Is the Notion of a 'Good Work Ethic' Generationally Biased?

Perhaps you've heard complaints by seasoned managers that sounded like millennial bashing. Now a psychologist gives his reasoned reply.

learn more about Paul White

By Paul White

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Anyone who talks to business leaders, managers or supervisors for very long will eventually hear complaints about younger employees not having a good work ethic. Sometimes the comments are so intense, it feels like millennial bashing.

Given the amount of attention (and verbiage) being focused upon generational differences, it seemed prudent to explore whether the concept of a good work ethic is primarily based on the worldview of boomers or Gen X-ers and if the characteristics of being a good worker transcended generations.

The issue becomes clearer after answering the question "Is there a reality basis for determining what a good work ethic is?"

The answer to that is yes.

Related: 5 Ways to Lead by Example at Work

What your customers and clients need from your organization defines the type of behaviors your employees need to demonstrate. Your customers want your employees to be available when they need them and to be responsive to inquiries and requests. They want good quality products and services. They would like the work completed when promised and in a timely manner. Clients want the problems they are experiencing resolved.

So the behaviors that create these results are what defines a good work ethic. Here's a list of some of the characteristics I have identified:

1. Showing up regularly

2. Being on time, ready to work

3. Listening to and following instructions

4. Demonstrating a willingness to learn

5. Performing quality work as opposed to going through the motions

6. Completing work in a timely fashion

Of course the notion of being a hard worker, a term used frequently by boomers, needs to be defined: A hard worker is seen as someone who stays on task without needing close supervision to do so; a person who puts forth consistent, good effort without taking excessive breaks and an individual who continues to work hard even when tired or not supervised.

Employers can inform their employees what the clients want by setting up rules and policies to meet those needs.

Related: The SEAL Teams Don't Accept These 10 Phrases, and Neither Should You

So then the question becomes "Do the characteristics of a good work ethic differ across generations?" That is, is a good work ethic defined differently by one's context?

From the research I've done, the answers are no and maybe.

Generally, it appears that a good work ethic consists of many of the same behaviors, regardless of the generation an employee comes from. So, a good work ethic does not differ significantly across generations.

A caveat exists, however. Being available to answer a client's questions can differ according to the customer's expectations, which are often framed by that person's generation. For a younger client, getting answers via a text message, an email or a chat room may be the preferred means of communication (and it's OK if the dialogue occurs between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m.)

In contrast, an older Gen X-er may want to schedule a call or videoconference.

Is one format better than the other? Yes, the one the client wants.

So, ultimately, it appears that the answer to the initial question ("Is a good work ethic generationally biased?) is yes. But it is the expectations of the client -- not of the employee or even the employer -- that are important.

Related: How to Bridge the Workplace Generation Gap

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.


Are You Being Too Soft as a Leader? You Might Need to Try a Different Approach

At the core of leadership, we must provide purpose, direction and motivation to our employees — but not everyone is using the right leadership style to offer these things. Here's why you might need to consider a more rigid approach.

Starting a Business

Shopify's President Breaks Down the Best Ways to Grow Your Ecommerce Business

Entrepreneur magazine Editor in Chief Jason Feifer and Shopify President Harley Finkelstein discuss the best strategies to grow an ecommerce business.

Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Business News

American Airlines Sued After Teen Dies of Heart Attack Onboard Flight to Miami

Kevin Greenridge was traveling from Honduras to Miami on June 4, 2022, on AA Flight 614 when he went into cardiac arrest and became unconscious mid-flight.