A fair day's work for a fair day's pay is often considered to be a good judge of both an employee's attitude to their work and to the organization's attitude to their employees. But is hard work alone really a measure which can decide whether a strong and positive work ethic is in place? Of course, every company wants its employees to be hard-working, but it causes problems if they are also unreliable or inconsistent. Then there's the team member who does complete their work but rarely goes above and beyond or considers how to improve their effectiveness or productivity.
While it is common to link hard work with work ethic, and they are not mutually exclusive, they are two entirely different concepts. What a business is really looking for are employees who have both a strong work ethic and who can consistently work to the highest standard.
What is a Strong Work Ethic?
The work ethic is a way of behaving, which promotes being both personally accountable and responsible for the completed work. It is also based on a belief that work has intrinsic value. So, that means that not only do we expect to be paid for undertaking an effective day's work but that we also feel a sense of satisfaction from its achievement.
A strong work ethic could be considered to be the moral principles or values that someone follows and uses in their job. So that means that it could include their behavior within the workplace, along with their attitude towards their colleagues and the company that has hired them. Work ethics are key to the quality of how the job is completed, that's because when a person has respect for the work and the company, they become more productive.
It's important to realize that there is no work ethic standard that applies to every situation or every organization. Still, a strong work ethic can be considered one that results in team members being held personally accountable and responsible for their work.
Importance of Work Ethics
The importance of workplace ethics stretches across many aspects of the business. Those benefits are not only resultant for the organization; there are also substantial wins for the employee.
From the business perspective, not only do work ethics contribute to a positive working environment, but they also have a crucial role in employee satisfaction, reducing the level of staff turnover and the resultant costs associated with hiring and training new team members. That, in turn, also has a direct impact on maintaining high levels of productivity.
The impact of work ethics also influences external relationships. With team members committed to excellence, that focus follows through in their communication and relationships with both clients and suppliers. Then there is the potential for an enhanced industry reputation. When a company becomes known for its team members' strong work ethic and professional nature, they become industry excellence models.
For the employee, improved job performance means that tasks are more likely to be completed on time and without errors. This, in turn, reduces the stress factor of worrying about the repercussions of missing deadlines and being pulled up for shoddy work. With improved job performance also comes increased job satisfaction, which in turn encourages employees to take pride in their work and feel a sense of value to the business. Then career advancement comes into play; a strong work ethic is more likely to result in promotion and salary increases.
What Factors Demonstrate a Strong Work Ethic?
Despite there being business to business variations in the contributors to a strong work ethic, some key factors are likely to be in place no matter the organization type or size. These include:
1. High-Quality Work
We've already mentioned that it's not just about working hard, which provides no guarantee of the quality of an employee's output. And when you think about it, it's far easier to work hard churning out poor work than it is to make sure that high quality is a feature of all task completion. Understanding the need for high quality is a key work ethic within every environment. That's because when things go wrong, it not only leads to dissatisfied customers and additional costs, but it also creates low morale and hinders relationships between teams.
When an employee embraces challenges and sees them through to a successful outcome, it can only enhance an organization's effectiveness. The easy option may be to take a 'not my job' approach and bail out at the first signs of a challenge, but this results in a stifled company who are sitting ducks for their competitors to push out in front. For this ethic to be fully realized, it does need a management style that allows for creativity and thinking, which challenges the status quo.
Part of having a strong work ethic is understanding that everyone has a role within the wider team. When this ethic is in place, employees understand the value of teamwork and cooperation to enable everyone to complete their jobs. The team player understands that it is less about what they need to get done and more about what needs to happen for the company to be successful.
Productivity goes hand in hand with high-quality work, as these two factors have to be present for a business to succeed. While employees could spend endless time completing their work, your customer base is unlikely to be tolerant of missed deadlines. A good work ethic requires recognition of the need to be productive. Whether that's through avoiding long breaks, identifying ways of streamlining processes or simply working harder, productivity is key for a successful company.
The professional takes pride in all aspects of their role. From the way in which they communicate to how issues are resolved and how they conduct themselves within the business. This then means that professionalism is a broad ethic that leads to and encourages all the other aspects of a strong work ethos.
Integrity comes in many forms, but within the context of work ethics, it means that an employee consistently demonstrates the following characteristics:
- Reliability - the employee is dependable and can be relied upon to complete tasks without the need for micromanagement. They rarely take time off without due cause, and they consistently meet their role objectives.
- Sound judgment - with a strong sense of what is acceptable and what isn't, this work ethic means that the employee knows when action needs to be taken, when management involvement is necessary and when situations can be resolved within the team.
- Loyalty - demonstrated through their commitment to the company and ensuring that the way they talk about the business, whether in person or through social media, reflects their belief in its success and potential.
- Honesty - knowing when to speak up and when to admit to problems or errors is essential for damage limitation and promoting an open culture within the workplace. The ability to improve and develop skills make this work ethic necessary within all business set-ups.
The highly disciplined employee shows determination and commitment. These individuals continuously aim to meet or surpass their objectives, even when it means putting in additional time and effort. This is the person who continually strives to do their best and becomes an example to others.
This ethic can also be expanded to consider self-discipline, wherein the ability to make decisions is based on achieving the best outcome rather than being dictated by impulses or feelings. The self-disciplined individual's informed and rational choices are far more likely to result in a job well done and the achievement of goals.
8. Sense of Responsibility
Personal responsibility results in a commitment to achieving goals and taking ownership for their actions and performance at work. A team member who demonstrates this work ethic takes credit for their successes and takes ownership of their failures.
This workplace ethic can be expanded upon to cover moral responsibility and, in doing so, considers situations in which individual acts because it is morally responsible to do so. This may range from taking action when bullying occurs in the workplace through to treating people fairly and without discrimination. While these are often incorporated within the corporate social responsibility plan, it comes down to individuals to ensure that its ethos becomes part of the company culture.
Tips  to Improve Work Ethics Among Employees
It's one thing to understand what work ethics are and even to possess them yourself. It's quite another thing to install or improve them in others. We've identified fifteen different action points to assist you in improving your employees' work ethics.
1. Define What You Consider a Strong Work Ethic to Be
Miscommunication is easy at the best of times, and with the concept of work ethic being so vague, to begin with, it should be no surprise that your interpretation of its meaning may be quite different from that of your team.
Once you outline what the work ethics should be, it can be useful to open up discussion within the team; employees generally have strong thoughts on these topics, and their input can be invaluable. It's also worth considering that when the team is involved in decision making, they are far more likely to uphold the outcome and monitor others for their compliance!
2. Create the Right Environment That Encourages a Good Work Ethic
When a team doesn't have the physical environment they need to get a job done, then they really can't be blamed for having a less than perfect work ethic. Frustration from not being able to do their best through a lack of resources will soon overcome their need to meet role objectives.
The right environment also comes from the management style of those they report into. Where there is a culture of blame and fear, it's highly unlikely that a team can fully focus on their work ethic.
3. Establish consistent expectations
There's nothing more frustrating than expectations which vary by the day or how they are applied to different people. Work ethics without clear or consistent expectations are pretty much impossible for people to comply with. Ensure that everyone is aware of what they are and that they are encouraged to demonstrate each one throughout the day.
4. Set a Good Example
When the business leaders fail to provide a good example, it's not only their professionalism which is called into question but also their ability to run the business. Managers should be a positive example to others by demonstrating company values and ethics, providing others' motivation to follow suit. When you take a top-down approach to work ethics, you're likely to find a more motivated buy-in from the team.
5. Encourage Employees to Work Smart, Not Hard
Meeting objectives, smashing targets, and demonstrating work ethics doesn't necessarily mean putting in excessive amounts of overtime. Now in most organizations, there are times when everyone is asked to work harder, but overall, there should be an emphasis on working smarter instead.
This means questioning how things are done and not accepting 'that's the way we've always done it' as a valid reason for ineffective protocols and procedures. Do be aware that encouraging a smarter, not harder ethos requires business leaders who are also prepared to try new ways of doing things and not stifle creative behavior.
Professionalism has already been discussed in this article as a key element of workplace ethics. But this is so essential when looking to improve ethics within the workplace that it's worth revisiting. It's difficult to imagine how good work ethics and professionalism can be mutually exclusive to each other, but this is an aspect that needs a clear focus from the start. It should be an expectation of all managers, which then encourages the workforce to follow their example.
Employers must show this ethic every day in their interactions with others to see the development of professionalism within their team members.
7. Establish a Rewards System
Threatening punishment as a result of not meeting workplace ethics is a short term and generally ineffective management approach. Employees are usually motivated to produce good work, and so it's essential that this becomes recognized rather than focusing on incidents of poor work instead. No-one produces great work when being threatened with punishment. Instead, provide the help needed to ensure that all employees can better their work ethics and be rewarded for those achievements.
8. Don't Generalize
It can be easy to make assumptions about someone's abilities based on how they look, their circumstances, or even the job that they hold. In reality, training is usually the key factor in raising their level of performance.
Do consider that different individuals can have different perspectives on how work is best done and that this can vary between generations. For example, one customer service representative may feel that having a long and detailed conversation with a client is the most effective way to develop strong relationships. Another may believe that they need to quickly and effectively answer as many calls as possible to ensure that wait time is kept to a minimum. Neither is necessarily wrong, depending on the standards and procedures put into place and their clear communication.
9. Understand your Employees' Needs
While it's easy to focus on customer needs, it's important that managers also consider what their employees need. This is another situation where generalizations should be avoided. Not all of the team will need the same kind of help or training and development. When a manager can spend time understanding how to encourage each person through individualized development plans, they can be safe in the knowledge that they can promote improved levels of performance and a greater focus on workplace ethics and values.
10. Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement
The company that stands still will soon be overtaken! This tends to happen when complacency is rife within the workplace. When the sense of responsibility has begun to wane, then the urge to be creative and implement new improvements can grind to a standstill. Don't forget that people will need the skills to implement new ways of doing things so you can help implement this culture by providing the resources and training they will need.
11. Don't tolerate procrastination
Procrastination can slow down everything, from getting on with the day's work to handling a difficult situation. While this might also be resultant from a lack of knowledge, it can also be through not having the confidence to make a decision. With this in mind, it's important to establish the reason for the delay rather than assuming that you know why it's taking place.
12. Build a culture of taking ownership
When individuals have ownership, they are far more likely to take responsibility for the situation. Suddenly there is no likelihood of anyone else completing the task, or getting all the praise. Do always ensure that team members know how to take action and understand the implications of not following through.
13. Deliver Regular Feedback, Good and Bad
If you find yourself wondering why someone is repeating the same mistake again and again, you need to consider why they've not received feedback to help them implement change. Do remember that the use of feedback just to deliver criticism makes it a process to be dreaded. Instead, find a quiet place in the office to explain why their approach needs to change while also providing tips and advice on how that can be achieved.
Don't forget that good work needs to be recognized too! Using positive feedback is a great technique to keep morale high and to motivate the team.
14. Mentor and Teach
Development of the team has to be seen as a continual process of ensuring that your future team leaders and managers have the skills and experience to step-up as positions become available. Employees will look for opportunities outside of the business unless they can see that development is available. Do check how each individual would like to better their skills and develop their experience; they may have different opinions to yours, and that may require you to set expectations appropriately.
15. Explain the Why, Not Just the What
All too often, employers will dictate what they want their employees to do. However, without explaining why the task is important, there will be a lack of commitment and productivity towards achieving the goal. When an employee can see why their involvement is critical, it's much more likely that they will try to follow the requirements and ensure that tasks are completed.
What to Do When Team Members Have A Bad Work Ethic?
A manager will inevitably be required to speak with a team member about a poor work ethic at some point. Whether it's failing to meet goals, getting to work on time, or just not meeting the job requirements, employees will require help if they are to demonstrate the required standards of work ethics.
1. First of all, you need to talk with them. Ensure that they understand how their lack of work ethic is affecting the rest of the team. Make sure that they have complete clarity over what the issues are and what is expected of them.
2. Then, set achievable goals. Remember that the aim is to help the person to be successful, so start small and have regular update meetings to check on progress.
3. Do reward good work. If the situation is improving, then this needs to be recognized. When honest, positive feedback is given, it can be a huge motivator.
4. Set an excellent example. Consider how your own work ethic stands up to the company standards. Are you at work on time every day? Meeting deadlines and communicating effectively within the team?
5. Sadly, there will be times when an individual is not prepared to show the work ethics needed, and you may decide that you need to terminate their employment. Before you go down this route, do ensure that training, support, and coaching have been provided and that nothing is happening in their personal life, which may be causing a temporary lapse of standards.
The work ethic of an organization will correlate with their success. No business can run successfully with a team of employees who fail to demonstrate the skills and attributes which come from a good work ethic. This means that looking for opportunities to improve this business aspect could be the crucial difference that makes you the client's choice rather than your competitor.