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Information Connection: Work Ethics

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An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he needed to retire. They could get by.

The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and ask if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you."

What a shock! What a shame! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.

So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. At important points we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If we had realized that, we would have done it differently. Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your house. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Build wisely. It is the only life you will ever build. Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity.

The plaque on the wall says, "Life is a do-it-yourself project. Who could say it more clearly? Your life today is the result of your attitudes and choices in the past. Your life tomorrow will be the result of your attitudes and the choices you make today.


More thoughts on work ethics

Many people have become jaded, and thus do enough to stay out of trouble. They've worked in companies run by meatheads who get multi-million dollar bonuses after making stupid decisions that have cost the company dearly. They've labored under a boss who aspires to the level of moron. They've done great work, only to have their boss take credit and chew them out over something minor.

Then there are people who think they are owed a job. They chat on the phone and do anything except work. Or they'll do what they think the job "requires," not one thing more.

These people obviously have a poor work ethic. Does it make them bad people? No, not really. But it does disable them. The behavior is usually a passive aggressive coping skill, and it's maladaptive. That is, not only does it fail to address the problem it comes with its own negative consequences.

Yes, we all know the poor sap who worked long hours and then got the boot after 30 years of service. We also know people who seem to magically advance through the company. What's the difference between these people? It's not their brand of mouthwash or deodorant (neither of which a healthy body needs, your first clue that you're doing something wrong if you "need" these things).

It's not even how hard they work. While hard work is admirable in cultural mythology, hard work for hard work's sake isn't rewarded. That is not to say you can or should slack off. You must put forth a certain level of effort to be acceptable. After that level, further hard work is decreasingly rewarded. And, in fact, it can be counterproductive. Especially if you gripe about how hard you work or how someone else doesn't.

A good work ethic includes the following:

  • A solid day's work for a solid day's pay. Or an hour, if you are paid by the hour as a consultant might be. That is, don't cheat the people who pay you.
  • A cheerful, positive attitude. You don't have to be giddy.  You do need to show that you are happy to be of service.
  • Genuine enthusiasm for what you do. If your heart's not in it, find a different line of work. Lack of enthusiasm will show both in the quality and quantity of your work.
  • Curiosity about how to do the work better. That may mean doing it more efficiently, producing higher quality, reducing costs, or expanding the market for the product or service. If you aren't thinking about how to improve, you're on track to fall behind.

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