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Old Time Work Ethic

by Ouida on June 17, 2010


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Recently I was sitting with two friends at dinner.  Both women are over age 60 and both found jobs in this economy.  The jobs are high-paying. One of my friends said that she thought the reason she had been able to find a job was her work ethic.  “We may be 60,” she chuckled, “but at least folks know we will show up.

At the time of the Great Depression, the number of self employed individuals was significantly higher than it is today. Since 1948 the percentage of self-employed individuals has declined steadily. Since the 1970’s the self-employment rate has ranged between 6 and 8 percent of total employment.  Has the work ethic in America changed as the rate of self-employment has fallen?

I thought about what she said and filed it.  Back in the roaring 1990’s the labor market was so tight that all kinds of bad employee behavior was tolerated. Monday/Friday absenteeism was high and folks figured they could just get other jobs if they got fired.

I recently Tweeted an article that appeared on CNN Money about the success of Amish businesses.  Their long term survival rate  is over 90%.  By comparison, the 5-year business success rate is 65% for the general population.  They attribute their success to humility and extremely hard work.

The other day we got a call from a colleague.  Her car had broken down and she was calling to cancel her clinic scheduled for the next day.  She was told to rent a car if she had to but she needed to be present as scheduled.  She showed up.  A couple of years ago, I got a call from another colleague.  She was about to leave on vacation in a few days and noticed a spasm in her back.  She wanted to see a massage therapist to work the spasm out.   Trouble was, the only appointment she could get prior to the start of her vacation was right in the middle of one of her clinics.  She called and, explaining to me that she did not want to head off to her vacation with a spasm in her back, asked if I would excuse her from her scheduled clinic.  My answer was, as Madea would say, “hell to the no.”

Many years ago, I wasn’t much better.  I was chronically 10-15 minutes late for work.  My dogs were sick, my car was sick, I had a hot date the night before.  Silly, silly stuff.  My mama told me that as long as I needed the income, I had better prioritize the job.  My mother raised 2 kids alone and rarely missed a day of work. The truth is that as long as someone needs their income, they had better prioritize their job or business.

Is this behavior a function of age?  Meaning the younger you are the more likely you are to see the need to earn an income in conflict with other activities like getting the car fixed.  I don’t know. I do believe, however, that something has happened.  In the name of family values people shirk work.  Even in households where a parent is home full time, I have watched adult health care professionals walk off the job to take care of something at home.  “Family first” being the last words they utter as they walk out the door. How about “without an income, there is no family, so I’ll just stay on the job.”  It is a foregone conclusion that work comes second.

We might just find ourselves in a position in which we lose our competitive edge to nations in which their citizens are happy for work and for whom the job or the business comes first.

Please comment.  What are you seeing at work?

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