Thursday, January 27, 2011

What happened to America's work ethic?

Lately I feel like one of those people who, at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century bemoaned the modernization of the world and foretold the end of "all things of note".  But as I look around, I can understand how they felt.  I find myself looking at the world around me and wondering where ethics and self-discipline have gone.  I hear words coming out of my mouth that decry the lack of a modern work ethic, and I wonder how did I become "that person"?

But for all of that, I find myself wondering more about when this great country of ours became a nation of whiners and cry-babies.  Has it always been there and I just didn't notice before?  Or is it just becoming more pronounced because we have the internet and 24-hour access to anonymous commenting which allows people to say things that they would never say aloud to someone else's face?

I have my theories on why the modern American worker demonstrates less of an inclination toward really focusing on their job, and a stronger inclination to find ways to waste time during the day and to give a lower productivity quotient. 

First there is technology.  With e-mail and internet available on computers and cellphones, it is easier to get distracted from what one should be focusing on.  This is especially true when you don't want to be doing what you're supposed to be doing. 

My second thought is that part of it is the changes in corporate culture.  In my grandfather's day a person would join a company and had a pretty good chance of remaining with that company until the day that they retired.  The company, in return, took care of the employees.  They were people, not numbers, and the company didn't view the employees as being quite as expendable as they do currently.  But in the modern day the American worker is very aware of the fact that they do not matter.  Experience and skills are secondary in importance to being cheap labour.  Companies look at older and more experienced employees as liabilities rather than the resources that they truly are.  But even less experienced employees are seen as chaff, easily thrown aside to make the company's balance sheet look better in the short term.

When an employee knows that their company will throw them to the wolves without a second thought, that the company has no loyalty to their workers, then the employee rightly asks why they should have any form of loyalty to the company.  And in that begins the downward slide, with pride in doing a good job being one of the first things to go out the window.

It isn't just the big things, either.  When a company stops showing any appreciation for their employees, then the employees stop showing any appreciation for the company.   I understand that budgets are tight, but does it really cost all that much to have an ice cream social once a year?  Does it really cost that much to say "thank you" or "you are appreciated" in small ways?  I would bet that it costs less than having high employee turnover.

So I find myself wondering if Big Business in America didn't bring this lowering of standards on itself in some ways.  But then, in the back of my mind, that Little Voice speaks up.  I'm sure that you know the one that I'm talking about.  It is the Little Voice that tells us to step up and take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, even when we want to let our lower lip tremble and our eyes fill as we point over "there" and try to place the blame elsewhere.  In my mind, the Little Voice tells me that two wrongs never make a right, and that the only people the American workers are cheating by slacking are themselves.

I can't be responsible for how an employer treats me past a certain point.  I can only be responsible for myself.  I can make the choice to work to my full potential.  I can make the choice to keep my eyes open for new learning opportunities.  I can always make the choice to do the best job that I am capable of doing, whether I get any form of appreciation for it from my employer or not.  When I make those choices, I do not make them because it is expected of me, or because (as one boss of mine actually said) my paycheck is all the appreciation that my employer needs to bother showing.  I make those choices because at the end of the day, I have to be able to live with myself, and I do not want to live with a self that has lowered standards.  I expect a lot of myself, and every American worker should expect a lot from themselves too. 


Because, we're capable of better, and it is about time that we rediscovered the spirit that used to be commonplace in our country.  It is time that we rediscovered our pride.  I'm not talking about the false, flag-waving pride that politicians and media shove down our throats on a regular basis.  I'm talking about true pride, the kind that comes from knowing that NO ONE can do it better.

So, America, what have you done today to restore your pride?

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