What do we talk about when we talk about work ethic

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There’s a lot of talk about capitalism, achievement, success and fulfillment through work these days. As societies and economies evolve and navigate different forms of political, economic and social systems, we see nations clinging to capitalism as the new gospel of happiness and wellbeing, others condemning it as the source of all evil on earth and others who propose new approaches, much needed for rebalancing the need for financial prosperity with the need for sustainability of people, teams, systems and the Planet — such as “doughnut economics” or “circular economy.”

What we do for a living no longer means “just a job”. We have attached incredible meaning to what used to be a 9 to 5 occupation: nowadays a job is not only about stability, security, clothes, watches, phones, houses, vacation — it’s also about experiences, growth, connection, personal significance, overcoming our own odds, stories of rising from under dogs to heroes, etc.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a friend who moved from Romania to Silicon Valley for a job at a prominent IT company. We were all amazed and astonished with her achievement — and I kept in touch with her to see how she felt. She talked about an incredible set of perks and benefits — from in house manicure to nap rooms to anything you can ever imagine, but she wasn’t as excited as I thought one would be. I asked her about her apparent lack of excitement, and she said “Yes, well, the sad part is I am so caught up in all of this I find it super hard to disconnect and just go home.”

That struck me as a red light, as a warning signal — and I kept that in mind as future reference for my work as a Talent professional.

I have come to love the practical works of building and running a business. I watch shows about entrepreneurship and business management for fun. I like to keep in touch with the evolution of markets, of economies, of legislation and overall national or global cultures and their outlook on prosperity and distribution of resources.

BUT

I also love the experience of a day without work. I remember one day I just decided to take a day off in the middle of the week — I only needed an hour to solve something, but I didn’t want to “squeeze that into my lunch break” so I chose to take the full day off.

Back then I only took days off if I was headed into a vacation, back home to spend time with family or felt sick.

But that day was just your average Tuesday, and I got to spent most of it out on the streets doing absolutely nothing and enjoying every second of it. At the same time, I caught myself with the reflex of “but hey you know since you have this day off, why don’t you go ahead and do this and solve this and attend to this or that.”

My point is — I struggled to just be and walk around aimlessly and I even thought it was a “wrong” thing to do.

So this makes me think about MY work ethic. People mean a lot of things when they say work ethic, but to me most of the time the Notion describes the same mentality and behavior — “I take my job more seriously than anything else in my life”. Or “I will always put my job first, at the expense of anything else.” Or “I believe my workplace is the best one ever (and all the others suck).”

Rarely do people stop to think about their work ethic and become aware of what are their values and what are their personal approaches to the place work has in their own lives. But as work places evolve, I think us too as individuals must evolve, must spend more time considering what our values are — not just in our professional lives, but also our personal ones — and how do we want to balance these.

My bet is we will see less and less of professional “monogamy” in the future.

Based on my experience, I see how the people who are fast learners and fast trackers usually feel drowned or understimulated in a single professional context. These are the ones who have businesses on the side of their main jobs, or volunteering or charity work, or hobbies or passions that they take very seriously even if they don’t produce income. And they want to have the flexibility to relate with their employer in a number of different ways: transition from part time to full time and viceversa, choosing to pursue a promotion or a demotion, transferring into another department in house, choosing to step out temporarily and then come back, etc.

In the past, anything other than the full-time, long-tenured employee meant “bad employee”. Traditional HR or leadership boxes and models would have placed you under various labels, more or less delicately describing inconsistence, or suboptimal performance or engagement.

But now, keeping that perspective is a sure way to fail to attract, nurture and engage talent. And that is a sure way to completely sabotage your business.

So I would like to leave you with two bites for thought:

  1. Spend time considering your own “work ethic” — and don’t forget to do a reality check to see if it works with your “life ethic” or against it.
  2. For leaders, entrepreneurs, Talent folks: what kind of “work ethic” are you building in your companies and teams? And how does it feel for an employee to experience that? What do they have to gain and what do they have to lose to “fit in” to that?

Light that Insight further,

Alexandra

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Alexandra Serediuc - Founder of Light inSight

Alexandra Serediuc - Founder of Light inSight

Leadership Coach & HR Leader

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