Some people believe work ethic is a quality you’re born with, while others think it can be learned and developed over time.
Either way, one thing is for sure: work ethic is real, and it has a big impact on the success of your business and the productivity of your team.
In this article, we’ll explore the factors that influence work ethic and how to identify employees with a strong work ethic and a weak work ethic. We’ll also look at some work ethic examples in action so you can better understand how it impacts workplace productivity and success.
An employee’s work ethic is impacted by their environment, workplace culture, and attitude toward labor. Managers can take note of different work ethic examples to see what kind of employee they’ve hired and how to help them realize their full potential.
Is work ethic a character trait or a learned skill?
Work ethic can be defined as a belief in the importance of hard work and the willingness to apply oneself diligently to a task. It’s often considered a quality that people can possess.
However, the question of whether work is a character trait or a learned skill is a topic of much debate.
Recent research has pointed out the link between self-determination theory and work ethic. It suggests that individuals who have a strong sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are more likely to exhibit a positive work ethic, as this mindset reflects their personal belief system and values.
It suggests that work ethic is closely associated with a person’s sense of moral duty and is considered a ‘‘syndrome of attitudes and beliefs” surrounding work.
As such, work ethic is not a fixed character trait but a malleable attribute that can be influenced and shaped by the people around us, as well as our cultural and familial values.
Examples of an outstanding work ethic
Employees with an outstanding work ethic are a valuable asset to any workplace. As workers, these individuals are incredibly reliable, take ownership of their work, and are capable of working independently with minimal supervision.
This is especially important in hybrid work environments, where trust and self-accountability are essential for success.
An employee with an outstanding work ethic:
- Is always going the extra mile
- Is constantly looking for ways to improve
- Is highly independent
- Inspires others to be their best
- Is proactive and self-motivated
- Admits when they’ve made a mistake
- Has very few commitments or discretions outside of work
Case study: Brian, the outstanding worker
Brian starts his day by reviewing his tasks and identifying opportunities to go above and beyond what’s expected of him. He proactively seeks feedback from his manager and colleagues to improve his work and ensure he’s meeting expectations.
Throughout the day, Brian remains highly independent, completing tasks with minimal supervision and always completing his assignments before their deadlines. If one of his projects doesn’t meet the standard he sets for himself, he voluntarily works overtime and, in doing so, inspires his colleagues to do the same.
Despite his exceptional performance, Brian remains humble and can admit when he’s made a mistake.
Outside of work, Brian has few commitments. This allows him to focus on getting ahead in his assignments or working on improving himself based on his manager’s feedback.
How to use interviews to find employees with an outstanding work ethic
You can start building a team of employees with an outstanding work ethic simply via their interviews.
During interviews, you can effectively identify candidates with an outstanding work ethic beyond just the show they put on to impress you on the day.
By paying attention to candidates’ initiative, preparation, professionalism, and passion, you can make informed decisions about who will contribute positively to the company as a whole.
Take notice of candidates who:
- Have thoroughly researched your company and prepared for the interview
- Are dressed professionally
- Show interest in your workplace through their tone of voice, body language, and general enthusiasm
- Answer questions in an interesting and insightful way
Examples of a good work ethic
A good work ethic is characterized by punctuality, accountability, honesty, professionalism, and a healthy work-life balance.
For managers, hiring employees with a solid work ethic can help set a standard for success in which not only is achieving organizational goals important but so is getting along with your co-workers and prioritizing your mental and physical needs outside of work.
An employee with a good work ethic:
- Arrives to work on time
- Consistently meets deadlines
- Is reliable and trustworthy
- Completes their work to a high standard
- Is a team player
- Is willing to work overtime when required
- Looks for opportunities to help others
- Is accepting of additional workloads
Case study: Amy, the “good worker”
Amy starts her day by arriving at work on time and ready to tackle her tasks after having taken time to relax and rejuvenate outside of work hours. She consistently meets deadlines and produces high-quality work that exceeds expectations.
As a team player, Amy looks for opportunities to help her colleagues and is willing to take on additional work to help her team out.
When necessary, Amy is willing to work overtime, but she won’t stay in the office if not required, as she has an active social life and fulfilling hobbies outside of work that she is hesitant to compromise on, as they contribute to her quality of life and well-being.
Why “good” might be better than “outstanding” when it comes to work ethic
While an outstanding work ethic might seem like the most desirable trait an employee can have, it can be unrealistic to maintain for a long period. These individuals focus almost exclusively on their work, putting an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to perform to a certain standard.
Lack of a strong work-life balance can also lead to severe burnout, which impacts not only work ethic in the long term but also work quality and productivity.
On the other hand, employees with a “good” work ethic can consistently maintain a smooth workflow because they enforce boundaries between their professional and personal lives. This leads to a more sustainable and healthy approach to work.
For employers, offering flexible work arrangements is a great way to support a good work ethic. Hybrid and remote work ensures that your team can work around their lifestyle in a way that suits them so they can focus on taking care of themselves outside of the office.
Examples of an acceptable work ethic
Employees with an acceptable work ethic are those who meet minimum expectations but don’t exceed them.
While employees with an acceptable work ethic don’t do anything counter-productive or problematic in the workplace, they also won’t go out of their way to boost their performance in any way and are not always receptive to feedback.
A manager might notice that an employee who was once an outstanding worker has suddenly slipped into the “acceptable” work ethic category. Or they might mistakenly hire an employee they assume is outstanding who turns out to have a mediocre work ethic.
An employee with an acceptable work ethic:
- Arrives at meetings on time but does not prepare notes or talking points
- Completes their work to an acceptable standard but never asks for feedback or advice on how to make it better
- Is willing to help their colleagues out when asked but does not proactively look for ways to do so
- Does what they “need to do” during the day but does not talk or act passionately about their work
Case Study: “Demi the Mediocre Worker”
Demi starts her day by arriving at meetings on time but without preparing any notes or talking points. She completes her work throughout the day to an acceptable standard but never seeks advice on how to improve it or requests feedback.
Demi is prone to asking for extensions on her work. While she does her work quietly, she doesn’t express passion or enthusiasm for it and stays a considerable distance away from her colleagues.
How to motivate your employees to reach new heights
Employees with an “acceptable” work ethic aren’t necessarily bad workers; they may simply be cruising through their workdays without a sense of purpose or passion.
These workers are often disengaged and have been linked to the “quiet quitting” phenomenon, where they’ve emotionally checked out and are just going through the motions.
If you’re finding that an employee’s work ethic has room for improvement, try the following tactics:
- Set up a 1:1 meeting to set clear and achievable mission statements or goals
- Provide personalized and regular feedback
- Offer opportunities for professional growth and development
- Show that you care about their future in the company and appreciate their work
Examples of poor work ethic
Poor work ethic is characterized by traits such as chronic lateness, low productivity, frequent absences, and poor quality of work.
Employees with a poor work ethic often look for the “easy way out.” As a result, they often don’t take their job seriously — and this can contribute to a negative or toxic work environment.
Managers should look out for these behaviors in their employees. They’ll also need to determine if workers with a poor work ethic are an appropriate fit for their team.
An employee with an acceptable work ethic:
- Frequently arrives to work late
- Often asks for deadline extensions (including after the due date has passed)
- Is unwilling to help their colleagues out and actively avoids taking on any extra responsibilities
- Regularly checks their phone or scrolls through social media during work hours
- Has a poor attitude toward managers when asked to work on something outside of their normal duties
- Relies on others to do all the work in collaborative tasks
Case study: mark the underperforming worker
Mark frequently arrives to work late — but he always has a coffee in his hand. When working remotely, Mark constantly refuses to join video calls, claiming he’s “too busy.”
When asked, Mark is unwilling to help out his colleagues and actively avoids taking on extra responsibilities, especially if it means he has to put in extra work.
Mark doesn’t like to collaborate with his colleagues, is often rude to his managers, and purposely ignores instructions. Additionally, he is often the first person to leave the office or log off for the day.
Are employees with a poor work ethic a lost cause?
Employees with a poor work ethic can have a significant impact on a company’s operations. However, factors other than simple laziness could be in play in these situations.
Factors that can impact employee work ethic include:
- Personal issues outside of work
- Poor management
- Lack of adequate training
- Feelings of stress or failure
- Lack of recognition or appropriate payment
If you believe that some of these factors might be affecting an employee’s work ethic, try to work with them to improve their mental health. This can make a big difference in their performance.
However, if that employee continues showing a poor work ethic even after you’ve attempted to remedy the situation, then it might be necessary to let them go and find someone more committed to the role.
Supporting employees: the key to improving work ethic
When employees see that their colleagues are going above and beyond, they’re more likely to be motivated to do the same.
However, it’s important to note that work ethic is not just a personality trait — it can be shaped and influenced by extrinsic factors, such as work environment and company culture.
One way to support your employees and get the best out of them is to partner with hybrid work software like OfficeRnD Hybrid. OfficeRnD Hybrid can help you manage your workforce and ensure that your hybrid office is a positive and productive work environment.
What is a “basic work ethic”?
A basic work ethic is a set of values and beliefs that guide the way people behave and work in the workplace. It’s the fundamental characteristic that employees have to strive for excellence, ensure that they finish their projects on time and to a certain standard, and maintain a positive attitude toward their work.
What are some professional work ethic examples?
Employees who have a strong professional work ethic exhibit reliability, productivity, professionalism, time management, teamwork, integrity, good communication, and respect for leadership.