What Can You Do About the Work Ethic of Your Employees?

Apr 26, 2016, Written by Sue Miley

Work Ethic

It is hard to hear from employers how few of their employees they feel actually work hard.  I don’t mean that they don’t work enough hours.  I’m talking about their work ethic.

A work ethic is more than just being on the job and working the hours.  A work ethic implies a moral obligation to try really hard while you are at work.  Whatever the project or job at hand, a person with a strong work ethic will think about the work before them and diligently work toward the efficient and successful completion.


Because ethics are a part of our value system.  It is not enough to just show up to work.  It isn’t sufficient to just lend a hand.  You fall short if you are the last to arrive and the first to leave.  There is no satisfaction for you if the job isn’t done with high quality and doesn’t meet the goals of the initiator.

Does a Strong Work Ethic Glorify God?

As a Christian in business, it is part of our value system to glorify God in all that we do.  That includes our work.

I was talking to someone the other day about the work ethic of the people in our city.  This was a young manager who is about 25 years old.   She was frustrated by her inability to hire people for her retail store that actually wanted to work hard and do a good job.

I don’t get it.  We live in the bible belt.  At least 80-90% of the people that live in our city would claim that they are Christians.  Yet, this same group of people is being deemed by a very young manager to lack character and perseverance in their work.  Their work would be far from glorifying our Lord.

Another local business owner is a staffing company.  They have a proprietary hiring process to ensure quality candidates for their customers, yet they still have to battle no-shows, employees who were desperate for work leaving the job early, and on any given day at least one employee has a funeral, a childcare issue, and/or transportation problems.  Yet, these same individuals incessantly ring this employer’s phone inquiring for a job.

All of this has me thinking about how leaders can inspire their teams to embrace hard work, quality performance, and dependable attendance.

How Can We Inspire a Strong Work Ethic?

I know many people would say that the work ethic comes from within the worker, however, I haven’t given up that as employers and leaders, we can still make a difference.  Here are a few ways:

  1. Openly share the vision you have of your business.  Regardless of the position you are recruiting or hiring into your business, each role is important.  And each human being wants to know they are a part of a bigger story; something important.  Explain to all of your employees what the vision of the business is and how their role helps the company to achieve the vision.
  2. Explain your expectations to every new employee.  I hear all of the time employers complaining about an employees actions, yet do not set the expectations.  The employer feels it is common sense.  Of course I want you to come to work on time.  No you can’t expect to be reminded five times to do something.   Business owners want all of their employees to think, do their job well, be proactive, and overall, get stuff done.  Yet, they don’t feel it is important to explain their expectations.  Every owner is actually different.  You may think all other business owners have the same exact expectations so that it is common sense that an employee should just know, but the other past employers your employee has had may not have cared about the same things as you do.
  3. Hold your employee accountable.  It is frustrating when our employees don’t do an excellent job or make the same mistake time after time.  My question to the manager is: “Have you discussed the problem with the employee?”  Have you been specific in your discussion, explained the shortfall to your expectations, and provided the opportunity for the employee to make improvements?  It is time consuming on our part, but if we follow-up closely at the beginning of an employee’s tenure, the work ethic is seeded and they don’t require constant follow-up in the future.
  4. Give feedback consistently.  When an employee begins a job, they are looking for feedback.  I really believe that most people do want to do a good job.  If we give feedback, good and bad, as things occur, our feedback is constructive and timely.  When we hold it in for a variety of excuses, a small problem that could have been fixed, becomes the big white elephant in the room.  Instead of daily feedback, the impending conversation becomes a big deal and potentially a performance problem.  As the business owner, we will wait until we are so frustrated with the problem behavior or performance that we are not very constructive when we finally deliver the message.  This just leads to fear and a feeling of betrayal by the employee.  Yes, they feel like you kept the issue to yourself rather than give them the chance to improve before you were disgusted.  That is betrayal.
  5. Take responsibility to motivate your employees.  As a business owner and leader, we are responsible for motivating our team.  We need to consistently remind our team about what we are trying to accomplish.  We need to show appreciation and credit for a job well done.  We need to recognize the character and the behaviors that we are looking for.  Employees feel that we always see the problems, but don’t notice what is going well.  And we need to provide rewards in the form of fair compensation, pay for performance, and employee benefits.  We are the leaders and one of a leader’s responsibilities is to motivate.

It seems like the American work ethic is crumbling.  As owners, we have a business to run.  We can’t just say, “Oh well, I guess I will just get by on partially staffed jobs, mediocre work, and nonchalant attitudes.”  Not unless we want our customers to see our companies as mediocre and substandard.

We have to rise above the norm.  We have to be a part of showing at least our own teams that we are building a business on the foundation of our Christian values.  These values include glorifying God in all we do.  This starts with us, the leaders and owners.  We must reflect the very work ethic and Christian values we are desiring and expecting of our own teams.  This means we have to take responsibility for our roles as leaders.  As a leader, we can make an impact.  We can bring a strong work ethic to the forefront of our job requirements and we can do our part, as listed above, to help lead our team to work that glorifies our Savior and honors our customers and clients.

A Strong Work Ethic Does Not Equal Overworked and Burned Out

I do feel compelled to give a disclaimer.  A strong work ethic does not mean overwork.  It doesn’t mean to kill yourself, ignore your family, and neglect your health.  This is the other extreme and it is one of the factors that pushes the younger generation away from obsession with work and career.  Killing yourself and your team doesn’t glorify anyone and achieves similar results as a team without a strong work ethic to begin with.  It is paramount to leading your team off a cliff into a season of burnout.

If we lead by example, we can make a difference.  Pray about this and ask God what this looks like in your business.  Just like he gives us our vision, He will guide us in leading and motivating our teams.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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