How did you acquire your work ethic?

A recent post by szemcumo triggered a question for me. But first a preface.

As I look back on my job history, I never received any formal training regarding how to present myself to an employer. My first jobs paid by third parties involved lawn mowing and yard work, then a grocery store, a grain elevator running s shovel, construction, etc, etc.

All along the way, I never experienced the issues that we see everyday from applicants. Some are aimless, some under or uneducated, etc. etc.

No classes at the university, none in high school ever taught me any of the skills - manners - techniques that we use and expect our candidates to use.

I learned most of mine from my father, but it was all intertwined with being raised - nothing to specific about getting work and doing it right. It was part of the fabric of my environment.

Where did you get yours?


  • 22 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Great question Marc! I started work (after school) at 15 with my Mom. She owned a clothing company in New York. My sisters (3) and my brothers (3) all were employed by Mom at one time or another. I worked part-time and learned anything she thought I was capable of doing. I was expected to be at work promptly and to be prepared to work when I got there. One of my Mom's favorite (then annoying) little ditties was "It's called "work" not "fun" so get to it". She taught us that we were to show up for work in our "best clothes" not our "hanging out" clothes. To this day when I see potential applicants walk in the door dressed like slobs I want to send them home! She also said that I should be willing to learn whatever someone was willing to teach me. My poor brother took a little longer than the rest of us to "get with the program" so he was fired on more than one occassion, Mom was an "equal opportunity tormenter!". Yep, I got solid work ethic's from my Mother and I surely wish she would come work for us now, though I am not sure many of the ee would still be standing after a week with Mom!
    p.s. no, no, no, I did not have to walk in hip deep snow to get to work everyday, we took the 'f' train8-|
  • I got mine mostly from Catholic school. They put the fear of God in me as well as the ol' guilt complex. My parents did a good job in raising me too as they came from very ethnic families who valued the freedoms and opportunities that coming to the United States gave them. My parents and grandparents were all good role models for me when I was growing up.
  • My mom did not finish high school, was raised in the segregated rural south, and worked mostly in a tobacco factory. She raised nine children, most of whom went to college, several receiving advanced degrees; and all lived productive and high energy lives.

    She was a role model in the finest sense of the word, and taught each of us that no job is too large or too small to do and to do well. She also gave us unconditional love and when her marriage to dad ended -- she made sure we knew that it had nothing to do with us kids -- and did not signal the end of our world. She always reached her goals by using hard work and a gentle spirit. Integrity was her middle name and she passed it on to each of us.

    To be in her presence was a good fortune, and to be her child -- a gift.

  • I would have to say my dad was a great role model as he was an Iron Worker and I remember seeing him come home on very hot nights exhausted and looking tattered, but miss a day of work...not unless the weather, usually too cold or rainy dictated a day off. My dad was such a hard worker that I grew up thinking that that was the way WORK was supposed to be. You showed up everyday and gave it your all. THANKS DAD!!
  • My parents both came from very rural, very poor Appalachian backgrounds - both worked hard to earn advanced degrees and continued their schooling as I was growing up. As a child of students, I learned to be frugal and creative, and to value the things that were available and use them to their best advantage. I learned that nothing worth having comes without sacrifice and that if I want or need something, I'd better be ready to earn it, make it myself, or learn to live without it. Dad had some military education through West Point as well, so deportment, cleanliness, self responsibility and organization skills were important. I thank my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents for teaching me to never give up and to always do my best.
  • Definitely my parents and grandfather. My parents only graduated from high school. My dad is a carpenter and my mom worked in a factory. My grandfather was CEO of a corporation and has a college degree in engineering. My mom struggled to get through high school and my dad went to vocational high school. They all instilled in me that I could do anything if I worked hard. My first job was at age 14. I started off working in the same factory where my mom worked. I was always told that the first impression is very important as well as the quality of the work. My parents raised me to be respectful and taught me manners.

    I am amazed at the applicants who walk through my door. They don't seem to understand the simplest of tasks. I have women in their forties dressing like they're teenagers. It's disturbing (especially when the clothes are to tight or showy). We also get the under or uneducated applicants. Some of the men aren't any better. They show up in jeans and xxxl shirts. It's just sloppy.
  • At age 14 from my first job. From my mother, my first and tuffest boss I ever had. I quickly learned not to challenge management with "That's not fair!", "That's not my job.", or "Why do I have to do everything?" I learned the concept of accuracy from "If you don't have time to do it right, you'll never have time to do it over." The concept of time management - "If you have time to lean, you have time to clean." Organizational skills: "There's a place for everything and everything should be in it's place."

    I believe EAP's evolved from people with OCD's like mine. I don't think it can be undone.
  • I learned organizational skills and perfect attendance from my mother. "Everything has it's place." There was no hanging your coat on the banister or leaving your shoes on the stairs. No dirty dishes in the sink. She takes it a little bit too far though. Her waste basket in the bathroom NEVER has anything in it. If you throw a tissue in there, guaranteed it will be gone when you return. She would not miss work unless she had pnuemonia. I believe attendance is important, however, I also believe in a "mental health" day every now and then to keep things in check. I always come back in with a GREAT attitude.
  • I'm still looking for mine...

    But I guess it comes from my military and catholic school upbringing.

    Dasher, that is a beautiful sentiment about your mother. I hope she is still around and that "someone" shows her what you wrote.
  • I think it's part of a person's character, and partly acquired by how you are brought up. I would attribute Catholic schools - focusing on personal accountability and responsibility; native intelligence; how much you read; it is so many things that it's hard to analyze.
  • I wish I could pin the medal on a parent or mentor for instilling in me good manners and good work ethics. I am the only member of my family, either side, that graduated from high school. When I went on to college, I was told by my father that I was on my own. I knew that God would get me through and He did with the bonus of a supportive husband.

    Whining and excuses sure didn't work for me but I fear for young people today who see elected officials and public icons prospering from them.

  • It all started with my grandfather, who taught me at a very early age small things like holding doors open for women, pulling chairs out, proper way to shake hands, etc, etc.

    The next stage was catholic school with a military curriculum. From the St. Benedict sisters I learned many things, mostly about selfless service. From the school Commandant, a retired Marine Corps Sergeant Major I learned discipline, perserverance and more discipline :)

    Next came active duty military service in the Army, which essentially reinforced everything I had learned to date. It honed my leadership skills and taught me about courage under fire/pressure. They also provided me with the means to earn a college education. Working nights at UPS building walls of packages inside semi's while finishing college gave me the motivation to further my education.

    Along the way there have been several people who have mentored me. I have also been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience good leadership as well as pi** poor leaders. To me, this has been crucial. You can learn a lot from good role models, but you can also learn a tremendous amount from bad ones.

  • Dad, Mom, living on a farm: eat what you kill (or raise); responsible for yourself and your animals and land and equipment, without which you have no product to sell and no money to buy that which you cannot or do not produce; if it's planting time but the ground is too wet, find another important job that must be done- no point in whinng about inability to do what should, but can't be done; If the weather is good and it is time to harvest, better work all night and all day 'cause tomorrow it may rain; no amount of repair ability replaces thinking ahead and preventive maintenance; and Grandpa: 'just cause ya fit, planted, hoed, and harvested on Sunday and had the best crop ever, don't mean God's gonna pay all his debts in October.'
  • From my father, definitely. His father died when he and his twin brother were infants in rural West Texas. Their mom was somewhat disabled, so their 12-year old brother worked three jobs to support the family. Then came the Depression. When my dad and his twin finished 8th grade, they ended their formal education and began their “careers’ with any jobs they could get, including chopping cotton. Neither had any further schooling, but both served in the South Pacific in WW II and then both went on to become successful business men. As I’ve said elsewhere, my dad has Alzheimer’s now. His short term memory is non-existent and the long term memories are becoming very jumbled, so for Christmas I made my Dad a scrapbook chronicling his business career from 1946 to 1995. I found a treasure trove of photos, awards, certificates, newspaper clippings, and trade publication articles about him when I cleaned out his home office last year when he and my mom moved to assisted living. He was so touched and pleased, and I learned about many aspects of his work life that I was too young to understand when the events were actually happening.

    But I’m digressing from the subject of work ethic. I can sum it up as follows: Once one of my dad’s employees asked him if he had an employee incentive program. He replied, “Yep, and here it is: If you do your job right, you get to keep it.” He was gruff and extremely sarcastic (the source of my smart ass gene), but one of the items in that scrapbook was a two-page letter from his staff nominating him for “Boss of the Year” in the early ‘50’s. That pretty much says it all.

  • My mom was my role model. She and my father both worked as long as I can remember. I was the only girl and the oldest of four children, so I had most of the responsibility for "overseeing" my brothers while my mom worked. I learned early on, if you wanted to have nice things, you had to work for them.

    You did not sit around my house after school or in the summertime watching MTV or going to the mall with your friends. You either worked at home or you found a job outside the home when you were old enough. If you could not find anything to do, then something WOULD be found for you to do.

    My mom just retired this past summer at 73 and the only reason she did this was to take care of her first grandchild.

    KUDOS to Mom!
  • Much like Shadow, I think that being raised on a farm helped a lot, although I think you can learn many of the same concepts in other ways. As kids, we could never figure out how our dad always found work to do. It didn't matter if it was sunny, rainy, warm, cold, Tuesday, or Sunday, there was always work to do. And, always, seven days a week, there were chores to do twice a day. Milking, feeding, cleaning, etc. it never ended.

    My dad, too, had a saying for everything, and I have written a number of them down so I can pass them on to my kids. Many of them were 'blue', but they were part of my dad. "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right the first time", was one of his favorites.

    My first job off the farm was in a combination grocery store and feed mill. I stocked shelves, cut meat, bagged groceries, and always had to be ready to empty a rail car of feed or deliver a load of 100# sacks of feed to a farmer.

    Must have been good training from good parents, neither of whom had more than a grade school education. (My dad liked to say he 'went through high school', because he walked through the school once.) Two of the four of us got college degrees, and I'd say that all four of us are successful, raising families and holding down responsible jobs.
  • Definitely from my parents, whose backgrounds were similar to many of those above. Good work ethics were just expected, and we knew to do what was expected of us. We also knew the consequences of not doing it. Now if we could just get this concept through to some of our employees!
  • This has been a great read for me. Seeing all the similarities and hearing some great stories about the people that were influential in our lives.

    Putting that aside, the point though was just made by lhill, how to get the concept through to some of our EEs. And more to the point, if it hasn't sunk in by now, is it too late?

    A secondary question, if some folks aren't getting this from parents or mentors, where should they get it? Life comes with many hard knocks, but a strong work ethic and the character that usually underlies it, will guide us through many of these knocks - wouldn't peoples lives be better off if there was some way to instill these work ethic type values at earlier ages? Or am I just dreaming?
  • Dasher, what a beautiful line you wrote about your mother. I hope my son will feel the same way about me some day when he looks back at his time with me.
    My parents were the biggest influence - my dad was a career soldier and would work as many as three part time jobs so my mom could stay at home to care for and raise us. My mom worked so hard to teach us manners and respect for authority. My parents were born in the early 30's, so a lot of their training was what many would probably now consider old fashioned, but here I am, thanks to them.
    I just realized how much I miss my mom - she passed in 1996. I think I'll go call my dad...!
  • I enjoyed reading all the responses to this question.

    I, too, got my work ethic from my mother. Being a single mother with only a high school education she worked 2 jobs most of the time I was growing up. She could have accepted welfare, but always had the attitude that she would do all she could to take care of her own responsibilities. We may have lacked material goods, but we took care of our own and grew up as productive, responsible adults.

    Today, at age 61, mom still works in a tire plant doing manual labor and gets frustrated when today's young people come in to work and can't (or won't) put in the hours, or do the work.

    I wish half of our applicants had her attitude.
  • marc, et al,

    I was having one of those really difficult days and decided to reread this post. Can you imagine how uplifting it is to read some of your comments. It truly revived me!

    BTW, my mother passed in September 1994 -- I miss her a lot, but she knew how much each of her children loved her, and often said that she received her flowers while she was alive. The song that her church choir sang for her was "May the Life I Live, Speak for Me". It was so fitting.
  • Got mine from Godly, Christian parents who instilled a sense of personal responsibility and self-respect. Further enforced by own decision to "walk the aisle" as a child of 7. Large lessons resulted from growing up on a dairy farm in Kentucky that included a 2 acre garden, a 12 acre tobacco field, corn, hay, and twice a day every day milking of 150 head of holsteins. All this accomplished by my parents, myself, brother, sister, grandfather, and unwitting cousins who thought it would be fun to spend the summer on the farm! Taught us how to work together, resolve conflicts, and compromise. Wouldn't trade any of it, am tremendously close to my family, and have zero tolerance for people who won't work, are disrespectful, and expect handouts.
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