A recent article by John Stancavage in the Tulsa World business section entitled “Staying Focused at Work” focused on a report released by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce which revealed that over half the companies surveyed for the report were “having difficulty finding people with a good work ethic or who can do their job without letting personal issues interfere.” Even very basic skills were lacking, such as showing up on time, staying on task and adapting to change. Creating other problems, are the employees who are always having one crisis or another that keeps them from getting to work on time or that distracts them after they arrive. All of these things impact productivity and since employee productivity is credited with helping the United States remain competitive in the global market and there are fewer candidates for every job, it’s an important issue to address.
“It’s not just staff members who have trouble staying on task,” writes Stancavage. “Managers do, too, although often for different reasons. A recent survey by New Hampshire-based NFI Research found that 67 percent of senior executives complained that e-mail distracts them from their core jobs. Other problems included personal interruptions (31 percent) and changing priorities (30 percent).”
I guess I’ve officially gotten old because I found myself thinking “back in my day” when I read this. I applied for my first job as a waitress in our local, small-town restaurant when I was fifteen and a half years old. Thelma, the restaurant manager who hired me, said she really wasn’t supposed to hire anyone under 16 but that we’d just keep quiet about that. She knew my family and figured I’d be a good hire because I’d have a good work ethic — and she was right. I stayed in that job throughout high school, working on weekends and through the summers until I went to college.
The work ethic that Thelma was so sure I possessed was one I learned from my parents. It included getting to the restaurant about 15 minutes before my shift started so that when my shift actually began, I’d be ready to go to work. That didn’t allow for over-sleeping after a late night out with friends. It meant putting in a full day’s work which included finding other things that needed to be done when I wasn’t busy serving customers. Things like filling the salt and pepper shakers, cleaning off tables and counters, sweeping and even, occasionally, helping wash dishes. I was expected to keep up in a fast-paced environment, while maintaining a positive, friendly attitude and sense of humor. Honesty not only applied to the handling of money and supplies but also to taking no more than my two 15-minute breaks and one 30-minute meal break during my shift. Any personal problems I might be experiencing were left at home and when I got to work, I was expected to focus only on work. I didn’t give my work ethic a second thought. That was just the way it was. Being on my feet for most of an eight-hour shift was tiring but I was happy to have a job, earning my own money, buying my own car and becoming more self-sufficient.
Maybe today’s workplace is much more complicated than my workplace of many years ago, but I believe the same principles should apply regarding having a good work ethic. People should still show up to work on time, do a good day’s work, not take advantage of their employer, be honest, and leave their problems at home. What’s so hard about that? If I could do those things before I was old enough to have a driver’s license then I believe we should expect adults in today’s workplace to do the same.