Putting in an honest day of work
October 5, 2011 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Are we seeing a wide spread erosion in work ethic? There has been attention paid to the differences between boomers and xgen and ygen that I just can't sink my teeth into. Has our sense of entitlement at work changed? What has happened to putting in an honest days work?

I'm at a loss. I work for a terrific organization that treats me extremely well. I get great benefits and good pay at a job that challenges me and gives me flexibility to exel in areas of interest. I'm not alone. I have seen other great companies in the community where I work that have really driven the standard for great work environments. But, sadly, I have also seen a creap over the last several years that I'm trying to figure out. Maybe it's a decline in work ethic or an increase in a sense of entitlement. I have now worked in environments that offer employees a great environment, lifestyle choices, high pay and good benefits as well as in environments where not as much was on offer. In fact, I've worked at organizations where your paycheck was your reward and you could like it or lump it. What I haven't seen though is a significant difference in the overall performance of employees in these very different environments. There seems to be, in every place that I've worked, a number of people who feel perfectly ok with milking the system. They carefully calculate the amount of sick leave they have and use up every last day. They master the art of presenteeism - you know, coming to work but accomplishing very little. I know there are some people who are driven to work in terrible conditions with no pay and treated horribly but these are not the group I'm asking about. I want to know what is happening with our culture of work over time in places that are pretty darn ok work environments.
posted by YukonQuirm to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is not your grandfather's economy (or my father's economy, at least for the first 30 years of his career before his company was acquired by a multinational corporation that renegged on all its promises to senior middle management guys but I digress....). There are no more "25 to 65" jobs out there anymore. Workers are disposable, and so workplaces have become disposable--one could argue that one-sided loyalty and gratitude is not such a great life skill.
posted by availablelight at 6:29 PM on October 5, 2011 [48 favorites]


There has been attention paid to the differences between boomers and xgen and ygen that I just can't sink my teeth into.

Me either. Mainly because those are bogus lifestyle-journalism categories that don't have anything to do with actual human beings.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:31 PM on October 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


I agree that there are definite palpable differences in the work ethics of young people and older people. And to dismiss it with a wave of the hand is sheer blindness or ignorance. But I think availablelight is spot-on: as workers become more dispensable, employees become less loyal. If you want a nation of hard workers at even the most menial of jobs, you need to show those same employees the kind of respect that is become more and more rare in today's corporate cultures. Young people have seen what happens to the people that work hard all their lives: they're shat on by upper management and cast aside for foreign workers. If that's what they feel they have to look forward to, why should they give a damn?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:40 PM on October 5, 2011 [24 favorites]


Generationalism is the astrology of the corporate world. It doesn't exist. There are literally reams of data demonstrating that better working conditions result in better performance, less attrition, etc.
posted by smoke at 6:40 PM on October 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


thank you, thank you to those saying that these supposed generational traits are bogus. I'm an early supposed Xer with an older brother who is a supposed late boomer. Many of my employees are milennials. And we're all people, raised however we were raised, and who tend to react to the system we're in.

As has been commented on, our main problem is that companies have demonstrated that employees are to be treated as disposal units of production. No wonder, therefore, that employees treat companies as disposal units of compensation.

I myself have a pretty keen sense of personal ethics, informed by some theological commitments (and I happen to feel my boss shares some of those commitments), and after traveling a very rocky road for about a decade before finally righting the ship, I feel my primary duty is to support my family. That means getting as much out of my company as I ethically and practically can.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:51 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Workers a generation ago worked 9-5 and took lunch. Even the lowest-ranking white collar worker had his own office. They expected to retire from the company they were at and layoffs were a shocking occurrence.

Today the average office worker works at least 9-6. Layoffs are expected and done almost yearly for any reason or no reason. People sit in a cubicle where the boss or anyone can look over their shoulder.

All that said, this:

There seems to be, in every place that I've worked, a number of people who feel perfectly ok with milking the system

has simply never not been in the case in human history. Barring an extreme sense of personal morality, extreme fear of being fired, or a personal stake in the success of the company, this is quite simply the behavior of a logical person.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:51 PM on October 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't think it has anything to do with which generation you're from. I work with several 50-somethings who take every sick day they earn and do the bare minimum while they're there. And I work with several 20-somethings who bust their asses every day to show management what they can do.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:54 PM on October 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, I'm just one datapoint, but I've been working hard at all my jobs for about 38 years, and I don't see any consistent trend. There have always been both conscientious workers and goof offs from my very first work study job in college until now. Currently there is someone I can cite who is older than myself but as far as I can tell does nothing or almost nothing all day. There are also workers 15 years younger than me who work harder than me. And I can also cite my mother, who (God bless her) seemed to feel that because she worked for the US Government for 20 some years and went out on disability in her mid 50's, she was entitled to a pension for the rest of her life (heck, I've already worked longer than her and my retirement is nowhere in sight).

If you'll let me stretch the topic just a little, I see the same kind of mixtures of people in volunteer organizations at church and in people who feel they are "entitled" to drive any way they feel like, consequences be screwed. And I've never noticed any correlation with age, gender, ethnicity, etc. Everyone has quirks, some quirks are just much, much more annoying to those they have to work with, be neighbors with or drive next to.

I also agree with the up thread comments about changes in the world.
posted by forthright at 6:55 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Speaking personally, I usually do good, not great work at my day jobs. The reason is 100% personal pride. I prefer to do good work. When I'm presented with a problem, I like to prove to myself I can solve it.

But I know there are no raises or promotions coming no matter how hard I do or don't work. I care about myself, helping others, and doing good enough work to satisfy my personal sense of professionalism. The company means dick to me.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:55 PM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


My experience has much more frequently been the employer obviously milking it - pushing employees to work extra hours, work weekends at the drop of a hat, travel more, pushing deadlines or under-funding or under-planning projects in a way that inevitably screws things up and creates unnecessary work and headaches for the employees, providing insufficient training or even insufficient time for self-training or the training of other employees, and so on and so forth, all next to the absence of any loyalty on the part of the employer to the employee as others describe above.

If you've usually worked in environments where you can expect better from the employer, maybe some of these co-workers have experience that leads them to expect less. Like other co-workers, I haven't noticed any obvious divide in age for this kind of behavior.
posted by XMLicious at 7:00 PM on October 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


They carefully calculate the amount of sick leave they have and use up every last day.

This is somehow being dishonest?
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 7:00 PM on October 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


They carefully calculate the amount of sick leave they have and use up every last day.

What's wrong with this? They have earned those days, and often those days don't carry over. Vacation and sick time are meant to be used, and a workplace where people feel afraid to use their time off is an abusive one.

Compared to Europeans, Americans get a truly pathetic amount of time off. Perhaps more of us are aware of that these days, and so feel less "guilt" about getting whatever we can out of our jobs.

Perhaps what you're seeing is a crumbling of the Puritan work ethic, in the face of a brutal corporate culture that has resulted in increasingly stagnant wages, fewer and fewer benefits, and more and more being asked of fewer and fewer workers.

To which I can only say: About damn time.
posted by emjaybee at 7:04 PM on October 5, 2011 [25 favorites]


What's wrong with this? They have earned those days

Sick time is like insurance. It's there to use if you're actually sick. I have fire insurance on my house. I don't get to burn down my house just so I can get a new one.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:09 PM on October 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


They carefully calculate the amount of sick leave they have and use up every last day.

I suppose next you might complain that they also spend all of the money they are paid, too!

Sick time is like insurance. It's there to use if you're actually sick. I have fire insurance on my house. I don't get to burn down my house just so I can get a new one.

Except that if you leave the job, they aren't required to compensate you for them, unlike vacation days (not all states require this), and may places don't allow them to carry over.

Also, since you can't use more than 2-3 at a time without a doctors permission and other repercussions, it doesn't make any sense at all to bank sick days.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:14 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual growth of productivity in the non-farm business sector was 2.8% from 1947 to 1973, 1.1% from '73 to '79, 1.4 from '79 to '90, rose to 2.1% from 1990
to 2000, up to 2.5% from 2000 to 2007, and is now down to growing at 2.4% .

In the manufacturing sector, productivity grew at 1.8% per year from 1987 to 1990, 4.1% from 1990 to 2000, 3.9% from 2000 to 2007, and is now down to 2% from 2007 to 2010.

So I don't know about "presenteeism", but the kids these days are being more productive in the business sector. They may be slacking a bit in manufacturing, or that drop could be due to other issues.
posted by straw at 7:19 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some places have a "use it or lose it" policy regarding sick pay. As such, it's perfectly rational to use it up.

My own observation is that younger workers tend to not be as driven as older workers. They tend to have fewer obligations and financial burdens. And tend to be less mature. I know I was, and as a result, I was more prone to taking my job less seriously at 22 than I am now.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:24 PM on October 5, 2011


I noticed at my last job that people seem to fall on two sides of the fence about sick leave: some people feel you should be able to use it 'just because', because they earned it; others think it should be strictly only be used when sick.

I agree that the generational thing is pretty much nonsense. But I will say that people under 30 probably prefer a more casual work environment where they are trusted to get their work done without following rigid work hours. Also, there are a lot of jobs out there where people experience a ton of downtime. At my last job I had literally days on end where I wouldn't really have anything to do; so yeah, I joked around with people a lot and took long lunches and IM'ed all day. Maybe some of those people that you think are just goofing around actually don't really have anything to do?

Or maybe they are just goofing off. Who cares? Not everyone has an over-the-top work ethic. Those people need to make a living, too.
posted by imalaowai at 7:25 PM on October 5, 2011


Sick time is like insurance. It's there to use if you're actually sick. I have fire insurance on my house. I don't get to burn down my house just so I can get a new one.

Unless you work in a company like mine that puts it all in a "paid time off" box and doesn't differentiate between the two, and only carries so much over.

And again; the amount of sick time and vacation time, if any, that most Americans get is ludicrously small. Even taking every second of it still means they work harder for less benefit than their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.
posted by emjaybee at 7:27 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Best answer: There is compelling evidence in the management world that you cannot really motivate people, only stay out of their way and guide them. Some percentage of the population doesn't want to do anything. Others are simply in the wrong field/area/job/whatever to be motivated. Some folks will give their all even if you have them digging latrines.

Certainly money doesn't do it. Last time I saw a stat floated about a study they claimed the number of days a person displayed increased motivation after a salary increase was under 10. Then it's the new normal and you're back to where they were, satisfaction-wise.

Now, you can certainly DE-motivate people. Poison people in the workplace can be amazingly corrosive to morale. If you're seeing environments go bad it's possible you've got folks creating that crap environment. Sometimes it's from above, sometimes it's just some chronic complainer who helps everyone else get in touch with their inner crank.

So to answer your question - no. People are people like they always have been. It may be that in a more service and information-based economy it's easier for some folks to put their thumb up their ass and give it their null, but the underlying people are the same as ever.
posted by phearlez at 7:35 PM on October 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sick time is like insurance. It's there to use if you're actually sick. I have fire insurance on my house. I don't get to burn down my house just so I can get a new one.

"The option to assign overtime to salaried employees is like insurance. It's there to use if you're actually unexpectedly unable to afford coverage of your business activities. You don't get to crank up overtime just so you can increase productivity or avoid making adequate new hires."

I haven't usually taken any sick time myself, even when I'm actually sick, but I have a hard time criticizing people who use up the sick time in the fashion described. Employers just don't in general behave with the sort of coloring-within-the-lines carefulness that your attitude prescribes; I really think that this kind of rectitude on the part of the employee is something that needs to be earned by the employer first, because in my experience by default the employer is going to cut every corner they can and save every penny they can in the employment relationship.

Which is fine until you have something more serious and do need to take more than a day or two off and you don't have anything take.

That's a practical concern if you actually can't afford unpaid leave for the one year out of however many decades you run into such a situation. The OP is making an ethical objection to people intentionally using up their handful of sick days.
posted by XMLicious at 7:40 PM on October 5, 2011


This is a bit off topic, perhaps. Read yesterday about a farmer, former Viet vet, who had used many Mexicans to pick his crops. Decided to help his fellow Americans so this time around he hired many of the unemployed to pick. Just about all of them left after a short time, stating that the work was too hard, they couldn't handle it. He lost a lot because, as he says, he tried to help our unemployed. And yet, in the Depression and Dust Bowl, American whites were happy to get any work they could picking crops and found it not too hard for them to do. Not sure how to
interpret that though.
posted by Postroad at 7:40 PM on October 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel that people are now less focused on putting in productive hours at work because 'work hours' have crept over into personal time. Most people I know are taking work home, checking work emails, twitching at blackberry alerts, having work conversations, attending work 'social events' etc etc in 'non work' hours. I feel like this lack of strict attention and focus can be counterproductive in terms of 'getting the most out of' staff. When we are in the office, we are more likely to do personal errands (online shopping, billpaying, browsing) This is not based on any formal study, just my thoughts.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:45 PM on October 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've worked for twenty years for various companies with a really broad range of people all basically doing the same type of tasks for pretty much the same amount of money. They have all been union, "secure" jobs. And every workplace had people that went above and beyond their duties and others that skated as close to firing as possible. I have seen zero correlation between age, gender, ethnicity etc and work ethic. My parents have been working since the fifties and report the same thing. Complaining about the current generation while wearing rose coloured glasses about the past is a very, very old story.
posted by saucysault at 7:56 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read yesterday about a farmer, former Viet vet, who had used many Mexicans to pick his crops. Decided to help his fellow Americans so this time around he hired many of the unemployed to pick. Just about all of them left after a short time, stating that the work was too hard, they couldn't handle it.

Could you provide a link to this? I'm innterested. As goethean says, picking crops is really hard. You need a lot of practice to learn the efficiencies and the quotas expected are very hard to meet if you're too slow, can't stoop to exactly the right level, have clumsy hands that mar the produce, etc. When paid to pick by weight or volume, you can find that if you're not a good picker, for a full day's work you've accumulated only a few dollars. Far more Americans in the Depression had this in their skill set than they do today.

Even the lowest-ranking white collar worker had his own office

...if they were male. If they were female, they didn't. If making historical arguments it's important to compare apples to apples. WE don't have the secretarial pool any more, we have computers, and we don't give offices to every junior staffer.
posted by Miko at 7:59 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have to say.. well, first of all, I haven't been employed since 2002 (completely unrelated to work ethic issues). But, I do wonder if more workers figure 'why bother?' At one time, companies were loyal to their good employees and employees were loyal to their employers. That loyalty manifested itself in the form of an admirable work ethic. Now, it seems to me (as I said, an outsider), that workers might be getting trampled on (if not in one company, perhaps in other companies they have been employed by). The economy is so poor that even the best workers might find themselves underappreciated or let go. Not quite a morale booster. Frankly, there's a part of me that's kind of happy that I'm not looking to be employed right now because I don't think I'd be able to trust my company and my superiors. There seems to be a lot of secrecy and bitterness, in general. I would always be wondering when I'm going to be fired because they're looking to save money or because the company is going under. I would be surprised if that doesn't have an affect on work quality. Also, could it be that some of these people who 'milk the system' have been burned in the past?

I'm sure there have always been people who have had good and bad work ethics, and I'm sure there are people who have good and bad work ethics now. I don't think it's fair to say that it's a generational thing because I see a lot of people from my generation (X) and younger kids using a lot of yankee ingenuity to get by in these difficult times. Sometimes I'm quite impressed by their ideas and the nonconventional ways they use to get by. Clearly they have to have a lot of daring and be willing to work harder than most people to make their creativity and genius pay off.
posted by Mael Oui at 8:07 PM on October 5, 2011




I think this is confirmation bias. Have you ever needed to deal with the public-facing workers of any large governmental or academic bureaucracy? Almost to a person, when I've dealt with these people they have been boomers, and have seemed like they resent you for the fact that you're causing them to have do to anything.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:09 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mod note: folks, please keep this factual and non-fighting if at all possible? Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:11 PM on October 5, 2011


Could you provide a link to this? I'm innterested. As goethean says, picking crops is really hard.

Here it is.

It's not just that picking crops is hard - it's also temporary. And for 10 bucks an hour, you can get a job that doesn't suck somewhere close to where you live; the wage isn't worth it compared to other options.

That's not laziness, so much as rational.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:16 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


You want to know why you're seeing what you're seeing? It's easy:

I work for a terrific organization that treats me extremely well. I get great benefits and good pay at a job that challenges me and gives me flexibility to exel in areas of interest. I'm not alone. I have seen other great companies in the community where I work that have really driven the standard for great work environments.

You're seeing what you're seeing because the majority of people don't have situations like yours.

I'm expected to work 10-hour days. I do not have paid vacation time, and I have not had it for ten years. I do not get paid sick leave. I do not have a pension. I have only average health insurance. I also do not have any kind of job security whatsoever (I'm a temp).

If someone were to treat me better, I'd be more enthusiastic about the company I work for. Everyone else is the same way. Most companies aren't that way.

Simple as that.

Incidentally, that's what is fueling a lot of the protests on Wall Street -- if every company in the world was like the one you work for, how many people do you think would be on Wall Street at the protests now?

(I know Wall Street is being occupied for more complex reasons, but this is assuredly one of them.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:24 PM on October 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know how much vacation time you'd get in Europe? Six to eight weeks, on average. With a 35-hour work week. Compared to that, our system is terribly depressing. Most of your waking hours in an office (if you're that kind of worker), or traveling to and from an office, doing something that is probably not intrinsically fulfilling in any way. (Sure, if you really applied yourself and had an exact thing in mind maybe you could find your dream job somewhere, but most of the jobs that have to be filled are not dream jobs; most people have to be unlucky.) Maybe you get two weeks to yourself a year for the rest of your life. Till you're 65, anyway, or more likely till you're 70. How is that not bleak? Granted it's better than starving, better than working in a coal mine or picking strawberries 12 hours a day and getting paid next to nothing off the books, but it isn't how most people would choose to spend their only chance to be alive.
posted by Adventurer at 8:37 PM on October 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


Best answer: The joy of self-employment is no competition except yourself. On the other hand, I work for a bitch.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:39 PM on October 5, 2011 [18 favorites]


Response by poster: The joy of self-employment is no competition except yourself. On the other hand, I work for a bitch.

I really wish I could favourite and mark as best answer more than once.

I think I need to get your name so I can appropriately quote you.
posted by YukonQuirm at 8:54 PM on October 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know how much vacation time you'd get in Europe? Six to eight weeks, on average. With a 35-hour work week.

I've been working in the wrong European countries then! But yes (and sorry about the slight derail), US employment terms do look pretty harsh from here. In the EU, the Working Time Directive apparently mandates 28 days of leave a year, though I believe that can include public holidays, and it caps weekly working hours at 48, with some provisos.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:13 AM on October 6, 2011


> Sick time is like insurance.

Wrong. Sick time is part of your compensation for working at a company.
posted by dgeiser13 at 5:49 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love this anecdotal nonsense about work ethic deterioration. I'm 42. My dad worked for IBM for 32 years from about 1965 to 1997. I grew up in a company town. I did not know more than 3 to 4 people whose parents did not work for IBM. Trust me when I say that out of our company town there were just as many slackers, leeches, phoning it in types, hard workers, passionate workers, miserable but dedicates slaves, etc as there are now. And I know this because my dad was a manager who brought his work home with him. Meaning I heard his side of the phone calls with HIS management but also with his direct reports. And this is in an era when the contract between the corporation and the employee was familial in the extreme. I mean, we all actually went to see the IBM Santa Claus every year and LITERALLY were handed presents. LITERALLY. We also had a county fair EVERY YEAR. So get over yourself with this generational nonsense. It's annoying. I manage a team now and I've got more than a few ass busting 24 year olds who I would trade a few 50 year olds to get just one more of.
posted by spicynuts at 8:22 AM on October 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been part of the workforce for over 35 years. People are people, YukonQuirm, and there's many kinds. Or maybe just two -- have you ever heard of Theory X and Theory Y? Some of us love our jobs, others just come in to get the paycheck. Although I do derive some satisfaction from work, I'm definitely in the latter camp, much to the chagrin of the various over-achieving managers, supervisors (and back in the day) teachers I've had who don't understand why I don't happily give the organization more (effort, time, sweat, etc). I won't get into defending my ethos here but a topical book you might find enlightening is Neanderthals at Work: How People and Politics Can Drive You Crazy...and What You Can Do About Them which posits three types of workers: Believers, Rebels and Game-Players. Workers like me think of that first group as chumps, or tools.
posted by Rash at 10:58 AM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


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