A few years ago – seems like a lifetime ago – I wrote a blog post titled “Work Ethic – A Rant“. I had been working in Las Vegas at a casino for a few months, and was happy in my job. But I had grown tired of some of the malcontents I had to deal with every day. And I’m not talking about the customers.
The attitudes I was seeing were horrendous. People who wanted to work couldn’t because folks with more seniority would complain if they were scheduled more hours. Then the senior folks would come in and ask to leave as soon as possible. I won’t recap the details here. Just cllick the link above and you’ll see my full rant.
Now, going on six years down the line, I don’t see a whole lot of change. Perhaps some of the attitude has mellowed, mainly because people are afraid of losing their jobs and not finding another. But customer service is still a problem, both internally and externally. People not treating paying customers well, and treating co-workers even worse. And it’s in just about every industry.
In some cases, it’s the workers that are the problem. For whatever reason, they’ve become jaded and refuse to improve. In that sense, nothing has changed since 2005.
But in many cases, I have to lay the blame on the emplyer and the culture created there. In the race to maximize profits by minimizing costs, many corporate cultures have tried to fit every job, every task into tightly defined procedural cubby holes. In the process, innovation is being thrown out the window, and morale slips.
Right now I’m reading Seth Godin’s “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?“, and while I agree with pretty much everything I’ve read so far, there is one fact he repeats that just doesn’t ring true. The basic premise of the book is that in today’s market, the only way to really protect yourself from being replaced with someone cheaper/younger/less experienced is to make yourself as irreplaceable as possible. So far, I’m with him. But then he goes onto say that if you make yourself virtually irreplaceable, and your current employer doesn’t recognize that, there are plenty of other employers that want you.
Insert sound of tires skidding on pavement.
This is where the whole thing breaks down for me, because it relies on one thing: Employers recognizing the value of an employee farther down the chain. While your immediate supervisor, and even their supervisor may recognize your work, if the company structure isn’t set up to take advantage of that, or as I’ve seen in some cases, stifles that creativity, you actually may get punished for trying to take those extra steps. At the minimum, you’ll be fighting to get things done through others who have hit that wall enough times that they just aren’t willing to bang their head against it again.
That reality is what can often kill the work ethic of even the best workers. And my experience is that there are far more of the companies that are focused on bottom line rather than creativity. Of course, it’s a “Catch-22″. If they release their workers to innovate, they actually will improve their bottom line with better products and services. But that’s not how the corporate structure is built. I’ve seen this in multi-billion dollars organizations and small Mom & Pop businesses.
I understand it. When the economy is as tough as it is now, companies are doing what they need to do to stay afloat. But that leads to a mentality of trying to to throw stuff overboard rather than right the ship. There’s only so much you can cut before you start hurting quality.
But that’s what’s happening. As to Godin’s belief that there are plenty of companies out there that want the innovators? I think there are plenty that think they do. But how many actually have a corporate climate that encourages it? Very few.
So, I think that “work ethic” is still failing. I think there are still far too many who take what they have for granted, and expect even more. But more and more, I think many employers have created a climate that encourages that feeling, rather than empower, encourage and excite their employees.