Managers are key to work ethic

The work ethic in America is alive and well but remains virtually untapped. This is the conclusion drawn from a national study recently released by the Public Agenda Foundation.

The key to unlock this desire for individual productivity appears to rest in the hands of managers, the study, written by Daniel Yankelovitch and John Immerwahr, reveals.

The study found strong evidence to support its conclusion that management skills and training have not kept pace with changes affecting the workplace. Incentives and managerial practices were found to be lagging employees' changing attitudes, values, and needs. In fact, 75% of jobholders said, "managers in general do not know how to motivate" them.

We are in the midst of a new industrial revolution, yet much of our thinking about the economy is based on an obsolete view of the workplace. The move toward white-collar jobs had greatly altered the nature of work in America.

High discretion" jobs
One of the most significant findings was that the majority of today's workers hold "high discretion" jobs. This means that employees have more choice over how much work they will do and how well they do it.

Here are some startling statistics: Although 44% of the workers say they do not put much effort in their work above and beyond the minimum required, 72% feel an inner need to do the best job possible, regardless of pay.

What is causing this gap? And what can be done to tap this strong work ethic?

Here are some findings that have direct implications for you as a manager.

The study suggests that a significant number of jobholders now see self-development as their primary motive for working. They say that they want to use and develop their skills and potentials and that they want managers to be responsive to their ideas for improvement.

Further, employees stated that managers were not setting and enforcing high quality standards. Although people want to work hard and do a good job, they said the workplace does not reward people who put in extra effort.

Among the rewards desired, two were particularly significant. People in the work force are deeply concerned about the lack of connection between their effort and their pay. Forty-five percent said they would work harder for "pay tied to performance."

In the larger sense, jobholders also see little connection between their pay and the overall productivity of their companies.

Undermines work ethic
A second motivator is recognition for a job well done. Fifty-eight percent said they could increase their efforts if they received more recognition.

Under these conditions, people who live up to their work ethic norms begin "to feel like fools." Thus, the reward system undermines the work ethic.

People also feel a need to see the end result of their work. They want to see how their work makes a difference in accomplishing objectives.

Managers can do this by providing "big picture" information when tasks and projects are delegated. Sharing operating plans and goals can also do it.

Jobholders also want to have some say in important decisions that affect them. To gain employee commitment, a team-oriented management style appears to get best results. Two-way communication and group problem solving signal to employees that they are valuable members of the team.

Employees also want jobs that offer a good chance for advancement. Career development discussions between boss and subordinate have taken on new importance. Jobholders want specific, honest feedback from their managers on their strengths and weaknesses. They want opportunities on their current jobs to develop these weaknesses and to utilize their strengths.

The degree to which these demands are met will have a great deal to do with whether the work ethic is harnessed and channeled into more productive work.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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