6 New Ways To Encourage Work Ethic

Working hard or hardly working? Put these six practices into place and it won’t be a question.

6 New Ways To Encourage Work Ethic

Any manager can get people to do what she wants by standing next to them. But what happens when the manager turns away? The workers must feel an internal need to comply with what they know is right. They have to know what they’re supposed to do, and they have to do it without the manager standing over them. Cognizance and compliance–knowing what you should do, and then doing it. Each has three components.



If you aren’t communicating clearly with your workers, they’ll never really understand your expectations, whether it has to do with a hard skill or with values. Of course, most managers and leaders are experts at training the hard skills. Here’s how you clock in. Here’s how you clean the deep fryer. Here’s how you greet a customer. Here are the forms for tracking time for billing our clients, and so on.

But it’s equally important to provide clarity when it comes to the values of work ethic. And unlike most hard skills, values require regular and significant maintenance. You have to regularly communicate in crystal-clear terms the things workers need to know to live out these values.

You must regularly and clearly communicate standards, information, and expectations. A failure to clarify results in a “mind dump” attempt at knowledge transfer, and not much of value grows in a landfill.


Assessment is a crucial step on the path to developing cognizance; you can’t help build it unless you know where to start.

To be clear, that’s “assess,” not “test.” Testing can be an effective tool for assessing, especially in education, but it’s not the end-all answer. Especially when you’re talking about work ethic values, nothing replaces assessment in the form of conversation and dialogue.
Some workers, like some students, won’t say anything when they don’t really understand what you’re telling them. They will act like they got it because they don’t want to look stupid. They will fool you into assuming that they are on board and ready to roll–that they know what they need to know–when, in fact, they’re heading for a crash.


Other workers are more advanced. In the hope of making a good impression or out of fear of rocking the boat, they keep their mouths shut and politely nod during instruction, all the while concealing the fact that they are bored out of their minds and looking for the escape hatch.


Once you’ve clarified your goals and expectations with regard to work ethic, and once you’ve assessed what your worker knows and needs to learn, the next step in developing cognizance is embracing your role as a teacher/ coach/trainer and providing the ongoing instruction that builds and establishes an understanding of the things they really need to know.

Developing cognizance through teaching requires a combination of factors. The emerging workforce is used to high-speed presentations with catchy graphics and interactions that create an adrenaline rush, but nothing replaces a one-on-one, heart-and-soul teacher mentality. It’s got to be more than a talking head on a video or an online training session. You’re going to need a variety of approaches so that you can teach in ways that introduce and reinforce a clear message that addresses the specific needs of each person. And that’s why you need to assess before you edify and mentor.


Explaining the relevance of the desired action is a way of connecting the dots between what and why. Making the relevance clear requires stating the obvious, but then going well beyond it. You might say, “We need you to show up on time at 6:30 a.m. because we open at 7:00 a.m., and you will need thirty minutes to set up everything and make a killer impression on our customers when they walk in the door. Our reputation for opening on time is essential for gaining a loyal and growing customer base.”

Now you’ve told your employee what he needs to know and why it’s relevant–to you. Sometimes that’s enough, but most of the time it’s not. The next step is to help him understand why arriving thirty minutes before the store opens is relevant to him, because the question racing through his mind is this: “If we open at 7:05 or
7:20, I still get $8.50 an hour, right?”


Effective relevance comes full circle. So in this scenario, you might make the desired what (showing up at 6:30) relevant to him by adding, “And naturally, the more loyal returning customers we have, the more money we have in the till for raises.”


I’ve been invited to speak on the campuses of more than 1,500 high schools throughout North America, and every one has an attendance policy, as well as a policy defining acceptable conduct, behavior, and academic performance. Each school clearly communicates with students and their parents and explains the consequences that are imposed for those who do not comply.

However, the schools where I’ve experienced the best cultures, and the schools that boast the greatest performance records, are the ones that find ways to celebrate compliance. They do more than conduct pep rallies for the star athletes and celebrate top achievements of their scholars; they provide rewards for all students who meet ambitious–but achievable–standards in academics, attendance, and character. In these special environments, everyone clearly understands what is expected of them, and those who demonstrate compliance are rewarded with special activities, events, and benefits reserved for rule followers.

Business leaders can take a valuable lesson from this and create a reward structure that promotes a positive work ethic, not just incentives for those who achieve above-and-beyond excellence.


Radiate, a transitive verb, means to spread something all around as it emanates from a center. The key to radiating values is to establish them as central ideals and then find ways to spread them throughout teams and organizations. That includes living them out yourself, of course, but it also includes celebrating them, hiring people who display them, incorporating them in company meetings and communications, and sharing them with those who need them the most.


Leaders radiate core values when they cite them during performance evaluations or, better yet, when performance evaluations are centered around the values. Rather than allowing the values to fade into a forgotten mission statement, leaders can use the words frequently in company meetings and provide public praise for employees who demonstrate them in exceptional ways.

It can become easy to see work ethic as something individuals do, even to the point of the negative–her work ethic keeps her isolated and driven to self-achievement. Many people conjure up images of a person staying late, alone at the office, when they hear the phrase.

That’s why you must radiate these values throughout the culture and harness the full potential of creating teams that promote and live out work ethic. Real work ethic always thrives best in community, not in isolation.

From REVIVING WORK ETHIC: A Leader’s Guide To Ending Entitlement And Restoring Pride In The Emerging Workforce by Eric Chester (Greenleaf Book Group Press / 2012).

[Image: Flickr user Ian Sane]