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Thoughts For Thursday: Work Ethic

June 23, 2011 · 71 comments

in Thoughts For Thursday

This week, I have been sitting in a college gym watching high school basketball scrimmages.

It is actually quite interesting to just sit back and observe. One thing that has really stood out to me is the difference in work ethic between players. Some girls run up and down that court, fighting for the ball every minute of the game. Others only want to shoot, and seem to hope the ball magically shows up in their hands so they can try to score without doing much of the “hard work”. In other words, they want the glory, but don’t really want to put in much effort for it.

I then started thinking about variations of work ethic in all aspects of life. I know at work, there are always plenty of employees that are more than happy to let someone else pick up their slack. Quite often, these workers stagnate in the same job year after year, and they actually seem ok with that. Of course, in this economy, many of these employees have been laid off…

Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone truly gave 100 percent at every task, every day? I know that is probably an impossible expectation because you have to prioritize your life, and some things just have to get “done” so you can focus on the really important things.

However, think about the things you must do each day for a certain amount of time. Do you really focus in meetings, or do you kind of drift while really paying more attention to your Blackberry? If you exercise, do you pay attention to technique and try to maximize the impact of your workout? Or, do you try to just get through it so you can meet your goal of exercising regularly?

So much of our lives is centered around goals and meeting commitments. Sure it is great to accomplish something, but it is also important to do your best and try to learn along the way. It is one thing if your performance only affects yourself. However, most actions in life also impact other people. So, think about yourself and your own level of effort. Are you really giving all you can? Or, are you just standing under the basket waiting for someone to pass you the ball?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Crystal @ BFS June 23, 2011 at 10:14 am

That’s how I knew I needed a new job. I used to be the go-getter at work and now I wait for the ball. But with blogging and my freelance work, the only way I could possibly be more involved is if I suddenly lost the need to sleep at all…


Kris June 23, 2011 at 10:47 am

That is great that you recognized you needed a change because you found you were no longer fully invested in your job. Burnout and ruts can be awful, so good for you for taking action.


Money Reasons June 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I’ve had a similar experience as Crystal with my current employer. While I’m still there, I sure would like to run up and down the court a bit. I need to get a resume in place and start looking…


krantcents June 23, 2011 at 11:52 am

Work ethic is an important soft skill. Soft skills will get you fired faster than incompetence! Unfortunately, I have to interact with people who perform their job poorly! I call customer service and problems are not resolved, or call someone and they do not return your call. There seems to be an epidemic of bad work ethic spreading like a virus!


First Gen American June 23, 2011 at 1:36 pm

I think you’re right that people seem to be programmed with a certain amount of internal drive but I also think it’s hard to be “on” all the time 24/7. I believe many of us have more work than fits in a day. Personal, professional and family commitments pull us in 100 directions. In the end you have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t be an A player in all aspects of your life if you are overloaded.

At first, I was surprised by how many type A gals decided to be SAHM’s when they had children, but now I totally get it. You can’t be an A parent and an A employee all the time, especially if both parents work. Some people don’t want to be a B+ at both, they’d rather be an A at 1.

With all the layoffs too many people can’t do their jobs effectively anymore because they are often doing the work of a couple of individuals without any major changes in the processes. I really think customer service will be better once the economy picks up a bit and people start hiring again.


Nicole June 23, 2011 at 6:19 pm

“I also think it’s hard to be “on” all the time 24/7. I believe many of us have more work than fits in a day. Personal, professional and family commitments pull us in 100 directions. In the end you have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t be an A player in all aspects of your life if you are overloaded.”


Plus, productivity research suggests that we actually optimize our productivity when we take regular breaks and cut ourselves some slack.

I wouldn’t blog at all or see my kid or do any housework if I put 100% in at work. Fortunately I’m awesome enough that my 75% is many other folk’s 200% (or more!). But people in my profession do work 80 hr weeks on a regular basis, at least for a few years (until they hit 35!) and they end up with a lot more publications. That’s not the life for me. I’ll stick to being in the top 5% but not the top 0.05%. And a husband who works. And a kid who I see every day. I suppose we could get a personal assistant, but I would need to give up my internet hobbies before I pay someone for that day to day chores again.

I do agree though that there’s people who don’t have any pride in their work, who aren’t go-getters, and aren’t awesome enough in other ways to compensate. Folks who show up on time, pay attention to detail, ask questions, and try to get things done are a valuable commodity. You don’t have to be a type A personality, just have a strong sense of responsibility.


Squirrelers June 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm

I think First Gen hit the nail on the head, as far as how I see this playing out for many people. In many of our lives, we’re pulled in a ton of different directions, and sometimes you have to come to terms with the totality of what you need to do and your capacity to do it all at a very high level. Hard to truly be an “A” player in every single area, if you really hold that grade for a high level of performance.

That’s not to say some people can’t achieve great things of course, because they can and do all the time. Sometimes division of labor can help in this regard. But bottom line is being the best at each and every thing isn’t possible. Doesn’t preclude us from doing our best, but sometimes our best isn’t at that highest level, due to different commitments….some of which can’t be phased out!

All this being said, I do agree that many people don’t give 100% and truly have a different internal motor than others. Really, the people that hustle and compete in most anything are the ones who will likely be more successful at it, in my view. I’m a believer than hustle can trump talent in many cases, especially in the workforce, as long as people have a base level of skills.

Your basketball observations are, I think, a great example of what transpires in corporate America every day. Or, what transpires with people trying to stay healthy and eat well. Or, with students who have different levels of intensity with academics.


101 Centavos June 23, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Good observations on motivation. There’s not much we can do about physical genetics and smarts. But we have 100% control on how hard we can work.

As I get older, I try to be a little more selective on where to apply the right effort. There’s some advantage at rationing some of the git-up-and-go where it will produce the maximum value. Like Nicole pointed out above, I can afford not to give 100% at work, if 2 and 3 percent dribs and drabs strategically placed will produce an outsize effect. For example, taking care of little things *immediately* gives the impression of superior service. Negotiating for extensions on big projects (so we can take care of little things in the meantime), but then completing the project or assignment as promised and on time, will feed perceptions of good performance.


The Retirement Master June 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Very interesting subject you’ve brought up with work ethic. I agree with Crystal about how a big factor to consider includes having the motivation and discipline to know where to draw the line in regards to what you’re working towards in the first place. In order to be successful in your life goals, you must be able to have a return from your hard work and be able to apply that to your own living in order to create possibilities and future promotions.


Jacq June 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

Don’t get me going on the work ethic thing. Like I tell my kids, it’s so pathetic out there in some jobs that just showing up and giving 100% when you’re there in just 8 hours a day will make you a superstar.

I truly miss the feeling of being totally absorbed and almost emotionally attached to a job. I sort of feel it when consulting, but not really. But I’m kind of figuring out that it would probably be smartest if I made my own “job” – aka business – that I can get absorbed in rather than do the crap shoot.


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