August 20, 2018

Whatever happened to the American work ethic? Whatever happened to the belief that when a person puts in eight hours a day, he or she is giving his or her best effort?

GovCon Insights

Why Do American Workers Embrace the Work Ethic, While their Actual Job Performances Often Show the Opposite?

America’s Puritan ancestors valued work for the sake of work. A good, righteous man labored from dawn to dusk. A lazy, shiftless man sat on the porch all day. This “Protestant work ethic” still influences today’s workers. But because of higher levels of education, today’s workers also bring other expectations and values to their work.
What are some of these expectations your employees may have?

Today’s workers need varied jobs that challenge them to learn and assume responsibility.

Today’s workers want authority and responsibility over their immediate work environment.

Today’s workers want to know they are valued by the organization.

Today’s workers want job performance tied to income and promotion.
What happens when you frustrate your workers’ job expectations? Most likely, they’ll give up. They just won’t care much about their work. That’s where time theft enters the picture. Workers will chat, make personal phone calls, and slow down work activity.

Studies show the average worker wastes two-and-a-half weeks of the employer’s time each year just preparing to start and stop work. The typical worker wastes another one-and-a-half weeks annually on personal telephone calls. Add to that another one-and-a-half weeks annually wasted on personal use of the Internet for website surfing, shopping and e-mailing. All told, experts estimate the typical worker wastes well over five weeks of the employer’s time each year.

Wasted time comes in other forms too: Unjustified sick leaves, stretched lunch breaks and excessive socializing among co-workers also cause this problem.

Here are some ways you can curb “time theft” at your workplace:

  1. Advise employees you take the theft of company time seriously.
  2. Warn the most abusive time thieves you don’t condone their behavior. Use progressive discipline, including termination, to deal with their actions.
  3. Consider reducing the lunch hour from one hour to one-half hour. Then let workers off one-half hour earlier from work. This may encourage them from stretching out their lunch breaks to run personal errands.
  4. Review your overtime rules. Monitor them closely. More than one time thief has doctored his or her time records to show overtime hours not actually worked.
  5. Ask employees to suggest ways of controlling time theft. Reward them for suggestions you use successfully.
  6. Reward employees who are not time thieves. Give them an extra vacation day.
  7. Don’t over-staff. Use temporary help for peak production periods.

Is time theft the problem, or is it the symptom of a larger issue?

Take the work ethic, or the belief that hard work is morally good. Is this belief really dead?

When the U.S. Chamber to Commerce did a study on the attitudes American workers have toward the work ethic, it found:

  • An overwhelming majority of the surveyed workers, 78%, agreed with the statement: “I have an inner need to do the very best job I can regardless of pay.”
  • An equally large group of workers, 72%, stated they had a great deal of control over the quality of their product or service.
  • But when pollsters asked workers if they used this control over product quality to fulfill their “inner need to do the very best,” only 16% of the workers agreed!

What to do: Examine the problem of time theft. If it’s a serious issue, consider changing your reward system to reward the expectations of your workers. And don’t over-staff.

© 2018