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What Is Work Ethic? Skills and Tips

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When you think about your performance at work, you might think about it as good or bad, strong or weak. This is a simple way to consider it, but how well you perform (or don’t) indicates your work ethic.

When you have a good work ethic, people know they can count on you. And when you don’t have a good work ethic, well…you may get the opposite reaction. Fortunately, you can build and improve your work ethic starting in school and long after you’ve embarked on your career. Here’s what you need to know about work ethic.

What Does Work Ethic Mean?

Your work ethic is the relationship you have with your job. While most people show up to work and perform their assigned tasks, not everyone feels the same about the effort they put into their job. Some make a minimal effort, while others give it their all. How you feel about your work and how well (or poorly) you perform is an expression of your work ethic.

What Is Work Ethic?

Most people think of having a good or bad work ethic, but you can also categorize work ethic as strong or weak. When you have a strong work ethic, you’re driven to try your best in all areas of your work because you’re passionate about it and believe in what you’re doing. People with a weak work ethic may not try as hard or do as good of a job because they no longer connect with the work.

Companies prefer staff with a strong work ethic because they know that people with a good work ethic won’t just get the job done; they’re committed to doing their best work. Chris Drew of Helpful Professor tells his students that developing and possessing a good work ethic will help them in their job search and beyond.

“Employers don’t necessarily want the smartest employee or the one who went to the best college,” he says. “They want employees who can demonstrate that they come to work every day feeling motivated, trying to do their personal best, and being willing to learn. In other words, employers often value work ethic even above high grades.”

What Is a Good Work Ethic?

Like many soft skills, the “work ethic” definition is somewhat vague. Saying you always try your hardest doesn’t really capture what a good work ethic is. Fortunately, several behaviors indicate you possess a strong work ethic.

Reliable

One way to demonstrate a good work ethic is to be reliable. People can count on you to come through, whether that’s helping with a last-second request or being at your desk at 8:00 a.m. on the dot. When you’re reliable, people know you’ll be there when they need it.

But being reliable also means you tell people when they can’t count on you. You know when you’ve got too much on your plate and can’t pitch in. Or if you know you’re going to be late, you communicate that information as soon as you can.

Productive

People with a good work ethic are also productive. Instead of showing up and socializing with people, you’re also putting in the time to get work done. What’s more, you aren’t merely checking off the boxes. The work you produce is top-notch because you care about it. You invest the time and effort into making sure your work is the best it can be.

Responsible

Being responsible is another sign of someone with a strong work ethic. And when it comes to work ethic, “responsible” doesn’t necessarily mean “in charge of.” While being responsible at work can include being a leader, in this case, being responsible means you take ownership of your work.

For example, if you can’t meet a deadline, you let everyone know and explain why you need an extension. And if, for some reason, you make a mistake (it happens!), you own up to that mistake and apologize without blaming others.

Team Player

Those with a good work ethic are also good team players. Team players collaborate, cooperate, and communicate with others. And while you take credit for your share of the work, you understand that whether you’re an individual contributor or a leader, you’re part of a larger whole, and everyone contributes to the success of your team and the company.

Determined

Finally, someone with a good work ethic is determined. You are persistent and don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. Your dedication to the job means you’re willing to stick with it to accomplish your assigned tasks and goals. And it means when you run into obstacles or are unsure, you’re willing to ask for and accept help to ensure you’re on the right track.

What Is a Bad Work Ethic?

While being late and not doing your job are clear signs of a poor or weak work ethic, there are other, less obvious behaviors that can indicate you need to improve your work ethic.

Procrastination

When you procrastinate, you’re putting something off until the last minute. While some people perform their best when they’re under pressure, procrastination is often a sign that you don’t care about the job or the quality of your work.

Inefficient

Procrastination often leads to inefficiency (the opposite of productivity). While you may complete your tasks, it also takes twice as long as everyone else. Your reports may be late, or your part of the project isn’t done on time, slowing the overall productivity of the team.

Passive

Being passive means you’ve stopped caring about what happens at work. You’re not concerned about how well you perform your tasks or if they even get done. And you may not care about what happens to the rest of your team or the company.

Unreliable

Whether it’s leaving early and coming in late every day or not following through when you said you would, being unreliable is another sign of a poor work ethic. When people know they can’t count on you, they won’t, which could hurt your career progress.

Lack of Communication

One underrated sign of a weak work ethic is a lack of communication. When you don’t let the team or your boss know what kind of progress you’re making on your tasks, or you don’t ask for help when you need it, you’re telling everyone that you don’t care enough about the job. Even a lack of simple communication, like that you’re running late that day, tells people you have a poor work ethic.

How to Improve Your Work Ethic

If you’re concerned you don’t have a strong work ethic or want to improve yours, you can work on it before entering the job market.

Drew says there are four ways students demonstrate their good work ethic to him, making your school years an excellent time to develop and hone yours.

    1. Students that email their teachers with questions about their assignments show that they care about their grades.
    2. Submitting your work on time (and edited) demonstrates you take pride in your work.
    3. Being on time for class shows that you take learning seriously.
    4. Volunteering or starting a side hustle demonstrates your initiative.

Doing these four things gives you time to practice your work ethic and identify what you can improve on before you land a job.

If you’re in the middle of a job search, participating in an internship, or are already in the workplace, you can continue to improve your work ethic.

    1. Be on time for everything! That includes the interview, every meeting, and each day at work.
    2. Do your best and turn in top-notch work.
    3. Be productive. Stay on top of and ahead of your tasks.
    4. Keep learning. Always be willing to learn more about your job and your industry. The more you learn, the better you’ll be at your job.

Start Strong

Building a strong work ethic starts long before you begin working. It starts while you’re in school, and the good habits you build now will carry over into your first job and throughout your career.

One great way to demonstrate your work ethic is with a Forage virtual work experience program. Spend some time learning about different career paths, then complete a project to demonstrate your commitment to the role.

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