Work Ethic: What it is and Why you Need it to Thrive

Posted November 25, 2020

There’s much talk these days in the business world about ‘soft skills’ and why they might matter more than more technical, hard skills for many jobs. Soft skills are typically defined as relational, non-technical skills that dictate not only how you interact with others at work, but also how you approach your work and your life.

Work ethic is an important soft skill that’s critical to success not only on the job, but in life. But it’s unique in that it’s not just a single skill-it’s more like a bucket of skills and attitudes. We particularly like this definition of work ethic: “It is an inherent attitude that an individual possesses and it allows him to make decisions and perform his duties with positive moral values that include elements like integrity, responsibility, high quality, discipline, humility and teamwork.”

The good news for the majority of us is that it’s not something you either have or you don’t. It’s more a matter of developing it in yourself, and likewise developing yourself into a person of excellence. 

Work Ethic and Personal Development

Personal development takes time, and you can find any one of a number of courses on the topic. We bet you could spend months taking a class on developing work ethic… but we also bet if you just stick with the class you’ll likely find that you’ve developed it--not because of the content per se, but because you persevered and showed up every day, took notes, made a habit of studying and knowing the material, and most of all because you pursued the inner call to take responsibility for your life and strive to be something more.

So do you need some fancy course and thousands of dollars to attend a motivational seminar? Nah, not really. Sure you’ll glean benefits from it and get excited as you look forward at the path of excellence that you’ve chosen--but you can also save those thousands of dollars and just give us a few moments of your time as you keep reading. 

In just a few minutes, you’ll understand more about what work ethic is, what it looks like in a job and in life, what are the traits of winners and how you can develop the skills it takes to thrive in your job, succeed in life, and just be excellent all around. Ready to start the journey of a few minutes that, when practiced daily, can reap dividends for a lifetime? We knew you would be.

So What Does Work Ethic Look Like? 

Sometimes some of the best ways to see something clearly and be inspired to become your best self is to hear what history (of both the far and recent past) had to say on the topic. Some of the hardest working, most committed people through the decades and centuries left some great advice to inspire and initiate change today.

Consider the following quotes to whet your appetite for the journey from now to where you’re going:

  • Thomas Edison, creator of the light bulb, said, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.” 
  • Famous boxer Muhammad Ali said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'” 
  • Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights leader, said, “If a man is called a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and Earth will pause to say, Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
  • Lou Holtz, former football player and coach, said, “Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they’re making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that’s the difference.” 
  • Robin Sharma, author and leadership expert, said “Hard work opens doors and shows the world that you are serious about being one of those rare – and special – human beings who use the fullness of their talents to do their very best.”
  • Jerry Rice, football wide receiver, said, “I think the thing about that was I was always willing to work; I was not the fastest or biggest player but I was determined to be the best football player I could be on the football field and I think I was able to accomplish that through hard work.”
  • Kenneth Blanchard, author, speaker and business consultant, said, “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” 
  • Actor Viggo Mortensen, famous for, among many movies, Lord of the Rings, said, “I have a work ethic. If I say I am going to do something, I do it.” 

Traits in the Work Ethic Bucket

So what actually goes into a solid work ethic? Georgia Piedmont Technical College provides an in-depth list that breaks down each of the 10 traits of good work ethic. We love it and think it captures it perfectly!

  • Appearance: Displays proper dress, grooming, hygiene, and manners.
  • Attendance: Attends class, arrives and leaves on time, tells instructor in advance of planned absences, and makes up assignment promptly.
  • Attitude: Shows a positive attitude, appears confident and has true hopes of self.
  • Character: Displays loyalty, honesty, dependability, reliability, initiative, and self-control.
  • Communication: Displays proper verbal and non-verbal skills and listens.
  • Cooperation: Displays leadership skills; properly handles criticism, conflicts, and stress; maintains proper relationships with peers and follows chain of command.
  • Organizational Skill: Shows skills in management, prioritizing, and dealing with change.
  • Productivity: Follows safety practices, conserves resources, and follows instructions.
  • Respect: Deals properly with diversity, shows understanding and tolerance.
  • Teamwork: Respects rights of others, is a team worker, is helpful, is confident, displays a customer service attitude, and seeks continuous learning.

4 Keys to Developing your Work Ethic 

1. Always Look for Ways to Grow and Improve

Initiate change in yourself through ongoing self-improvement. Try reading a book a month on any variety of growth or leadership topics. Be mentored by greatness, and greatness can’t help but come to you. It’s said that you become like the 3 people you spend the most time with. So apply your time wisely. If you don’t have a mentor already, let a mentor of your choosing speak to you through books. Committing to show up everyday (and doing it) can help strengthen your “stickability” factor. 

2. ‘Be the Company’ Even When You’re Off the Clock

Work ethic isn’t just about what you do, but it’s about how you see yourself and how you carry yourself. Your work life, while separate from your personal life, should not be so black and white. When you are away from the office, you should still see yourself as a company representative, because frankly, you are just that. When you’re out and about, don’t talk negatively about your company. Instead, find ways to further and improve business for your boss. Talk them up to potential employees or clients. Be honest. And be their ambassador.

3. Be Thorough in Everything you Do

Not everyone is a detailed person. But in the business world, the devil is in the details and it’s important to hone in on the miniscule things you didn’t think  you can start to develop this skill in yourself by double and triple checking your work. By taking the additional steps now to ensure no errors, you can save you and your boss a lot of time, energy and sometimes tears, later down the road. When you say you will do something, just do it. If you’ll be somewhere at a certain time, do your best to be punctual. 

4. Stay Focused on the Tasks at Hand

It’s easy to get derailed during the workday. From coworkers coming to chat at your desk, invites to lunch and incoming personal calls demanding your attention, it can be challenging to actually get things done. Set your work in your mind as a priority, then stay committed. Instead of clocking in at the last minute as you breathlessly trip up the last few steps to the office, arrive a bit early. Stick to a strict lunch schedule. When you tell your boss you’ll have something to her at a certain time, do it. You may find you need to reduce notifications from popping up on your phone and computer so you can actually focus and be efficient with your time. It will definitely pay off in the long run.

Finally, showcase your work ethic

Most people feel like they shouldn’t brag about themselves. But when it comes to the job search, you’ve got to showcase what sets you apart from someone with similar job skills. Work ethic makes a great defining feature of your cover letter and resume. Your cover letter is a great place to talk about your responsibilities and mention the traits that you displayed on the job--traits like dependability, diligence, focus, organization, efficiency, a good attitude in the face of a challenging situation, or loyalty to your company. Just as there are many traits of a good work ethic, there are just as many ways or more to frame it around your experience and why you are the best candidate for a job.

Start to develop your solid work ethic now, and you’ll never look back--because you’ll never have to.

The CareerBliss Team

Your career happiness is our #1 priority here at CareerBliss. To help you succeed in your career, we offer a wide variety of tools and resources to help you out along the way. Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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