I Want Employees with a Good Work Ethic. What Does that Mean Practically?

May 1, 2023 9:22 am Published by

When I ask business owners and managers what they are looking for in potential employees, “a good work ethic” is always one of the characteristics cited. (This is also a frequent response from parents when they are asked what character qualities they desire for their children). Unfortunately, there are many factors in modern society that have undermined our work ethic to the point that one of the major complaints in our culture today is employees’ lack of motivation and drive.

Most people have a general idea of what a good work ethic is, but when asked, they struggle to define it. Their description comes out as a vague, “Someone who works hard.” The problem is: if a character quality cannot be accurately defined, it cannot be effectively developed.

What is interesting is that the behaviors which together comprise a good work ethic can be developed and displayed by anyone — regardless of age, level of education, amount of experience, socioeconomic status. That is, we all can learn these habits.

Let’s examine those skills and behaviors that a good worker demonstrates.

  • Punctual. Employers want someone who will show up on time and will be ready to work. On time means being at your desk or workstation ready to work at the starting time, not rushing in at the last minute, with your Starbucks in one hand and a bagel in your mouth. A major issue in our culture today is that people frequently run late (which really reflects either a lack of planning, low commitment on their part, or poor self-discipline).
  • Follows Instructions. Employers often tell me that many people either don’t listen or they don’t follow instructions, thinking that they know how to do the task better than their supervisor or they are looking for a time-saving short cut. From an organizational perspective, it is critical for workers to follow instructions and procedures which have been found to be most effective, safe, and result in the product or service that the customer desires. Rarely will an employer keep an employee who consistently fails to follow the instructions given to them.
  • The Ability and Willingness to Learn. A critical characteristic for career success in our rapidly changing culture is an individual’s willingness to continue to learn. With the explosion of access to information as well as new technologies, an individual must continue to learn in order to function in the world today. Obviously, each person’s ability to learn varies according to their individual abilities. However, a willingness to learn and an interest in learning is the more important character quality that will lead to success, unlike an attitude of “I don’t need to know that.”
  • Performs Quality Work. Paying attention to detail, doing a job which one can be proud of, and completing a task successfully are important characteristics to develop. Given that “work” is essentially about providing goods or services to customers, those products and services provided need to be at or above the quality desired by the customer. An important character quality to develop is for an individual to provide good, quality work without being closely supervised. (And going above and beyond the call of duty makes an employee stand out to their supervisor!)
  • A Positive, Can-Do Attitude. Individuals who approach a task with the attitude of “let’s see how we can get this done” are obviously going to be more successful than workers who have a negative attitude, are critical and complain. Some of my friends describe this as a “yes” face. Obviously, individuals with a positive attitude are more pleasant to be around than those with a sour, disagreeable demeanor.
  • Complete Work in a Timely Fashion. This relates to punctuality but deserves further comment. Customers and clients need tasks completed so that they can continue their business and daily life tasks. Few things are more frustrating than to have engaged a company to do work for you, have the project started, possibly pay them for part of the work and then the project drags out indefinitely. The ability to correctly estimate how much time a project will take (allowing for challenges and mistakes) and then being able to gather the resources necessary to complete the task on time is an important skill set to have.
  • Being a Hard Worker. A good, hard worker is every employer’s delight. But even this quality needs to be defined. A hard worker does the following: (a) stays on task, and does not need close supervision or repeated redirection to do so; (b) puts forth a consistent, good effort and does not take excessive breaks; (c) continues to work hard even when they are tired and even though no one is watching them; (d) completes the job given, and when they complete a task, they look for other work to be done.
  • Have Realistic Expectations. If you are new in your career, understand that it will take time for you to climb up the ladder. Being overly focused on how fast you can get your next promotion will detract from getting your work completed and lowering its quality. The best way to advance your career is to do your current job well.

There are different ways to apply this information. If you are a business owner, manager or supervisor, you could share this information with your employees as a way of educating them about the characteristics you desire. I would also expect that a number of parents will be sharing this list with their teens and young adult children. And finally, if each of us individually works on these characteristics in our own lives — the world will be a better place to live and work!


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May 1, 2023 9:22 am

1 Comment

  • Marie Antoinette Johnson-Fernandez says:

    Thank you for the detailed list of good work ethics, I believe it will be helpful to many employees.

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