Professional Development Article
Generations in the Workplace = What defines Work Ethic?
A commonly heard complaint at nearly every C-Suite gathering of executives goes like this, “Young people today have no work ethic.” The funny thing is that every generation believes, wholeheartedly, “We have a good work ethic.” The problem is that the definition of work ethic is different for each generation.
For Traditionalist workers, a hard day’s work was a matter of honor, and their work ethic was driven by a commitment to leaving a legacy. Our Boomers measure their work ethic in hours worked, both billable and non-billable. They worked eighty-hour, face-time-centric work weeks and slowly climbed the corporate ladder. Boomers put a premium on having a lot of face-time in the office. They take note if you arrive before office hours begin and stay long after “business hours” are over. Work for Boomers was proof of their life accomplishments and they lived to work.
Gen Xers pride themselves in getting the work product delivered on-time, as promised. Xers based their work ethic on quietly doing quality work in dedicated and focused periods of time that allowed for the most freedom to spend time as they wish, and established security for their families. Xers give 100% to the organization while they are there, but they are aware that loyalty is no longer a two-way street, so they don’t define themselves exclusively by their work accomplishments. Xers see work as a means to an end. And unlike their Boomer predecessors, they work to live.
And Millennials… well they don’t want to measure their hours at all; they want focus on the outcomes and experience. Millennials see work as just ONE PART of their full and active lives. Millennials want to have fun, achieve amazing results quickly, be celebrated for them, and then move on to the next adventure–all in about 6 -18 months. For Millennials, work ethic is measure by doing a SOLID job for the short time they are working for your organization. Now when a Millennial believes in you they will put in CRAZY hours and untold DISCRETIONARY EFFORT to get the job done–and then some! But if they DON’T feel you are worth it as an organization, they have no problem just putting in the minimum hours and marking time till their next option opens up. Like Xers, they work to live.
So, while every generation may define “work ethic” a little differently, what they do have in common is they agree it’s important, and leaders today cannot expect each new team member or employee to inherently or IMPLICITLY know or even agree with what they mean by having a “good work ethic”. Instead of believing it’s self-explanatory and being ticked off when someone violates your CODE of “Work Ethic”, leaders must be EXPLICIT about what they measure and prioritize. Thinking that saying, “We expect you to have a good work ethic” is enough is a generational CODE misunderstanding waiting to happen. So we must employ one of the Generationally Savvy Tools of being EXPLICIT about our expectations, NOT IMPLICIT.