Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Work ethics

This is a little rambling, but I was thinking about it today. You hear a lot of people talk about "work ethics" in American culture. I'm sometimes amused at just who does the talking because it's often someone that I've witnessed doing questionable things themselves but that person objects when anyone is given any flexibility or eliminates meaningless work.

Many years ago I worked with three people, all of whom would make the "work ethics" complaint. The senior person of the group usually spent several hours a day at work doing work for the professional organization she belonged to outside of work, and a lot of the rest of her time in conversation (usually complaining) with people. Another spent a lot of time in gossip, taking personal phone calls, and doing things for a second job. The third was one of the bitterest people I've ever known (unfortunately the one I shared an office with) who was furious that I'd been hired in over her as she had a degree and I did not. But the truth is, I had the experience and skills for the job. Her degree had nothing to do the job she was in, and while she spent more work time on work than the other two, she was incredibly inefficient, barely competent, and, mostly due to bigotry, lacked the ability to work well with the people we were supposed to be helping.

I generally did more work in a couple of hours than they did all day and always had my work done. This aggravated these co-workers who felt if I had time free, I obviously had an unfairly light work load and should take over some of their work. Initially, I did let them push some of their work onto me until I saw how they were really spending their time. Rather than letting it erode my own work ethic and rather than enabling them to do even less work, I asked for and got special projects, several of which got recognition that they resented.

These three talked constantly about work ethics, which I find far more amusing now that I've been free of that poisonous atmosphere for years than I did then. Most of the people we provided work for were not really aware of how little time they actually spent in productive work, but the original manager did know how much work I was doing, and so to an extent, shielded me from the poison. When he was replaced, I made plans to move on, and did.

I am, to this day, baffled at people who not only do as little work as they can get away with, but then complain that those who do work aren't taking up some of the work they aren't doing. But it seems to be as common as dirt, and one of the main things most people seem to get out of their education: figuring out JUST how much they have to do to be acceptable and doing only that much. It's a sad side-effect of a culture in which children learn early on who is likely to make it into that tiny percentage who are "good enough" and even those kids quickly learn that for some of them, no achievement will overcome their disadvantages.

Sadly, it's not the person who does the most or best work who is rewarded financially much of the time. I know too many brilliant, hard-working people who've seen others hired in over them who are completely incompetent, but have "connections" and end up doing all the work for this person (and get none of the credit or reward), a lingering remnant of the 19th century (and earlier). I've also found that the people with poor work ethics are usually the ones who want everyone treated exactly the same: no flexibility in work schedules, promotions on a set "schedule", etc.

However, don't let things like this erode your work ethic. A good work ethic really is valuable, and eventually an employer will recognize and value it. Employers who fail to value high quality and quantity of work should have to suffer the consequences of those values, frankly, and deserve little or no loyalty. If an employer has a high turnover, there's probably a good reason, where an employer with a low turnover probably values and rewards real work. More, your work ethic usually carries over to your money ethics as well. Someone who is honest in one is almost always honest in the other. It's a matter of respect. More, someone with a good work ethic is generally willing to do the things necessary to keep expenses within the income (barring major emergencies).

1 comment:

Amara said...

I see that attitude at my place of work sometimes. Mainly from coworkers who've been there a while and think they should get something (usually promotion) handed to them. Even though the effort they've been putting forth on the job for the last year is 'just enough' that they haven't been fired. And when other people with less seniority but more and better work get promoted over them, they go bitter and blame everyone but themselves.
Not to say my place of employment is or has been perfect, but it is pretty strict about performance beating out seniority or a shiny degree. This will be the second time I've been promoted over the heads of people with twice the years here. The first time, it was like being in college - even though the boss stated only top performers would get it, people were pissed when at the end of three months the relative newbie had stomped everyone and I got tapped for promotion.
We have a far better system now then at that point. But its still amusing to observe.