Work ethic | Main Region

How work ethic impacts career success


When organisations ask for job candidates who can demonstrate a “good work ethic”, they can have many things in mind. One employer might require an employee who is always punctual. Another might look for candidates who are ready to work longer hours to deliver projects on time. Others might target candidates who arrive to work determined to be as productive and efficient as possible.  
Work ethic is a broad term. It speaks of many qualities employees can develop for their own career success. To help you understand and learn how to improve work ethic, and the relationship between work ethic and success, below we outline the impact it can have on your career.

Work ethic meaning further explained

What does work ethic mean? Work ethic, in the context of the workplace, is fundamentally about your determination to perform your job or tasks to the best of your ability and for the optimal result. 
Work ethic comprises a long list of values and principles, including attitude, discipline and professionalism. The more areas you excel in, the better your potential to make a good impression in the workplace. In short, work ethic and success are interrelated at work.

Work ethic examples – types of work ethic

We can split work ethic into two basic categories: strong work ethic and poor work ethic. The following examples reveal how both types of work ethic have an impact in the workplace.

Strong work ethic examples

Example 1 
Andrew is a warehouse manager for a shoe company. Andrew is responsible for managing complex logistics and delivering timely results. Deadlines are tight and often unpredictable. Andrew is highly valued because he always finds a way to meet deadlines. Many people in the organisation turn to Andrew for guidance about how to ensure the organisation stays on top of its customer commitments. His dedication and commitment are valued.  
Example 2 
Fatuma works for a research institute. Her role involves a lot of data analysis and reporting. Fatuma is known in the organisation for her meticulous attention to detail and high quality work. Because her organisation has a high public profile, small or large errors in its research attract a lot of scrutiny. Fatuma is entrusted to ensure her organisation’s research retains a high level of integrity. She consistently delivers.

Poor work ethic examples 

Example 1
Angela works in hospitality. After a few years in the same role, she’s ready for a change. Her colleagues know this because she frequently tells them. Angela’s resignation is obvious in her demeanour when she interacts with customers, too. Angela often forgets orders or delivers the wrong orders to the wrong table. She also frequently arrives late for shifts or calls in sick. Some staff members have complained that she is severely dampening the overall morale of her team. 
Example 2 
Anand is a graphic designer who is absent-minded. He frequently yawns in meetings and disappears for extremely long lunch breaks. Staff members have been remarking that the work he is completing is unrelated to the briefs he’s receiving. His manager is considering having a conversation with him about steps Anand can take to focus better on his work.

Work ethic characteristics

When they recruit, employers consider a strong work ethic to be a non-negotiable requirement in shortlisted candidates. Some of the key work ethic characteristics we recommend you focus on demonstrating and developing are attitude, discipline and professionalism.

Work ethic and attitude

Your work ethic is visible in your attitude in the workplace, particularly in the way you approach challenges. You also reveal your attitudes in the way you interact with colleagues and how you respond to workload. To be recognised for a strong work ethic, you need to demonstrate the right attitude towards teamwork, communication, problem solving and effort.  
To reset your attitude, we recommend evaluating what you appreciate about your role. Often, renewing your perspective on the value your job adds to your life can positively transform your attitude to work. Of course, in other circumstances, it’s less about your attitude and more about the organisation’s drawbacks. That’s something to consider, too. 

Work ethic and discipline

Your work ethic is also displayed in your level of disciple, such as your punctuality and the energy you bring to work. If you are disciplined, you eliminate distractions and manage competing priorities, so you can focus on what requires your urgent attention. When work is either frustrating, confusing or uninteresting, you stay the course to get the desired result.  
Strong discipline – whether it’s built by setting an alarm or synching to a new calendar for time management – can be developed with practice and repetition until it becomes habitual.

Work ethic and professionalism

Your level of work ethic and professionalism is evident in the way you communicate, interact and even dress at work. It’s reflected in your ability to take responsibility for your actions, follow through on your deliverables and respect your colleagues.   
To make a professional impression at work, there are some quick wins that can go a long way. Dress appropriately for the company culture. Practice respectful and courteous behaviour in your interactions. Start work on time, work hard, complete tasks assigned to you and avoid cancelling meetings. All these straightforward actions are signifiers of a strong work ethic.

How to improve work ethic skills

Knowing how to improve work ethic is essential for career success. So, consider taking the following actions to positively impact your work ethic.

Prioritise mental health and wellbeing

Our jobs can have a huge impact on our overall mental health and wellbeing. When you struggle with your mental health and wellbeing, it can negatively impact your work ethic, professionalism and performance at work. 
Eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep all have a positive impact on wellbeing and productivity. The challenge, of course, is how to transform awareness into action. Our advice is to start small. Set yourself up for success by choosing very achievable goals. For example, if your screen time at night is impacting the sleep you are getting, try to switch off your screen for one night. After that, try a week. Once you build one new healthy habit, focus on another goal to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

Get orientated

Sometimes, a poor work ethic isn’t so much about attitude as it is about awareness of your organisation’s values, strategic direction and priorities. If you’re unsure about the 101 of your organisation’s work ethic, it’s a good idea to find out.  
Start by re-examining your organisation’s core values and mission statement. If this type of corporate information isn’t available, schedule a time to talk with your manager. Proactively seeking more information about your organisation’s work ethic will reflect favourably on you.

Improve your time management

Good time management enables you to strike out items on your to-do list faster. It also eliminates stress and distraction. The Pomodoro Technique, one of the best-known time management and organisation techniques, involves splitting your daily work into relatively short intervals of 25 minutes and taking small breaks in between them. The rationale is that you can plan your day for clear-focused work and build in enough recovery to optimise your productivity. Here are more time management tips to improve your work ethic.

Reset your motivation

Burnout is more common than you may think. Symptoms of burnout at work include hyperirritability, reluctance to go to work, negativity, loss of energy and apathy. These all negatively impact your work ethic.  
Some of the ways to rediscover your spark at work include consciously adjusting your working day, such as by adding short breaks, exercise or a dedicated lunch break. Establish work-life boundaries and get support from your employer. For more, read our article on steps to help counteract burnout at work and recharge your work ethic.

Work ethic versus talent

As recruiting experts, the hiring managers we work with regularly describe to us two types of employees in the workplace: talented employees who squander their potential through poor work ethic and team members who apply a strong work ethic to get ahead. 
In reality, workplaces are full of employees who have varying combinations of talent and work ethics. Often, success comes down to not only your technical, soft and digital skills, but thousands of hours of dedicated and quality work. Clearly, cultivating a strong work ethic will only improve your performance at work. That’s positive news for those of us who would like some control over our career success.


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