Work Ethic: A Gen X Perspective


It’s easy to push blame on parenting or categorize a whole generation under a negative connotation of entitlement.  But when it comes to doing our jobs, do our parents work for us?  Is an entire generation doing everyone else’s job?   The obvious answer is no. It leaves only one person responsible…you.

When I was young, my dad engrained in me strong work ethic.  You have to work hard for just reward.  He used to say, “If you’re not going to do the job right the first time, don’t bother doing it at all.”  That phrase used to tick me off, and I would begrudgingly finish trimming the bushes, stain a fence, mow the lawn and made sure it got done.  He would then come out and inspect my work.  If it wasn’t on his level, I would hear that phrase which became nails on a chalkboard to me.  What I didn’t realize at the time was his lesson:  work ethic.  It’s not just about doing the job but doing it with a purpose.  To have the ability to take a step back and be proud of the work you’ve accomplished.

Let’s fast forward about 25 years. I recently “finished” putting together a fire pit in my backyard.  I found myself asking that same question:  “Is it done?”  “Am I proud of the work I did?”  I wasn’t, and I have now decided to go back and redo the fire pit. I want to be able to take that step back and honestly answer that question confidently.

In our professional lives, we run the risk of going through the motions without review of our own work.  Let’s ask ourselves the tough questions… “Did I give it my all?”  “Am I proud of the work I’ve done today?”  If your answer is, “no,” then what are you going to do to fix it?  I’d rather be critical of myself before someone I respect has to acknowledge it.  If it gets to that point then I haven’t been honest with myself and have been just going through the paces.

It’s interesting from a Generation X perspective in a millennial-driven climate. For example, I believe work ethic is getting to work on time (meaning 10-15 minutes before the clock strikes) and start looking at the data from the day before so I can provide sound coaching advice for the day ahead. A millennial could be in the exact same role, the exact same company, and come into work 30 minutes late every day.  This makes my blood boil. My first assumption? I think they are lazy and the company is losing easily two and a half hours a week of lost productivity.

A Millennial’s definition of work ethic may be different, but not necessarily wrong.  It’s perspective.  That millennial in the exact same role at the exact same company already reviewed the data the night before on their iPhone. Or maybe that millennial swung by a Starbucks at 7:00am that morning and spent some time looking through the data.  Technically, that means they knew the information before me, yet, I had the opinion they were “lazy” because of my different thought process of work ethic.

Technically, the job gets done.  But here’s the challenge.  These different perspectives must learn to work collaboratively toward that common goal, yet be proud of their own work.