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Thread: How does one's work ethic develop?

  1. #1
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    How does one's work ethic develop?

    I am curious as to people's thoughts on what shapes your work ethic? I often read interviews with successful people in which they state, "my parents instilled a good work ethic in me," for example. Or they will refer to the fact that they were taught never to give up and that accounts for their success, etc.

    For those of you who are parents, how do you think you can help instill this value in your kids? Or for those who feel they have this trait, do you remember "learning it" discretely, or do you think it is more innate?

    I am interested because I personally think that a person's initiative and perseverence are much more important than, say IQ or general intelligence level in predicting future success. (And by success, I am not hoping that my kids turn out to be CEOs or Nobel Prize winners, I just mean success in the sense of finding meaningful work in a career or at home, and in any other pursuits like sports, cooking, etc.)

    One of my kids is pretty bright naturally and doesn't have to work at anything in school or sports. I hear a lot of great things about him from his teachers, etc. and I am not complaining of course. But truth be told, I am more worried about him than his sibling, who sometimes has to read the assignment twice to "get it", but then seems to attack her homework with enthusiasm. But maybe it's a gender thing too, as she will occasionally think of extra things she can do related to the assignment.

    So, besides modeling good work habits, how else can I highlight the importance of this characteristic?

  2. #2
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    As the parent of 2 kids who are bright and often don't have to work too hard I've worried about this myself, especially with my son.

    One of the things that I've read on the gifted groups that rings true for me is that children need to experience work that is hard enough for them so they learn that they need to make an effort. My 13 yo son started in an advanced math program last year and has impressed me with his ability to stay organized and complete the 5-10 hours of weekly homework without our having to check up on him. It seems to have spilled over into his other homework and he is doing as well as he has ever done in all of his classes.

    I'm happy that it happened for him before high school as I know the workload will go up next year.

    Jody

  3. #3
    My feeling is that it isn't something that you "teach". It just comes from life experiences that change and shape people in different ways. I do think that encouraging persistence,commitment and pride of a job well done are values that parents can drive home.
    Certainly siblings raised in the same family have different responses to the same type of parenting. I do think that you are right in that for bright kids that school comes easy to, feeling a real sense of accomplishment is missing for many of their formative years. To me, work ethic means the willingness to work hard and long in hopes of a good result. It is also a very intrensic thing...it's working on a project because you find it fulfilling and want to be proud of the final result. Not because you will get outside praise (not that you shouldn't want that too).

    I also think that it is finding joy in work. That is something that I struggle with. To me, work has always been a means to an end. I work(ed) only because it allowed (financially) to do the things I wanted to do the rest of the time. I've talked with several people about this and we just aren't sure if I (and others in the group) just don't like work--or we just never found a job/career that was right for us.
    As for addressing your parenting I think you are right to be aware of the individual nature of your two kids. Perhaps you can find a hobby, or after school "job" that will fill that gap that your older child has discovered.
    Being a mom sure makes you appreciate yours.

  4. #4
    My parents made sure that I understood that you have to work for the things that you want in life. I was expected to keep up with my school work and get good grades. I was also responsible for chores around the house, not just once in a while, every day. I received an allowance but was expected to save half of it. If I wanted something special then it came out of my allowance. When I was old enough I got a part time job. All of this gave me a healthy respect for a good work ethic. Hopefully I am instilling this in my DD's.
    All That's Left Are The Crumbs

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  5. #5
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    I grew up in Italy where there are very few jobs for adults, never mind teenagers. I didn't hold a job till we moved to the U.S. when I was 18 and really, work ethic and such was pretty much a non-issue. It was not something you would talk about, it was just something taken for granted.
    My Dad was the only one working and he worked very hard to provide for us.
    There were times when it was rough, but we would just keep on going and put a positive spin on it all.

    When I got a job, I was very excited and I just wanted to be the best I could be, because I loved the responsibility and yes, the praise. Now I have been in banking for many years, and to me work ethic means giving 100% of whatever job I am getting paid to do, whether I like it or not. Don't get me wrong though, I love banking. Work ethics means that anyone can call any of my former employers and get high praise from them, because they could see and feel that whatever I was doing, I was dedicated to it and took pride in it.

    I can't really tell you if my parents taught me that or not. They never told me straight out to do this or do that. I guess it goes by example. To this day, I am convinced that my Dad is THE best plumber in the world, and my Mom THE best Halloween-costume maker in the world. And my little brother is THE best at whatever he does, which I am not really sure what it is...

    Angela

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by BeachBum View Post
    My feeling is that it isn't something that you "teach". It just comes from life experiences that change and shape people in different ways. I do think that encouraging persistence,commitment and pride of a job well done are values that parents can drive home....
    First my caveat: I may have a more literal or narrow idea of "work ethic" than others, because some of what I'm reading on these posts to me isn't about work ethic, but general character. So that said, I couldn't disagree more that a work ethic isn't taught, but learned through life experiences. I think it's a LOT harder to try to work it out later than to be raised with it. My parents were both kids of the Depression and I got very direct words (as well as examples) on work ethic well before I got my first regular job at 15. Things like, oh, say, showing up - no kidding, a lot of people believe that's optional. Or the fact that your employer has purchased your time and energy and attention. It meant not talking back to your supervisor just because you think you're smarter. It meant not swiping notepads and pens for home use, and not calling in sick unless you're sick. It meant knowing that sometimes you have to just suck it up and do what's asked of you.

    I know that when I first started getting freshly minted college graduates hired to work under me, I found a lot of that seemed startling to them. In large part, I felt they'd simply been raised with such a profound sense of entitlement and self adoration, they simply didn't understand how the workplace operates, and how to be a good employee and take the opportunity to learn there.

    But again, all that's based on how I think of the expression "work ethic".
    Happiness is not a goal, it is a byproduct. - Eleanor Roosevelt

  7. #7
    I think it is just like every great lesson learned - around the dinner table or discussed while in the car at night.

    Both of my kids began working before they could drive. So, the position often fell to me to transport them. Many of my kid's friend's parents refused to let them have jobs early because the parents did not want to drive them and/or would not let the kids drive very often while they had their learners permits.

    I can honestly say that those years of driving them back and forth to work and those years in the passenger seat when they needed me in the car while they drove, were years that formed them as adults. I certainly think that is where the work ethic formation happened as well.

    Each ride home from work, the events of work were discussed. Both of my kids worked in restaurants, aka drama central, so there was always an opportunity to discuss the right way - the fair way - the ethical way - the legal way.

  8. #8
    My kids see their dad and I both working hard, and are made aware of the benefits of working hard. I tell them often: don't be "good enough", be "more than enough".

    The kids have had chores since age 5, and the chore list grows as they get older. The must do their homework and chores before they get free time every day, and we are sure to include them in all the large seasonal chores. That means that they are helping put in the docks and the boats, wax and maintain the watercraft, seasonal yard work and landscape maintenance, mowing the lawn and blowing the snow.

    We all work hard together, then make a point to play hard together. I hope that will instill the type of work ethic in them that we, the parents, have and that future employers will enjoy.
    Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

  9. #9
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    Then, too, for kids....school is their work. The attitude displayed by parents towards school also makes a difference.

    Be there!

    Be there on time.

    Homework gets done....and on time.

    Teachers are in charge...and respected.

    Play nice with the other kids.

    All of these things will eventually translate themselves to the workplace. If every time Billy messes up, the parents blame the teacher or argue with him/her, is it odd that Billy thinks he can blame others or argue with his boss? And if parents take their kids out of school for vacations or "shopping days" is it any wonder that the kids think it's OK to play hooky from work down the road?

    It can be taught...and it will be......whether we do it intentionally or not.
    kathyb


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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Canice View Post
    I think it's a LOT harder to try to work it out later than to be raised with it. My parents were both kids of the Depression and I got very direct words (as well as examples) on work ethic well before I got my first regular job at 15. Things like, oh, say, showing up - no kidding, a lot of people believe that's optional. Or the fact that your employer has purchased your time and energy and attention. It meant not talking back to your supervisor just because you think you're smarter. It meant not swiping notepads and pens for home use, and not calling in sick unless you're sick. It meant knowing that sometimes you have to just suck it up and do what's asked of you.
    I totally agree!

    I was raised with the "pull your own weight" theory both at home and at the job. My first job was a maid for Holiday Inn...such glamor ! I was 15 at the time and didn't lie on my application. After about 6 months the Innkeeper and the Housekeeper both pulled me aside and said that according to the new labor laws I wasn't old enough to work there. Then they showed me my application and suggested since I had filled it out in pencil that I change my birth date...which I did (the job paid 15 cents/hr above minimum wage). They said that I was such a good employee they hated to lose me. Stuff like that followed me throughout my working days and I believe it's because my parents didn't believe in pampering. My very first chore that I can remember was drying dishes at age 6 and then moved to washing at age 7 (I was tall enough to reach the bottom of the sink.

    And I can say for a fact that I never called in sick if I wasn't and there were a number of days I should have been home but had no one to take my place.

    A good work ethic is something your taught and I can see it in all of my boys, I am proud to say!
    Well-behaved women seldom make history!

  11. #11
    I agree that work ethic can be taught, but I think if it'd going to come from parents it has to be consistent.

    The biggest thing I think my parents did to instill a strong work ethic in me is have high expectations for me. They knew I could do better, do more and therefore, so did I. At least part of that comes from me being a perfectionist, but I wonder how much of that perfectionism is just modeling my parents' behavior.

    Another source of motivation comes I think, from watching how hard your parents work and have worked. My best friend's mom owns a few businesses, takes care of the kids, is involved with the community, etc. so she sees that and wants to live up to it.

    But I think parents also have to be human - my parents and my best friend's parents both let us see them in moments of weakness. Times when it got too hard, times when they were tired, moments when they needed help getting things done. That way we knew about tenacity and the fact that even when we feel like it's too hard we have to keep going.
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  12. #12
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    It's not something that I can consciously teach but I think some of it can be developed by the parents in their attitude toward simple things.

    As someone else stated, I think a child has to learn to honor their commitments. This can be done in the early years as they make their commitments to sports teams, clubs, and other activities. Make them finish, make them fulfill what they wanted to do.

    The second biggy is to stress exactly how important it is to go to school on time and every day (unless you're really sick). School IS their job. I see so many of my daughter's friend's parents letting the kids slack on this. If their children are tired, they get to go in late. My DD's friend had 57 tardies one year. All of them were due to being tired (this girl has no medical issues). My DD is now in 11th grade and another one of her friend's misses at least one day a week. On Homecoming Weekend she got overtired (the dance was on Saturday night) and she ended up staying home the following Monday and Tuesday. My DD and her went to a concert this past Sunday evening. The rule to my DD is that you can play but your not going to shirk school because of it. Guess what, DD went to school the next day and friend got to stay home.

    To me, this is part of a work ethic and if parents don't teach the importance of just showing up and sticking with something, then the rest of it won't fall in place either.

  13. #13
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    Well, as usual all of you have given me lots to think about. I do tend to obsess sometimes on parenting, and reading what you all said helped me to step back and look at how things go in our family.

    We are doing a lot of things mentioned here. School attendance is a big one here, in fact DS has had perfect attendance for a couple of years. I also have to recognize that he does work hard when it is required or it is something he really loves. He will work on his guitar for an hour, trying to get a chord progression right, or pick out the tune of a song. He will practice foul shots every day to try to improve; this is an improvement over a couple of years ago, when, if he couldn't do something right and easily the first time, he gave up.

    The kids have chores to do, and I suppose it is expecting too much to want them to do them cheerfully all the time, with no reminders from me, right?

    And I do try to praise the effort in school work, not necessarily the actual grade. I am sensitive to that probably because my mom paid a lot of attention to the grade, but not what I learned - "where's the last 5 points? You are smart enough to get a 100, not a 95" was something I heard a lot. I'd rather them have a 95 and have really learned the material, than made some lucky guesses and scored 100. And with project type assignments, I try to note what they did during the process, not just the completed poster, or diorama, etc.

    The trickiest thing to to know how much to "push" your kid, or how high a standard to set. I don't want to produce another generation of neurotic perfectionists , but I don't want anyone to think coasting thru school/life/work is good enough either.

  14. #14
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    Probably high expectations more than anything. And I also think a lot of it had to do with personality.....I've always been a little more on the sensitive side in that I never wanted to dissapoint others.

    Though my parents would probably tell you its from making me chop cotton all those years.
    Amy

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  15. #15
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    I think a lot of it (instilling the work ethic) come from setting a good example, and from letting kids know what is expected of them. My parents were good at setting the exmple for us. Also, I'm on the sensitive side too and its hard for me to let people down.

    I hope that I am passing this along to my son. He's in 11th grade and hasn't missed a day of school in three years - except for last spring when the baseball trip he was on with the other team members when the bus broke down and they got home a day later than expected. He only asked to go in late one day when he had to finish up a large project. I allowed that but with reservations. But he honors his committments - is always on time for school, always early for team meetings or practices (and usually the last to leave!).

    Until the last two years, school work was something he didn't put a lot of effort into - he just wanted to get it done. But lately he is putting more thought and effort into his assignments and his grades are reflecting that.

    I think my son sometimes comes off looking a little like a slacker, but I think like all of us, what is important to us, that's where we put our effort. And someone else said that school is their JOB, so kids do need some down time too. But I totally agree with the person that said you can't just take a sidk day 'cause you feel tired or you were out late the night before. Or skip school because you were at a party the night before. First you get your work done, then you can play. And if you play too hard, you still have to work the next day!
    barbara-cook

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