Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Case of the Missing Work Ethic

Springboard from this...

DISCLAIMER: In this entry, I am going to made some general accusations. They do not apply to any single person, certainly not to you, Dear Reader, and they likewise do not apply to any one workplace.

Okay, with my ass thus covered, let's go.

Have you noticed over the last, oh, twenty years or so, how seemingly few people undoubtedly possess what used to be called a 'work ethic' and is now derisively referred to as 'being a sucker'? I certainly have. Now, again, there are people half my age and younger who are phenomenal workers. There are actually quite a few of them. But there are also a very large number of slackers, for want of a better word, and that number seems to be growing as years pass.

Charlie Stross, in the link above, argues essentially that the attitude of most employers towards most employees nowadays can be boiled down to two words: expletive and deleted. He's right, too. Defined-benefit pension plans are next to impossible to find anymore; hell, full time jobs are a rarity, and ones that pay well and include benefits are rarer still. Your job can be outsourced or downsized or subject to any other Orwellian catchphrase at any moment, and there's not a whole hell of a lot you can do about it. All in the name of enriching a very few people, mostly aging Boomers, at the tippy-top of the pyramid. Is it any wonder that the prevailing attitude among employees, particularly younger employees, is just as self-serving? Can you blame them for sneering at the antiquated notion of loyalty to one's employer, and is it really wise to expect them to actually put in an honest day's work for their less than honest day's pay?

I've tried not caring about my job. I can sustain it for about half an hour, and then I feel invisible boss eyes drilling into the back of my skull. This "work ethic" novelty thingy I have has caused me no end of grief in my career because let Ken do it. I'm convinced people have, on many occasions, actually said this out loud: Let Ken do it. Frustrating, because Ken will do it, and not only because if he doesn't he'll get in dutch.
Ken will do it because it makes the time go by faster. I've never really understood this from my work-ethic-deprived colleagues in various places: they bemoan the fact they can't just go home (and I've sent people home for bemoaning it too loudly: hey, if you hate me that much that you don't even want to be in the same workplace as me, I'd rather you go.) Yes, they bemoan to the high heavens how slowly the time is passing, not understanding (not caring?) that the time will go by SO much faster if it's filled with work.

Ken will also do it because it reflects badly on Ken if he doesn't do it. He's been known to delegate tasks, but he takes great pains not to delegate anything he wouldn't do himself, and he also strives mightily never to leave more work than can be done. Otherwise, Ken keeps the puppy-poking to a minimum because he doesn't want people thinking he's a slacker.

I think there are some people out there who look at this attitude as naive, even stupid. The idea is to do as little work as you can for that paycheque, right? Why exert yourself unnecessarily? Do that once and it's expected you'll do it again and again and again...

I can understand (if not condone) that attitude as a function of repeated downsizings, or unwarranted demotions, cuts in pay, what have you. But I see it in entry level positions and it's hard to rationalize there. Your average sixteen year old in a fast-food kitchen isn't jaded. She may think she is--adolescents make every effort to appear jaded--but real cynicism is borne of an accretion of years of bitter experience. I can only conclude that these teenagers were not taught a work ethic at home.

I view a work ethic as an integrity check. Accordingly, when I run across someone without one, I can't help but question other aspects of their integrity. Is he a liar? Will she steal from me? This may be unfair, but it's a small step from time fraud--collecting your pay and not working for it--to other sorts of fraud. It's all well and good to "look out for number one"...but not at the expense of numbers two through seventy-eight...

There are places where a work ethic is still very common among the young. Anyone who grew up on a farm, at least in my experience, has their work ethic polished to a high gloss. They have to. Most jobs are a walk in the park compared to the day-to-day chores on a a working farm.

And I still find people --  many of them, in fact -- who understand that a job entails actual effort. The extent to which this is true is the extent to which I'm likely to get along with them.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to enjoy my day off. It's hard to juxtapose work ethic with laziness, but damnit, I'm going to give it the good old college try. Token lassitude is for amateurs. Real lump-on-a-log-iness takes sustained effort.

A lazy ethic, you might say.

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