy.
The French work ethic was at the center of a recent spat between Titan International and the left-wing minister of industry, Arnaud Montebourg. Maurice Taylor, the CEO of Titan, sent a letter on February 8, which was made public in the Parisian press, to Montebourg, in which he told him why Titan had no interest in buying a doomed Goodyear’s Amiens Nord tire factory. “The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
Industry minister Montebourg replied that Taylor’s comments were “extremist and insulting,” particularly since French products are superior. “Mr. Taylor, saying he will pay a euro an hour to Chinese workers to give us crappy products, excuse my language, is unacceptable to our French farmers.”
The chief of the French employers’ union MEDEF, Laurence Parisot, injected his opinion in the debacle; Mr. Taylor’s letter was “unacceptable.” He admitted that there “were some irregularities in the French way of working, but generalizing it to the whole of France was ‘shocking.’”
The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. of Amiens Nord faces closure because of disagreements between the union representing 1,250 workers and the management – employees must work more shifts or accept layoffs.
The case of Fiat illustrates the work ethic of Italians, at least those in the southern part of Italy. After having “rescued” Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne of Fiat was hoping to convince workers to be more devoted to their jobs, to cut down on bad working habits such as calling in sick while working on another job in order to double their pay, or skip work with a fake doctor’s excuse on the day a favorite soccer team plays a game.
Pormigliano d’Arco is the lowest performing plant of the Fiat Empire – it has operated at 32 percent capacity 2008-2010. The 5,200 employees produce Alpha Romeos. Fiat did not close the plant because it would have destroyed almost 50 percent of the region’s economy and the livelihood of 15,000 families in a very poor area with the highest unemployment in Italy, 20 percent less productivity, and prominent organized crime. “As Fiat goes, so goes Italy,” and Italians like their “humane working life.”
The socialist workers of Italy, Greece, or France are not giving up their life-long secured employment perks in order to adopt an American work ethic of responsibility, accountability, and decency. God forbid, they may die from overwork. Instead, Americans are adopting by the millions the socialist work ethic.
“A 57-year old well-educated alcoholic receives Social Security, free rent, free utilities, and free healthcare. He refuses to work. As soon as his check comes in, he goes straight to the liquor store.”
“A share-cropper from Georgia, retired from Ford, still works at 77 and has a tremendous work ethic. His son, a strong, healthy young man of 44 only takes odd jobs for cash in the underground economy. He does not want an official paycheck because he has amassed a $75,000 college loan debt which he has no intention of paying back.”
Men with welfare-mom girlfriends are well financed – they wear expensive clothes and drive nice cars. The “bread winner” in the family is often the young woman who keeps getting pregnant and having babies by different men who disappear into society, leaving the taxpayer-supported welfare system to care for their offspring. “This is the Democrat-voting constituency whose entitlement spending the current administration refuses to cut.”
But then we should not call them entitlements, they are welfare, taxpayer-funded handouts. Social Security and Veterans benefits are entitlements because they were “earned and paid for by the recipients” or their immediate families.
I have worked 12- hour days my entire adult life and still do. I have not gotten sick from hard work, on the contrary, there was a sense of pride and accomplishment for a job well done, and I felt good to be able to pay my bills and take care of my family.
My friend David, a scientist and Ph.D., has worked since he was six years old, delivering papers on a five mile long route, crossing the busy Lincoln Highway two times. He also worked at the corner gas station during high school. The quintessential entrepreneur, David started his own lab at age 55 and made it a resounding success through hard work; he still labors 80 hours a week, including some bookkeeping, and has not been sick a day in 45 years. His European friends tell him that he could not start such a business in Europe because of regulations, bureaucracy, and the European mindset. Europeans do not want to work more than eight hours per day, no weekend work, prefer five-week vacations, national holidays off, a thirteenth salary, and other deserved and undeserved perks. Many EU countries have switched to a 30-hour workweek.
American work ethic based on values of hard work and diligence has enhanced the moral character of millions. Americans with a strong work ethic are reliable, entrepreneurial, take initiative, and always pursue new skills and ventures. Traditionally, Americans with a good work ethic have been selected for better positions of responsibility and promoted more often.
In the last decades, however, a degradation of the moral character has resulted in a diminished work ethic. Promotions not based on merit but on ethnic, racial, and gender quotas further exacerbate the problem. The entitlement mentality that is now promoted by the MSM and the government is pervasive in the country, has driven more nails into the work ethic coffin, promoting the European socialism mindset and a dubious work ethic, alien to our American values. Our anemic economic recovery is the result of this mentality.
DECLINING WORK ETHIC
That millions of Americans, but especially young African-American males, are unemployed is obvious. Predictably, solutions number in the dozens and come from every point on the political spectrum, but unmentioned in today’s nostrums is U.S. workforce quality. Quality does not mean technical skills acquired in college classrooms or what is learned on the job. It refers to basic dispositions required for every job, from ditch-digger to neurosurgeon — even for sports, –and summarized by the term “work ethic.” Absent these, all the billions in educational spending or tax cuts are pointless. Here’s the discouraging point: in today’s social climate, imparting a solid work ethic in those who lack it is exceedingly difficult — and in some cases, impossible.
There is no precise formal definition of “work ethic,” but it certainly includes the following traits (omitted are obvious ones like honesty and not doing drugs).
Punctuality – arriving promptly and otherwise being there when needed.
Reliability – performing one’s job, rain or shine, even when tempted to be elsewhere.
Diligence – tenaciously sticking to it and avoiding the lures of wasteful socializing or daydreaming.
Agreeableness – getting along with fellow employees or customers regardless of personal feelings.
Abiding by the rules – whether about personal appearances or performing tasks properly, all rules are to be obeyed.
Ambition – a willingness to improve performance, acquire new skills, and try to be a better employee as a matter of principle even if not immediately rewarded.
Anybody who has ever held a job knows what happens when fellow workers lack this work ethic. One just wastes time waiting around for the chronically late or filling in for no-shows. Meanwhile, tasks are performed sloppily, often redone by others, and all the while even more time is wasted settling unnecessary petty quarrels. Even after years on the job, troubled employees are no better than the first day they arrived. Today’s retail environment offers endless examples of sloppily dressed employees on cell phones who seem annoyed when you bother them with a legitimate question they cannot answer.
Valuable as it may be, imposing a work ethic – let alone teaching it – can be a legal nightmare, and this may explain why today’s public discussion of job-creation avoids it altogether. First, while nearly every employer understands its importance, it lacks a precise legalistic definition and is never part of a formal job description. It is just assumed that those hired should possess it, and applications and interviews rarely even bring it up. At most, employers use proxies — for example, honorable military service or a degree from a no-nonsense college. In the past, these essential traits could be confirmed by letters of recommendation, but in today’s PC legal climate, no employer would risk writing down that his ex-employee spent hours on his cell phone playing games.
Second, how do you deal with an employee who violates unwritten rules? How is a boss to deal with a foul-mouthed employee when there is no specific policy on workplace language? Yes, everybody can recognize the problem, but what if the terminated employee files a discrimination lawsuit claiming that (a) he was never officially informed about the murky unwritten job requirements, and (b) other employees are equally guilty and he is just being discriminated against because he is old, black, homosexual, disabled, foreign-born, a Muslim, or some other trait covered by anti-discrimination laws?
Formalizing the work ethic is exceedingly daunting, and this task is certainly beyond what most businesses can accomplish. The legal costs of monitoring infractions (and the appeals process) would be prohibitive. The plaintiff’s government-paid lawyer might well insist that fuzzy qualifications like “speaking clearly” or “being polite” are code words for race and ethnicity and thus inherently illegal.
Consider, for instance, developing an official policy banning “foul language.” The words and expressions must be specified (including non-English ones), permissible level would be listed (perhaps so many obscenities per day or a point system depending on offensiveness), and then records must be kept of all cursing, swearing, and vulgarities for all employees so as to justify a termination for “too much” bad language. Similar rules must then be formulated for each required work ethic trait and perhaps adjusted for specific tasks (for example, sales jobs may require higher grooming and language standards).
These already excessive burdens must then be fine-tuned according to each employee’s distinctive culture or, in some instances, their specific disabilities (e.g., a person with a speech defect or thick accent that makes him generally unintelligible might demand a reasonable accommodation to keep his job, even if customers complain). The EEOC already imposes the force of federal law on workplace requirements having a disparate (negative) impact on certain “protected” minorities (the rules are endless and complex; see here). So if a company’s punctuality policy is so strict that workers with a culture that tolerates lateness are disproportionally guilty of infractions, the EEOC might demand proof that zero tolerance is absolutely job-required and therefore not aimed at hindering those with dissimilar cultural norms. Imagine a firm trying to explain to a judge why promptness — not being late by 15 minutes — is vital to company success! And that all employees other than the singly chronically tardy person always satisfy this tough standard!
For the most part, a strong work ethic is family-based and reinforced by early schooling and, as such, is largely impervious to today’s rush to reduce unemployment. Long before joining the workforce, a youngster must learn that 9:00AM means 9:00AM, not 9:30AM; that doing a homework assignment means completing it all; that curse words are always inappropriate; and on and on. This typically requires years of strong parenting whose outcome exists largely as unthinking habits, not obedience to formal rules.
Ironically, today’s push to use colleges to improve workforce quality may undermine solid work habits. Pressured to “make the graduation numbers” or at least maximize tuition, schools relax standards and thereby inadvertently promote indolence. Every college teacher knows the drill: don’t require attendance, tolerate chronic classroom lateness and early departures (and texting during lectures), never challenge any excuse, minimize difficult assignments, offer multiple extensions for already late papers, or just permit retakes of failed tests. If students still come up short, inflate grades so everyone gets at least a “B.” And the more people pushed into college and given easy diplomas, the greater the indolence.
Imagine when this “graduate” gets a job so “as to make the U.S. a world economic power in the 21st century.” The shock might be toxic. Unlike the good old college days, he has to show up exactly on time every day, be at meetings before they begin, pay attention (no iPhone solitaire!), do the assignments correctly with no second chances, and daily be scrutinized by bosses nervous about Chinese competitors.
Sadly, this work ethic problem is almost unspeakable in public. I ran a business for thirteen years, and over beers this topic was ubiquitous among fellow merchants — everyone agreed that “getting good help” was a formidable problem, and one not solvable just by paying more. An occasional newspaper story recounts some business unable to fill open positions, but the problem is always framed in polite terms — lack of technical skills (for example, see here). But nobody will bell the cat. Finding employees who will do the job and then some, youngsters who eventually resemble the workers who made American the world’s foremost industrial power, remains a serious problem.
Future prospects look dim. The social engineering necessary to impart a strong work ethic is, obviously, pie in the sky. Nor do many of today’s slothful workers want to be socially engineered into habits that they may find painful. The results are, alas, predictable. Firms faced with a lackluster workforce may automate (machines are notoriously punctual), hire more motivated and accommodating recent immigrants, or, as often the case, just move the job offshore to countries known for dutiful workers.