Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader's Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforceby Eric Chester
For frustrated managers and leaders, a guide to instilling a strong work ethic in the modern workforce
Work ethic in America is fast declining, plaguing young and old alike. But in Reviving Work Ethic, Eric Chester shows that you do best to focus on your young employees--those whose habits and ideals can still be influenced. He presents an incisive look at the
For frustrated managers and leaders, a guide to instilling a strong work ethic in the modern workforce
Work ethic in America is fast declining, plaguing young and old alike. But in Reviving Work Ethic, Eric Chester shows that you do best to focus on your young employees--those whose habits and ideals can still be influenced. He presents an incisive look at the root of the entitlement mentality that afflicts many in the emerging workforce and shows readers the specific actions they can take to give their employees a deep commitment to performing excellent work.
And his advice is crucial to a healthy bottom line: too often, talented-but-difficult-to-understand younger workers stand between your company and its profits. If business owners, managers, and executives are not connecting with them and modeling the key components of work ethic, employees are likely not connecting effectively with customers--leaving all kinds of money on the table.
Reviving Work Ethic is the culmination of years of research as well as presentations to over two million youth. Chester's experience shows in his confident analysis of the seven components of work ethic and in his proven strategies for handing them down to young employees.
“Too many young people are under the impression that work is a four-letter word; something to be avoided. Chester shows leaders how to get inside their heads—and their hearts—and get them to take pride in their work and perform at their best.”
“Eric has distilled his vast experience into a timely and concise book that will be very valuable to anyone who wants to improve the performance of young people in today’s workforce. This is a must-read for managers, teachers, and parents.”
“Nothing beats hard work, and never will. The problem is that it is in short supply. In this wonderful book Eric Chester lays out the path to getting back to basics and unleashing winning behaviors in your workforce. Read it, study it and then DO IT! It will make you a better leader.”
“Chester certainly has a handle on driving performance through the emerging workforce. And with the diminishing work ethic being such a pressing concern for leaders, the timeliness of this book couldn't be better.”
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Read an Excerpt
REVIVING WORK ETHICA Leader's Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce
By ERIC CHESTER
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2012 Eric Chester
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRewinding the Game of Life
Abraham Lincoln's decision to grow a beard back in 1860 delivered an unintended but life-changing blow to a young entrepreneur in Springfield, Massachusetts.
A portrait of the presidential candidate started out as a hot seller for the self-taught lithographer and printer. But then an eleven-year-old girl wrote Lincoln a letter suggesting that his face looked too thin and that a beard might help his chances at the ballot box. As a result, Lincoln avoided the barber for a few weeks, sprouted a full face of whiskers, and created the iconic image that we now see when envisioning the sixteenth president of the United States.
Undaunted by the sudden decline in demand for images of a beardless Lincoln, the young entrepreneur drew upon his hardscrabble roots and moved forward. With winter approaching, Milton Bradley put his imagination to the grindstone and came up with something new.
He called it The Checkered Game of Life.
Bradley's game, set up on a board that mirrored a standard checkerboard, took players from a starting square labeled "Infancy" to a square in the farthest corner labeled "Happy Old Age." Since dice still carried the stigma of gambling, the players advanced or regressed based on the spin of a teetotum—a top with numbers. Players collected points and moved forward when they hit squares for virtues such as bravery, honesty, and perseverance, but they also were rewarded for landing in the "fat office," going to college, getting elected to Congress, and accumulating wealth. Setbacks resulted from landing in poverty or prison, or from negative virtues such as idleness, intemperance, or gambling.
Due in part to the Industrial Revolution and the American frontier spirit, virtues had come to be regarded not just as ends in themselves, but as means to advancement. Bradley made the connection between hard work, character, and business success. Players who landed on "Idleness," for example, had to move backward, while landing on "Honor" helped you move forward. Unlike the European caste system that rewarded fortunate bloodlines, The Checkered Game of Life taught and reinforced the idea that hard work and virtuous living provided anyone an opportunity for advancement and wealth.
Bradley, the son of a craftsman and the product of an industrial mill town in Maine, believed in and lived out these work ethic values, and he wanted to share them with the youth of America. He personally sold several hundred copies of The Checkered Game of Life within a few days of creating it and more than 45,000 within the first year, launching his career, as well as the entire board game industry. The Milton Bradley Company became synonymous with board games, and its founder became a member of the National Toy Hall of Fame.
It's a New Game
One hundred years after Bradley debuted The Checkered Game of Life, America had survived the Civil War, tamed the West, proven herself in two World Wars, and lived through the Great Depression. Eighteen presidents had followed Lincoln to the Oval Office. Rock 'n' roll had burst onto the scene, and the country found itself heading into the uncharted waters of the turbulent 1960s, with Vietnam and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King just around the corner.
The Checkered Game of Life, meanwhile, underwent a rebirth that mirrored the culture around it. To mark the hundredth anniversary of Bradley's original version, the Milton Bradley Company commissioned Reuben Klamer to create The Game of Life. Klamer's adaptation, released in 1960, replaced "Happy Old Age" with a new objective: "Millionaire Acres." The checkerboard became a winding road, and the game piece became a car with pegs that represented the player and his family members.
Each decade that followed brought new updates that continued to shift the focus away from virtues and toward materialistic rewards; players got ahead not by avoiding crime and laziness, but by being lucky. By the 1970s and 1980s, the game had added "share the wealth" cards that allowed players to collect part of another player's payday or required an opponent to pay part of his taxes. And if a player married or had a child in the game, mandatory gifts were in order. "Lucky Day" spaces provided an instant lottery-like windfall with an option to multiply it (or lose it all) based on a spin of a wheel (sounds a lot like gambling, doesn't it?). By 2010, the online product description of the game provided this as the objective: "Do whatever it takes to retire in style with the most wealth at the end of the game."
In less than 150 years, the game had shifted away from a focus on the rewards of social virtues, a strong work ethic, and adding substantive value to the community; it now focused on rewards, rewards, rewards. Even when the 1990s versions added incentives for community service activities like recycling or helping the homeless, there remained no mention of work or the ethos that underpins success. Careers were merely assigned a salary, and with that, a player could reap even greater advantages from gambling and the misfortunes of others—almost a 180-degree shift from Bradley's original version.
The game went from providing essential lessons on virtuous work ethic to being a model for achieving something for nothing. And in many ways, the transition of The Checkered Game of Life of the 1860s to the modern Game of Life pretty much mirrors the real-life changes of the last century.
The Current State of Work Ethic
Somewhere along the way, Western culture has lost sight of the virtues that comprise work ethic—the very things that helped build our country. The pursuit of happiness and the American Dream drove progress and innovation, but they came with unintended side effects. In many cases, for instance, healthy ambition has morphed into avarice. Urbanization and an emphasis on large-scale businesses means fewer and fewer kids are learning about work in the natural course of family life. Technological advances that make life faster, more fun, more entertaining, and easier to navigate are also consuming our time and energy while eliminating avenues for learning vital concepts about work. And pop psychologists have pushed parents to focus on building self-esteem in their children, creating at least two generations of me-centric workers. The goal, as rockers Dire Straits famously and bluntly sang in the mid-1980s, has become to "get your money for nothing and your chicks for free."
America's emerging workforce—those in the sixteen-to-twenty-four age bracket—finds itself uniquely positioned to turn this tide, both because of its size (fifty million by some estimations) and because the young are the most moldable. A transformation back to traditional work ethic—or at the very least an introduction to a traditional work ethic—within this age group will last for decades and influence the workforce and communities in positive ways for generations.
These workers bring some amazing skill sets and personality traits into the labor pool. In February 2010, the Pew Research Center released an extensive report titled "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next" that describes this generation (ages eighteen to twenty-nine) as "confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open to change." It is history's first "always connected" generation, the report says, and it's on track to becoming the "most educated generation in American history."
But this generation doesn't identify with work ethic. The Pew research found that 61 percent of Millennials say their generation has a "unique and distinctive identity." That's about the same percentage you'll find for other generations, but what's different are the things Gen Y sees as its distinctive qualities.
In an open-ended follow-up question—"What makes your generation unique?"—work ethic was mentioned as a distinctive characteristic by at least 10 percent in the three older generations—Gen X (ages thirty to forty-five), Baby Boomers (ages forty-six to sixty-four), and the Silent Generation (ages sixty-five and up). That put it among the top five responses for those generations, and it was number one for Baby Boomers. It didn't make the list for Millennials. Millennials said that what made them unique was technology use, music/pop culture, liberal/ tolerant beliefs, greater intelligence, and clothes.
All too often, these bright and ambitious recruits see work as something to avoid or as a necessary evil to endure prior to winning the lottery, landing a spot on a reality television show, or getting a cushy, high-paying job with a corner office and an expense account.
This presents a variety of challenges for those who desire to help young Americans get back to work. For starters, Millennials don't always want to work. And when they do, their terms don't always line up with those of their employers. All too often, the young worker shows up ten minutes late wearing flip-flops, pajama bottoms, and a T-shirt that says "My inner child is a nasty bastard." Then she fidgets through her shift until things slow down enough that she can text her friends or update her Facebook page from her smartphone.
The Root of the Entitlement Mentality
Baby Boomers are celebrated for being hard workers. Many brag about the long hours they put in and how they work around the clock. To justify these workaholic tendencies, the common rationale is "I want to provide the best life possible for my children and give them what I never had." In Boomer speak, that translates to much more than providing a nice home, good health care, square meals, and a quality education; it means giving their kids the latest and greatest of everything under the sun. Showering their kids with material stuff not only makes parents feel like their children are keeping pace with the Joneses, but also helps absolve them of the guilt of not giving the children the personal face time they need—something that was lost during the long hours the parents spent working.
Numerous CEOs of major corporations have pulled me aside after a speech and made a confession: "My kids are far lazier than I was at their age." (It's as if they want some advice on how to get them motivated to work.)
After speaking at an executive leadership conference attended by the top CEOs in the franchise community, Aslam Khan approached me with his cell phone in hand. He had dialed home to speak with his twelve-year-old son, Abraham, and wanted me to talk to him. Aslam came to America from Pakistan at age thirty, completely broke and not able to speak any English. In twenty-three years, he had worked his way from a dishwasher at Church's Chicken to the franchise's largest owner, with 153 locations and more than $100 million in annual sales. Aslam was obviously concerned that his son's work ethic wasn't as strong as his own, and he thought by spending a few minutes on the phone with Abraham, I could turn the lights on for him.
I didn't need to talk to Abraham to know why Aslam felt frustrated. Through his tireless work, he had created the kind of childhood for his son that he, himself, never had. Abraham is a bright, well-adjusted boy who does well in school, but Aslam didn't understand why his son did not inherit his work ethic. But with the privileged life Abraham is living, how could he?
This is a common tale with entrepreneurs and business executives who tell me how hard they had it when they grew up, and, in contrast, how many times their kids have been to Disneyland or gone on exotic cruises, how many pairs of $100 sneakers they have, etc. "They don't know how hard I've worked for all that stuff," the concerned parent tells me.
Of course they don't. The kid is just used to all those things being handed to him. In other words, he feels entitled to what his parents have provided for him. This is by no means a tale limited to wealthy business owners and executives; it's also commonplace when talking to engineers, small business owners, teachers, plumbers, and just about everyone else who grew up having to either earn what they wanted or do without.
Fame and Fortune As an Expectation
It's no coincidence that reality television and the emerging workforce came of age at the same time. With each feeding off the other, they give credibility to Andy Warhol's famous prediction that "everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes."
The teen dream of becoming a star—a rock star, a movie star, a football star, an Internet star, a reality-television star—is now more of an entitlement than an aspiration. The question for many people today isn't so much whether they'll get their fifteen minutes of fame as when they'll get it and what they'll do with it.
In the past, prominence came mainly through high achievement. To attain fame, you had to become the best of the best—the best actor, the best baseball player, the best scientist, the best writer, the best artist, the best politician, the best businessperson, or even the best outlaw.
Now, with hundreds of television and Internet channels begging for content, anyone can become famous for doing something incredibly bizarre, dangerous, weird, or self-deprecating. The bar to fame rests very low, and respect and admiration seldom enter the conversation.
Our culture cultivates this entitlement mentality early on by steering children toward the talents that the world values—signing, dancing, acting, athletics. We have good intentions, of course. If we have a prodigy on our hands, we want to find out early and nurture her so she can realize her full potential. What if little Nicky really is the next Peyton Manning, or if little Brooke is the next Miley Cyrus?
But parents, coaches, teachers, and other leaders of young people get caught up in the fame and lose our balance when we don't also teach them the skills and the follow-through that come with less glamorous labor—mowing lawns, waiting tables, prepping and painting a wall, washing clothes, keeping a room clean.
Some kids are pushed too hard and too fast; they work endless hours to become stars and end up burning out. But they are the exceptions. Less obvious—but living in just as much danger—are the ones who absorb mountains of praise without any foundation other than a sense of entitlement. Many of the brightest stars flame out all too quickly, not because they worked too hard but because they lacked real work ethic. A few—Manning for instance—shine brightly for years and years precisely because they learned these values early and had them reinforced often while growing up.
OD-ing on Self-Esteem
Many of the negative habits, mindsets, and attitudes embedded in the emerging workforce result from messages that have focused mostly on how great young people are and how they are special enough to warrant success, fame, and wealth without having to sacrifice much to get it.
In fact, two generations and counting have now been raised on an overdose of self-esteem. For years, the cultural elite preached this message ad nauseum—praise and reward, praise and reward, praise and reward—with the overt goal of building self-esteem so that everyone feels valued, everyone wins, and everyone can see themselves as the best of the best. In varying degrees and in differing forms, this message emanates from all five areas that influence an adolescent's view of himself and the world: parents, teachers, peers, media, and spiritual beliefs.
Fostering positive self-esteem seems pretty good on the surface; it's much better than promoting self-loathing, right? But the heart of the self-esteem message is to esteem the self, and eventually that creates a self-focused, entitled mentality. Self-esteem can easily trump self- control and selflessness, and it's very different from healthy self-confidence or self-respect. So while the emerging workforce has been taught the importance of saving the world, these individuals also feel empowered to do so strictly on their own terms. They can quickly change course and move away from the most high-minded agenda if it isn't meeting their personal, self-established needs.
Naturally, this mentality—esteem for self over others—finds its way into the workforce as a lack of respect for anything that doesn't please and satisfy the young employee's selfish desires.
My experiences confirm this. I've worked with and interviewed thousands of managers of hundreds of major brands that rely on teen workers and young professionals. I hear the same story over and over, whether it's about sloppily dressed cashiers at fast food restaurants or new doctors who think (and act as if) patient care ends at 5:00 p.m. on Friday.
The immediate effects of this mentality include a loss of the employer's productivity, higher turnover rates, and slower economic growth. Long-term, it could cause the business to go under. When he leaves the company, Mr. I.M. Special eventually heads off to his next job—or prolonged unemployment—still woefully unprepared to build a career or succeed in life.
The ideals of work ethic have suffered such blows that Americans are losing sight of its value. In fact, only 26 percent of adults believe it's still possible for just about anyone to work hard and get rich in America, according to a 2010 Rasmussen poll. That same poll found that 58 percent of adults don't think work ethic will pay off, and another 16 percent weren't sure. And the report showed that adults eighteen to twenty-nine were by far the most pessimistic age group on the topic of work ethic. Work ethic, indeed, is often mentioned by young self-described thought leaders as a major obstacle in achieving work-life balance, as if "work ethic" and "workaholism" were synonymous.
Correcting these misguided notions and instilling a traditional work ethic into the emerging workforce can produce a seismic economic and cultural shift in America. We have great and ever-improving technologies. We have an emerging workforce that embraces change, is better educated and more innovation-focused than any previous generation, and wants to change the world for the better.
All of those advantages, however, can become seeds lost among the weeds. To make sure they find fertile soil, take root, grow, and bear fruit, members of the emerging workforce must shed their notions about being entitled to a job, and about reward coming before effort. In the process, they'll experience a feeling that cannot be bought at any price: the pride of accomplishment, a reward in and of itself.
Excerpted from REVIVING WORK ETHIC by ERIC CHESTER Copyright © 2012 by Eric Chester. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Eric Chester is an acclaimed expert in school-to-work transition. He has presented for more than two million youth at 1,500 high schools and colleges and has spoken to hundreds of leading companies and organizations that rely on teens and young adults as their front line workforce. Chester is the author four books, most recently Getting Them to Give a Damn and has coauthored eight others. He's the founder of the Bring Your “A” Game to Work youth training and certification program and is the president of Reviving Work Ethic, Inc., a speaking and consulting firm.
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I am in a supervision and leadership class and i was assigned to read this book during the year. I am happy that the professor assigned it to us. I knew that work ethic was changing especially for the younger crowd, but i was not sure what that meant exactly. Everyone grows up with dfferent influences around them, and the "Millenals" have use of technology, clothes, music culture, and a greater intelligence. But younger people are unique because they are moldable, confident, self expressive, liberal, up- beat, and up to change. I would have read this book even if it was not a required assignment in my class.
Reviving Work Ethic by Eric Chester provides actionable methods organization leaders can employ to instill within their young workers the strong work ethic foundational to America's market success. He begins by categorizing young workers on a cognizance and compliance scale; later revealing what leaders must do to imbue workers within each quadrant with a strong work ethic. Eric clearly defines this target ethic as being comprised of a positive attitude, reliability, professionalism, initiative, respect, integrity, and gratitude. He closes by highlighting the value proposition of a workforce characterize by a strong work ethic. I like Reviving Work Ethic because of the actionable insights provided to imbue workers with a strong work ethic. Unique to this writing is the cognizance and compliance matrix that provides an excellent starting point from which leaders can specifically tailor their actions to individual employees. I further appreciate Eric's deliberate definition and influencing actions associated with each aspect of work ethic. His attention to defining work ethic, employee conversation starters, action tips, and work ethic value proposition tables, contribute to the completeness of this book and make it ideal for new and experience leaders alike. If I had one criticism of Reviving Work Ethic it would be Eric's singular focus on new workers. I believe to varying degrees and for differing reasons workers of all ages and experience levels have a sense of entitlement. Furthermore, I believe workers from all generations can be found in each quadrant of Eric's cognizance-compliance matrix. Thus, while I agree younger workers may be more easily influenced, I feel it is a leader's responsibility to attempt to instill a strong work ethic within all workers and to take appropriate action to hold those accountable who do not demonstrate these desirable characteristics. A strong work ethic is critical to individual and organizational success. Leaders must act to imbue their subordinates with these admirable characteristics. Because of its clarity and immediately actionable methods to instill a strong work ethic within workers, Reviving Work Ethic is a StrategyDriven recommended read. All the Best, Nathan Ives StrategyDriven Principal
Oh, those tech-savvy, self-centered, entitled Millennials! The members of the newest workforce generation challenge managers with their unwillingness to make work their first priority. Eric Chester, an expert on this group – identified by the Pew Research Center as encompassing those born between 1981 and 2000 – goes through the reasons why Millennials in their 20s and 30s lack the strong work ethic of previous age sets. He offers an action plan to instill good work habits, behaviors and attitudes in members of the Millennial cohort, also called Generation Y. However, Chester doesn’t explore the flip side of the work ethic coin: Perhaps members of the emerging workforce are reluctant to make sacrifices for corporations that consider them expendable. He focuses on workplace remedies without analyzing the economic, social or political environment that college graduates face. Given his very practical approach, getAbstract recommends Chester’s guidance to leaders and managers who must understand their newest generation of employees so they can lead them and evoke the best performance from them.