Sunday, 9 September 2007

Is a good work ethic enough?


I used to think that you can achieve anything if you have a good work ethic. Now I am not so sure. I have never consciously defined to myself what a good work ethic looks like but I tended to know it when I see it. However, I met someone recently who has what I will describe as good work ethic but I am not sure if he can achieve his objectives without 'something else'. I will use this medium to explore why good work ethic may not be enough and identify what that extra 'something' is that will help achieve desired personal objectives.


The question of what constitutes a good work ethic is something I have never considered. Is it a nebulous concept? The following comments comes to mind when I think about a good work ethic:

1. Being prepared to work for your daily 'bread'.
2. Nothing great is achieved through laziness
3. If I work hard for something, the outcome is infinitely more satisfying.
4. Work is something we may not want but whilst we have to do it, we should do it well to the best of our ability.
5. Everything I have (which may not be much), I have worked hard for.
6. Having a good work ethics means being honest with yourself about work.

I will now proceed to consider what other commentators on work ethic have written on the subject:

  • Wikipedia describes a work ethic as a set of values based on the moral virtues of hard work and diligence...(and) may include being reliable, having initiative or maintaining social skills [ 1 ]. This entry in Wikipedia had to be qualified because of what it terms 'weasel words' which may (or maynot) compromise the article's quality.

  • A commentator on work ethics described it to include 'not only how one feels about their job, career or vocation, but also how one does his/her job or responsibilities. This involves attitude, behavior, respect, communication, and interaction; how one gets along with others. Work ethics demonstrate many things about whom and how a person is' [ 2 ].

  • Another commentator on work ethics stated the following:

    The so-called work ethic is generally construed to be a good and laudable thing. It fancies itself a virtue, but like most double-edged swords, it must be handled with care.

    An ethic, by definition, is a set of moral principles. The word derives from the Greek ethos -- which in turn is “the characteristic spirit or attitudes of a community, people, or system.” Applying work as a modifier, suggests that the work ethic is a characteristic attitude of a group toward what constitutes the morality of work.This can, unfortunately, be taken to extremes [ 3 ].
I will conclude here that the subject of work ethics polarises opinion. This is probably due to the hijack of the topic by 2 distincts groups: i) Those that want to do nothing; and ii) Those that want something tantamount to slave labour. However, for everyone else, there is something valuable to be said for a good work ethic. What looks good to me may be different from what looks good to you. However, if we are to work together, we must agree on what good looks like. I have no doubt that good work ethic remain a valuable tool for achieving your desired objectives but why am I coming to the realisation that this may not be enough?


If we assume that a good work ethics means simply that you are hard working, then this is not enough to achieve your personal objectives. If however, we broaden the definition of a good work ethic to include hard working and choosing the right attitude, right behaviour, respect of self and others and choosing appropriate communication and interaction with colleagues, then achieving personal objectives is very possible.

What do I think?

Well I will agree with the broader definition of good work ethic and will therefore stay with my original belief that a good work ethic is integral to achieving a personal objective which is lasting. And that there is no need to search for that special 'something' to complement a good work ethic.

In the case of the person I met recently, I mistook being hard working to be equivalent to having a good work ethic. And being hard working is definitely not enough.

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