How to improve work ethic

January 08, 2023  •  Reading Time: 12 min.

Develop a strong work ethic and a positive attitude in 4 steps

The concept of work ethic is very common these days.

It is an important part of our professional lives. With a positive work ethic, individuals can approach their work in a more focused and responsible manner. Individuals can also develop a sense of fulfillment, which has a positive impact on their professional development as well as the culture and productivity within the company.

friendly colleagues give each other a fist greeting at the workplace

Individuals who demonstrate a positive work ethic have a good chance of getting the job they apply for, keeping their position, or being promoted. However, it is important to find out what constitutes strong work ethics before improving it.

In this article, we’ve written down what makes a good work ethic and what makes a poor work ethic (including on the employer side) and how you can improve your own work ethic in just a few steps!

What is work ethic?

The term work ethic describes the inner attitude toward work. Employers usually want a strong work ethic – it is seen as a guarantee that everything will run as smoothly as possible.

Conversely, it is not unusual to suspect poor work ethic when problems arise in the work process. However, most difficulties in the company cannot be substantiated in such a generalized way. A more differentiated view shows that the inner attitude depends on a number of factors.

Work ethic is primarily reflected in motivation, which depends on various elements:

  • Acknowledgement
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Performance success
  • Self-determination
  • Assumption of responsibility

A good work ethic goes hand in hand with corporate culture. If all you see in the office are grumpy faces and have the impression that it’s just a job that needs to be done, then morale is probably zero.

Companies, however, can also create a sense of “family.” Not only does this mean that a team can build real relationships with each other, but it also means that everyone feels supported, free from prejudice, and able to try new things without fear of reprimand.

In terms of productivity, this leads to more motivated employees, team members who are committed to working together, and not just hard work, but quality work, as the team pushes each other to perform at their best.

What are strong work ethics?

Those who have a strong work ethic have deeply rooted principles that guide them in their work behavior:

  • Productive work

People with good work ethics are usually very productive and work quickly. They regularly get more done and are faster than those who don’t have a work ethic because they don’t give up until the work they’ve been given is done.

  • Collaboration

Cooperative work can be very useful in a business department: People with a strong work ethic know this very well. They know the usefulness of collaboration, such as teamwork, and often go to great lengths to work well with others.

  • Ethics in organizational culture

Employers, managers and employees who all adhere to a code of ethics promote an ethical work culture. Managers must lead by example and model the behavior they expect from their employees.

What are poor work ethics?

Imagine the following situation:

Your boss gives you a project with a fixed deadline. He tells you that the activity is important and needs to be done, but doesn’t explain anything else. You work every day to complete the project, but keep having setbacks. You don’t have enough money to buy important tools and find that you don’t have enough time to complete the project.

Not only that, but you feel that the project is beyond your skills and knowledge. Furthermore, you are stressed and feel like a failure. You try to talk to your boss about it, and all he responds is, “Figure something out.” When you leave his office, you are even more frustrated than when you arrived.

This feeling gradually spreads to other areas of your work, and before you know it, you are reluctant to go to work and are thinking about looking for a new job where you feel competent and capable.

problems at work

Unfortunately, this situation is all too common in the workplace and is often the main cause of declining morale and motivation (= poor work ethics). This negative development in company culture and work ethic could have been avoided if the boss had taken the following actions:

  • Meaningful tasks

The supervisor made a big mistake by not explaining why the project is important to the company and the employee’s role in it. When assigning a new project or task, it is imperative that you also communicate the importance of the task to the overall goal of the company. When you give the task a meaning, motivation increases because employees feel that their work is valuable and that they are contributing to the company’s success.

  • Training and coaching

Instead of telling the employee to come up with something, as a leader you should take the opportunity to teach them best practices. Taking the time to train employees up front can improve their skills, which will have a positive impact on morale and engagement. If you overwork the employee, they may question whether they are right for the job and look outside the company for a better fit.

  • Right resources

One of the biggest mistakes a superior can make is setting an employee up for failure from the start by not providing them with the right resources. In the example above, the employee did not have the time or budget to successfully complete the project. By providing the employee with the right resources, you give them the opportunity to succeed, which increases their motivation because they feel they have all the resources they need to do their job well.

  • Active listening

The employee tried to tell his boss about his problems but was ignored. If employees feel that their difficulties are unnoticed or unjustified, their frustration will increase and their work ethic will decrease. Therefore, actively listen and put yourself in the employee’s shoes. Show the employee that you are working together to solve the problem. Support can increase engagement because employees feel they have a leader who cares about them.

How can I improve my work ethic?

To develop strong work ethics, or to demonstrate work ethic at all, you can start by focusing on your work performance. If you want to develop good habits, you should make sure you are avoiding distractions and getting enough rest. Or you can practice the habit of punctuality and using your time wisely to create a work-life balance that suits your individual needs.

We have 4 steps for you that will help you achieve more professional success and a great overall life balance at the end of the day:

Step 1: Be professional about your work

Professionalism goes beyond a clean shirt, as it also includes your values, attitude and demeanor.

Practice friendly and positive interactions with your co-workers and at the same time stay away from gossip. The ability to communicate constructively and positively while respecting the feelings of others is an invaluable tool. Respect others and develop a reputation for integrity, i.e., honesty, fairness, and consistency in what you do and say.

To develop integrity and thus work ethics, you can:

  • Consistently work hard and at the same level of quality
  • Be conscientious
  • Be honest in all things

Deliver the best results: A strong work ethic is essential to success in all areas and makes you a valuable employee. This is more important than ever for career advancement. On your assignments, strive to exceed expectations by paying attention to detail and making the quality of your work your top priority. Anyone can work quickly, but few deliver quality results with few errors.

A sloppy work environment often equals sloppy results: That is why you should keep everything organized, such as having a good filing system for documents, so you can easily retrieve them to continue with important tasks. Each of us has times when we are more productive, some early in the morning, some later in the evening. Determine which tasks are most difficult to complete and schedule them into those periods of high productivity.

happy colleges

Step 2: Manage your time

Know your strengths and weaknesses – including potential distractions, so you can avoid them.

By identifying your weaknesses and creating a plan to improve these areas, you can improve your work ethic: One way to assess this is to make a list that summarizes your work skills and requirements, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. In other words: Be honest about what your weaknesses are and what distracts you – this is the first step in learning to deal with those weaknesses.

Set deadlines for completing even small tasks: The ability to focus on and finish certain tasks you have started is an essential part of establishing work ethic. Developing this habit on the job is the key to long-term success.

Tip: Set two deadlines – one for completing the task and another for reviewing and polishing the work.

Prioritize important projects and focus on finishing tasks immediately. A typical behavior of an employee with poor work ethic is putting off tasks until another day, which usually only results in an incomplete or late project.

Step 3: Maintain balance and deliver consistent high-performance work

Exercise, get enough sleep, and socialize: Play is best when earned, just like sleep.

Earn proper sleep by working hard to accomplish the day’s goals: A good work ethic doesn’t just mean being glued to your computer. You also have to know how to maintain your alertness with adequate sleep and eat nutritious food. Take time to relax and re-energize, do regular exercise, stay balanced, and keep the priorities in your life clear. This will help you stay on top of things at work and not fall into the workaholic trap.

Step 4: Develop good work habits and cultivate self-discipline

Creating a habit is a matter of doing. “Doing” comes easily when you engage in “being.”

Values to adopt and get used to:

  • Punctuality and attendance
  • Time, order, cleanliness and promptness
  • Working smarter, but not harder
  • The habit of doing it now: What can be done today should not be put off until tomorrow

Tip: Don’t try to break bad habits. Instead, choose preferred replacement actions to use in place of the old habits.

Other great habits for a strong work ethic:

  • Begin your days on a very high note
  • Tidy up and organize your work life
  • Plan activities
  • Develop professionalism
  • Have enough discipline to finish tasks immediately
  • Tackle one task at a time
  • Work steadily for longer periods and complete tasks at once
  • Use time smartly
  • Practice punctuality
  • Develop faith in your working ability
  • Have a keen sense of responsibility
  • Be a team player

Forming good habits, such as staying focused, staying motivated or completing tasks immediately, will help develop a strong work ethic that will impress employers. A professional person is characterized by quality craftsmanship and service. Professionalism and a professional attitude begins with trust, conduct, loyalty, discipline and the pursuit of excellence. Employees with this work ethic embrace the job wholeheartedly and strive to achieve excellence in every position they hold.

Tip: Also remember to create quiet, uninterrupted times for yourself! Balance persistence with adequate rest, save personal calls for your breaks, and exercise regularly during the workday. Being clear about your priorities in life can also help you keep a proper perspective at work.

happy man covering half his face

Conclusion: Core elements of a strong work ethic

It is often difficult to define the elements of a good work ethic because it is a very individual approach and mindset. Much depends on how each organization or individual views work ethics and the moral values they pursue. What moral values you practice in your daily life will determine your approach to work and your work ethic. However, there are some common elements that are commonly followed and that employers look for in their employees.

People with a strong work ethic have moral principles that make them excellent employees in any position:

  • Honesty

This is the core element of work ethic, as all other elements are based on your honesty. Be honest about your successes and failures, accept credit only when it is due, don’t steal others’ work or ideas, and own up to your mistakes.

  • Integrity

Don’t let anyone down, try to honor your commitments, and be consistent in your thoughts, actions, and behaviors to build a strong work ethic.

  • Impartiality/Fairness

Be fair to everyone, do not favor anyone. Treat everyone equally.

  • Openness

Share your ideas, results and resources with other team members so everyone has an equal opportunity and knows what you are doing.

  • Respect

No matter how urgent a deadline is or how tempers flare, remain diplomatic and calm and show decorum under pressure. Whether you’re serving a customer, meeting with a client, or having a meeting with management, do your best to respect others’ opinions, even in stressful situations. By doing so, you show that you value each other’s individual and professional contributions.

  • Reliability and dependability

This means showing up to work and meetings on time and completing your tasks on budget and on work schedule. Reliably keep your promises so that clients, customers and colleagues trust you to do everything you promise.

  • Determination

Obstacles cannot stop you because they are a challenge to overcome. Accept challenges positively and know that it is your job to solve problems with determination and resilience. Keep going, no matter how far it has to go.

  • Accountability

Proactively work to fix issues: Take responsibility for your own actions and results in all situations, and avoid making excuses when work doesn’t go as planned – admitting mistakes or failures serves as a learning curve and will not be repeated.

  • Confidentiality

All confidential information must remain confidential. You must not discuss it or share it with others except on a need to know basis. This also demonstrates a strong work ethic and protects you from litigation risks in connection with illegal disclosure.

  • Humility

You recognize the contributions of others and share their successes. You accept that you don’t know everything and are open to learning from mentors and other colleagues. Although you take your work seriously, you also maintain a sense of humor.

  • Initiative

Don’t be afraid to contribute your ideas or volunteer.

Tip: Maybe your work ethic is low because you just haven’t found the right job for you yet. Read our article “10 eye-opening tips on how to find a job you love” for inspiration!

Frequently asked questions about improving work ethic

What is a strong work ethic?

– Employees are motivated and enjoy their work
– The atmosphere and team cohesion are good
– Employees are loyal to the company and the team leader/ manager
– Employees perform well and on their own initiative

What is a poor work ethic?

– A negative change in behavior
– Decreasing personal initiative
– Poor quality of performance

What are 10 steps to a better work ethic?

1. Appearance
2. Attendance
3. Attitude
4. Character
5. Communication
6. Cooperation
7. Organizational skills
8. Productivity
9. Respect
10. Teamwork

How can I develop a good work ethic?

Work hard but also work effectively: Prioritize learning and look for opportunities to expand your experience and knowledge. Consider volunteering, mentorship, night classes or weekend seminars.

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