WORK ETHIC

A. Work Ethic Definitions

The dictionary definition of work ethic is a principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous and worthy of reward.  Wikipedia has a slight deviation adding a moral benefit and inherent value that strengthens character and abilities.  That Wikipedia definition is considered to be closer, but an element relating to success is missing.   The phrase “and is an inseparable element in attaining enlightenment and self-worth,” should be added.  This makes work ethic a fundamental facet of human achievement and happiness. 

It is that important, and yet, it is not really taught in academia, there are no significant seminars on how to acquire, achieve, or foster work ethic.  The only places where it is addressed in any significant degree is in the home and in the work-place.   Some religions touch on it.  Some economic methodologies reward it such as capitalisms where the harder one works generally yields more wealth.   Some methodologies reduce work ethic in favor of a central body that determines what is needed distributes a regulated amount of resources. 

B. How to Create and Develop.

Work ethic needs to be started as soon as a child is able to walk and continue until retirement or death.  It has two major components.  Doing work for significant amount of time on a repetitious basis.   Work is defined by the by engineers as transferring energy from one object to another.  It includes transfer of energy between brain cells, i.e. mental work.  Work is not measured by whether it accomplishes a particular goal.  It is simply the repeated transfer of energy for a significant period of time.  With respect to work ethic, there is no such thing as wasted work.  It is simply work. 

Where can a child go to learn work ethic?  Every farm in the world can build work ethic.  All children of dairy farmers have great work ethic.  They start work before the sun rises, cleans, herds, feeds, nurses, repairs equipment, and milks during the day and goes to bed after the sun sets 7 days a week 365 days a year.  A cow will stop producing milk if it is not milked twice a day every day.  This means one cannot skip a single milking for any reason. 

There was a great television series where a spoiled hotel heiress was sent to work on a farm to learn work ethic.   It is exceptionally funny, but it has the work ethic issue hidden below the surface.

Working one day does not create a good work ethic trait.  It takes a long time.  A runner does not happen by a single stretching exercise.  Some say that a good work ethic occurs when the work becomes a habit and the person enjoys its.  Others say “you know it when you know it”.  Love that one and it is probably the most accurate. 

Elon Musk addressed work ethic in a YouTube™ video

C. Importance of Work Ethic

Work ethic teaches persistence, endurance, health, satisfaction, punctuality, reality, promotes honesty and trust, positive outlook, work organization and work efficiently, negates procrastination, dependability, integrity, determination, cooperation, integrity, discipline, consistency, respect, etc.

[Persistence.]  A study in 2016 by John Meriac and Allen Gorman showed that organizational citizenship behavior was increased and counterproductive work behavior was decreased in an extensive survey of businesses.  Studies have connected persistence with the personal development and self-improvement.  Persistence is important to science and medicine where hundreds of failed experiments lead to an answer or revolutionary cure.   The persistent onward push is a characteristic of work ethic.  

Sixty Minutes™ addressed persistence in an interview with Elon Musk.

[Endurance.]   Studies show that work ethic is one of the main driving forces in workplace productivity. Napoleon believed that work ethic and endurance are strongest virtues of a soldier.  Many athletics attributed work ethic and endurance to them being successful entrepreneurs.  Many athletes and entrepreneurs agree that talent is created from endurance and work ethic. 

 A survey of job descriptions in most job descriptions on a job recruitment site listed “strong work ethic” as one of the top requirements along with experience and skill training. 

[Health.]   Most of the observational studies show that work ethic improves both physical and mental health.  However, negative studies are often useful in prove positive features.   For example, there are studies that report that work ethic causes a reduction in health and is therefore bad.  They point to data showing that the number of cancer cases per capita increases in those countries having a higher wealth.   They next then point to studies show that work ethic creates wealth.  The final step is a logic inference that something that causes a bad thing is therefore bad. 

These studies are discussed to show that cherry-picking the data they want to use can yield a result that supports any particular position.  A closer look in the studies proves the point.  The cancer cases per capita ignore a critical point.  The longer a person lives the higher the cancer rate.   If the study considered only populations of people under 40 and compared that to a population of people that lived to be 100, would show a dramatic increase in cancer per capita.  That is because cancer is a disease that strikes older people in a greater proportion of younger people.   Prostate cancer, for example, has an almost 95+% chance of being detected in a 100 year old male. 

Observational data show that, in the United States, people with an income in the top 5% lived 25% longer than those with an income in the bottom 5%.  The greatest medical advances, such as antibiotics, vaccines, etc. all occurred in the wealthier nations.  Starvation has been nearly eliminated in wealthier nations.  The list of beneficial health aspects from wealth is extensive.  The life expectancy in the various wealth nations is above 75 years whereas the life expectancy of the poor nations is below 60.  

The bottom line is that a good work ethic increases longevity and health. 

[Satisfaction.]  Satisfaction is the state of being satisfied.  Being satisfied means contentment.  Which means the ability to enjoy what you already have.  It is finding peace and happiness in every life and relationships.  It does not take a rocket scientist to know that these aspects are healthy traits.  A few quotes hit home on this issue:

When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.  Lao Tzu. 

I had the blues because I had no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.  Persian proverb.

A 2010 study following 7000 people from Alameda County in California linked satisfaction with happiness.  A study in Malaysia showed that work is a fundamental part of daily life and that work ethic is the most important aspect of satisfaction. 

[Punctuality.]   Punctuality by itself means being on time.  But, it reveals much more about the person.  It reveals integrity in the statement that someone will be there at a certain time.  Integrity, like punctuality, is not established in a single instance.  It takes repetition and lots of it.  Punctuality also means trust.  The following quote addresses people who provide excuses for persistently being late:

I have generally found that the man who is good at an excuse is good for nothing else.  Benjamin Franklin.

Being punctual shows humility and respect for others.  It shows that they are organized and dependable.   

Here are 6 helpful hints to help with punctuality.

  1. Consider the consequences of being late.
  2. Set a Time to finish those matters that precede the matter.
  3. Maintain a calendar for all significant events. 
  4. Have an organizational calendar, preferably on our cell phone. 
  5. Set Reminders and Alarms.
  6.  Anticipate delays, traffic, and potential occurrences. 

D. How Long does Work Ethic Last?

There were no studies located that investigated this issue.  The repetitive and long term nature of the work ethic establishes neurotransmission paths in the brain that are likely permanent.  For example, how long does intelligence lasts.  Without an intervening and significant brain function loss, it is more likely than not, that the work ethic trait lasts a lifetime. 

E. Can Work Ethic be Inherited?

Originally it was thought that DNA controlled all aspects of inheritance.  But study after study has shown that many learned traits appear to be passed down to the next generation.   Many researchers tried to connect this to the DNA molecule by arguing that various learned traits and environmental exposures can attach to the outside of the DNA molecule after birth.  They have named this area of research as Epigenetics.  They theorize methylation, chromatin remodeling, histone modification, and non-coding RNA mechanisms may transmit various learned traits. 

Observations have shown that a child’s asthma susceptibility can be tracked back to a mother’s intake and lack of intake of vitamins.  Air pollution breathed by prior generations could be connected to disease susceptible in subsequent generations.  A father who suffered child abuse had more methylation on some DNA molecules than those fathers who were not abused and that such could be passed down to his children.  Some theorize that parents who exercised regularly passed a heightened learning ability to their children. 

These are interesting discussions.   But with our limited knowledge and understanding, it is only that—an interesting discussion.  

There are too many observations, both in animal studies and in human studies, that show that many learned traits appear to be passed down to subsequent generations.  Studies of identical twins separated at birth and raised in entirely different environments also shows surprising similar personality traits that could be traced back to their parents.  Hence, the interesting discussions on this topic have credible observational support.  But as of today proof of actual causation is severely lacking. 

F. Is Work Ethic More Important than Intelligence?

A small study of clinical performance in emergency medicine residency found IQ “ to be less important than other characteristics and learned competencies.  Another study showed that The grit scale (work ethic) was a better indicator of GPA and graduation rates than IQ.  But IQ was a better predictor of standardized test scores.

Another study involving intelligence, as determined by education level, work ethic grouped as cognitive and noncognitive skills.  It showed insufficient evidence to distinguish between the two skill sets.

A great TED™ a 2013 talk by Angela Duckworth on Grit: The power of passion and perseverance is instructive.

Two things can be said of the various studies.  First, work ethic or grit is more important than IQ; and second, there is a lack of valid scientific studies to prove it.