Developing a supportive work ethic

Developing a supportive work ethic

Work ethic is a phrase bandied about when referring to the comparison of how one person works hard for the benefit of the organisation compared to another, so how do you define work ethic?

For some, a good work ethic means that employees arrive at work on time, focus on the job in hand, take no more than the allocated break times and leave on time at the end of the day, having completed a full day’s work.

For others, they arrive early, work hard all day, including through their lunch hour and leave well after their allocated time. These are the ones who might risk burnout.

The third group are those who are considered to have a poor work ethic with no sense of responsibility. They may or may not turn up, depending on how they feel, they may sneak out the back for a cigarette break, or be constantly distracted and away from the job chatting with workmates. Their work standard is sloppy, they take long lunch breaks and can’t wait to leave and go home.

When you look at each of these three groups, you can appreciate or judge, and you can also look deep into each person and wonder what drives their behaviour.

A possible analysis of these three types could be:

  • The sloppy one is lacking in purpose, they have zero motivation; they can’t feel any enthusiasm, they feel totally unloved, don’t enjoy it but go to work anyway, perhaps because they need the money. Their behaviour could also be a reflection of the organisation employing them, if their presence is not appreciated or the place is badly run, or the working conditions poor and unhealthy.

  • The busy one is totally driven. They could have several reasons for doing what they do: total commitment to getting things done, absolutely no drama about having to work extra time, or they may be anxious to please someone. It could be that there are not enough staff, so they have to fill the gap, or perhaps they prefer to stay at work because there they have a sense of feeling worthwhile that they don’t get at home.

  • The first one, the person considered to have a good work ethic, appears to have a sense of duty because they respect the time they are contracted to work. On the negative side, they are using those times as fixed boundaries because they don’t go beyond what is expected, and they do what they feel they must do but no more. You could say that they are looking after themselves, and may be less likely to risk burnout, they are not overworked, but there is no flexibility.

All these interpretations are what could be going on for all of us, and they are mainly based on what we think, how we feel about ourselves, about life in general, and about work specifically.

What if our true way of being was not based on what we think, but on every part of our lives, what we feel impulsed to do in each moment? What if work was just another part of our 24/7 cycle?

We live 24 hours a day and our ability to be consistent in every moment matters. Whether we are serving others through work or simply by how we live in our community, how we are with our family, or being on our own; everything we do matters. The way we walk, the way we breathe, express, pause, rest – it is all one. We could look at it all as not just our work ethic, but a life ethic, the wholeness of all we live and represent.

We can consider that how we live 24/7 feeds how we are at work; for example, we may care about nutrition, eating in a way that supports our body to do a full day’s work, not skipping meals, but not overeating either. Regular exercise is another part of keeping ourselves fit for work and life in general. How we are when we travel to work can make a difference. And then, at the end of our shift, how we are at work affects how we are when we get home and how we communicate with whoever lives at home with us. It is all one life and one ethic. One principle. One attitude. If we do have a bad attitude to work and a ‘poor’ work ethic, we need to be prepared to ask why? And do something about it. Not engaging at work is harming to self and everyone around us.

I have always worked, starting when I was 15 and worked in a shop, serving behind the counter. I would turn up on time, do as I was told, and leave when the job was done. It was a simple job and relatively stress-free. My work was appreciated and I was promoted to work in the office with the responsibility of counting the cash each day. After I graduated from University, I took on more complex jobs. I did my best in all of them, but sometimes felt like a failure, or got bored and moved on to something else. I never stayed in a job or a role for more than two years even if it was at the same company. I like to think that I did my best. Then, once I left employment and started my own business, although I enjoyed the work, that’s where the stress kicked in.

I was delivering training courses and would often be up late printing handouts. I would be thinking about the work 24 hours a day, as well as running a house and having two teenage children and a husband to care for. My relationship and family life were suffering as a result. My health was suffering too, I was becoming more and more overweight and I developed a hyperactive thyroid which affected my heart, leaving me with Atrial Fibrillation (A/F) for the rest of my life. When my doctor confirmed that it could be stress that caused the hyperactive thyroid, I made a decision there and then to de-stress my life. Being so driven was not healthy for me, and I started looking at how I was living my life 24/7, adjusting the food I was eating, going gluten and dairy free. I gave up drinking both caffeine and alcohol completely, went for daily walks, went to bed earlier, and generally took more care of myself. Gradually the weight reduced, the thyroid eventually cleared itself without surgery, and I stopped taking the medication for that. I’m still on warfarin for the A/F but nothing else.

Now, at the age of 72, with no kids or husband to look after, I am living in a shared house with friends, and I both work and volunteer. I still like to turn up on time, and I will stay on if something needs doing that can’t wait, but I am careful to look after my health, to make sure that I don't work late into the night. I go to bed early and that means I can wake up early and get more done when I am fresh after a good night’s sleep. I have a strong sense of purpose in serving my local community and the organisations that I work or volunteer for. I do extra work if it is required, but I don’t go into drive as much as I used to. As a result, I enjoy my day, the whole day, I have a good relationship with my housemates, a good quality of life, and I am reasonably fit and healthy for my age. I consider that I have both a good work ethic and a good life ethic.

We don’t need to judge or compare ourselves to anybody else, we just need to consider and feel how we ourselves are living, and check if we are living in a way that optimises our energy so that in everything we do, whether it be work, travelling, volunteering, or spending time with family and friends, we are the best we can be, expressing who we are in full, maximising every moment and being in full vitality.

Filed under

RetirementWork life balanceWork stress

  • By Carmel Reid, Goonellabah, Australia

    Carmel started her career in the UK with an electronic engineering degree and moved on into business coaching and personal counselling. Now living and working in Australia, she brings enthusiasm, experience and wisdom to many business and voluntary projects in her local community and world-wide on Social Media.

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd