Work Ethic – What Is “It”? :: Springboard Training

Work Ethic – What Is “It”?

(c) Sylvia Henderson. All rights reserved. • August 22nd, 2009 

Otherwise called a Protestant work ethic, defines “work ethic as:  “A view of life that promotes hard work and self-discipline as a means to material prosperity.” The “Protestant” moniker stems from Protestant religious groups believing that such prosperity is a sign of God’s grace.” Whatever your faith (if any), and whatever your belief in a god (if any), the term “work ethic” extends beyond its faith-based origin into a generally accepted concept defining one’s attitude towards work and life.

Factors that contribute to your work ethic include:

  • The environment in which you operate (work, school, home, social, political, faith),
  • Your self-esteem and motivation,
  • The training you receive and knowledge and skills you possess,
  • Your upbringing and what you have been raised to believe regarding personal effort and achievement,
  • How you value and define material and/or spiritual success, and
  • Whether you receive recognition and confirmation that hard work really does yield positive results for you.

Possessing and demonstrating a positive work ethic entails a complex set of beliefs and behaviors.

So again, what is it about possessing a strong work ethic (or not) that tends to define how one thinks of another person as well as oneself, and influences perceptions, relationships, trust, and performance evaluations of so many people? Let’s look at three aspects of “work ethic” to answer the above question: self-beliefs, external behaviors, and results.


Your upbringing from childhood shapes your belief in the value of hard work. From an early developmental age, you learn to try new things, follow through with commitments and promises, work for what you need and/or enjoy, help when needed, share, and be honest. Or not. You learn through having chores to complete, making mistakes and examining how to do things differently next time, falling down and picking yourself back up, and getting your way some, but not all of the time. Your belief system, shaped from infancy, carries you through the rest of your life, to some extent.

You can subscribe to a positive work ethic even if you missed the lesson growing up. It usually takes some hard-to-accept, direct, sometimes hurtful feedback from people who care about you and who depend upon your performance to help you learn. However you learn the lesson, you must believe within yourself in the importance of a strong, positive work ethic as a contributing factor to your self-defined success.

External Behaviors

Once you personally believe that a strong work ethic is a good thing, you can learn, implement, and build upon the behaviors and attitudes that demonstrate you have such an ethic. Take ownership of tasks and see them through to completion. Honor commitments and fulfill promises even when they become difficult to honor and fulfill. When you meet resistance, be diligent and persistent to overcome the roadblocks you encounter. Discipline yourself to focus on the task or project at hand. Show that you care about how things turn out. Make value-based decisions and be honest and ethical even when the results of doing so may hurt at times. In the end, you have to live with yourself. Help other people when and where you can. Be a good steward of other people’s trust and possessions.

Exhibit behaviors that show that you believe in the value of hard work in every aspect of your life in order to be true to your self and to those who depend upon you.


In the end, why bother with this hard work/work ethic stuff when there are easier paths to follow in life? This is where the depth and commitment to your beliefs comes into play. I believe that at some level, at points in our lives, we all ask this same question when we encounter challenges we could just as well do without. Ironically, it is exactly our beliefs and commitments that see us through these challenges.

While there is no guarantee that these results will come to pass for you, the likelihood is heavily in your favor that some will prove true for you.

  • Performance evaluation ratings and opportunities for promotion increase when you demonstrate a positive work ethic.
  • Relationships — whether personal or professional — solidify and last longer with the trust that develops through proven commitments to others.
  • Your reputation spreads in ways in which you may never be aware as others communicate their trust, belief in, and respect for your strong work ethic.
  • The world can seem to open up to you in both small and large ways as opportunities present themselves to you and as you place yourself in situations where “luck” methodically and consciously happens.
  • You can be successful within the parameters of how you define “success”.
  • Self-esteem and self-worth increase as positive external feedback and reactions reinforce your value to an organization, to other people, and to society at large.

To promise you the world is both inappropriate and unrealistic. People who have strong, positive work ethics do not all become great as we tend to define greatness in our capitalistic society. Yet those who are deemed great people seem to have such work ethics as contributing factors to their greatness. I challenge — and submit — that whether you are deemed “great” on a large scale, or simply feel great about yourself and seem so to another person, when you believe in and demonstrate a positive work ethic, you expect nothing less than success.