Growing up my parents, and especially my father, taught me the value of work ethic. Every chance they got they would give me chores and tasks to complete, and to help them in different areas – cleaning rooms (even though they weren’t my room), carrying groceries, laying irrigation pipe on my Grandpa’s farm, learning to drive the tractor, etc.
As I got older this also translated into diligently working on my homework to get good grades in school. It helped me when I left for Basic Training and AIT in 2004 where the Army reinforced such values (amongst others) religiously. Coming back home (I was a Reservist) and going to college I tended to be head and shoulders above many of my peers who were only partying and piddling away their parents’ money. Now, I don’t believe all college kids are this way, there are many not in the military that still work hard. But going to UNL, and then UNO, it seemed there were many who pissed away college.
Fast forward to 2011 and I left the Active Army, and launched myself into the civilian work world. Again, while there are many hard working folk in corporate America, what some consider “hard work” and what I consider hard work seem to be two very different things. Sure, Union contracts at the company I work at do determine some of the things that can and cannot be done, but some people take this to the extreme. No, can’t do that small task because it’s not mine. This computer work is hard. Do you know how much work I put into loading files?
Coming out of the Army these complaints seemed like a joke. Really? Inputting data into a work management system is really that hard? I got it’s mundane, and having worked there for four and a half years now, some of it is VERY mundane.
But often I find people who refuse work that is even in the purview of their position. We are paid to be there and work anyway, why not work and make the work day go faster?
What do I do?
I do not say no to tasks given to me.
Sure some of them are dumb. But it’s work, it needs to be done. So I just volunteer and do it, or if my boss or someone else presents a problem which I can fix I propose a solution. And if I don’t know? I research and find out, or try and, if I fail, try again.
I just do it (this blog has no connection to Nike in the ’90s).
And that is where I feel the work ethic of many others is lacking today. Maybe this has always been an issue. Maybe even the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt or Roman Centurions complained about how some of their workers or soldiers refused to do what was asked of them.
Instead a lot of people complain. Why do I have to do it? Why can’t we just not do it?
I hate to break this to some, but your boss generally isn’t creating stupid tasks out of thin air. A spreadsheet needs to be made to track something. There is most likely a requirement from upper management or auditing or finance demanding it be done. Your boss is there to manage work and put out fires. If you’re like me (I’m a buyer in my organization), you do the work-work.
Some may think their boss is just being an arrogant jerk.
But what if, instead, your boss is simply confident in giving you work because they know you will get it done and produce a high quality product?
Some may think they are given all the dirt tasks.
But what if no one else, or very few people, in your department will do those tasks?
I have also found that doing side tasks is an excellent way to improve one’s own image and exposure. Don’t like the level of job you are at? Take on extra tasks; it gets your name out into your organization, or, if you want to move on, it pads your resume.
For example, I didn’t have to take on the task of managing a SharePoint site for my department, or build a spreadsheet to track original spend on services and materials, and what we are saving now. I took on those tasks because they needed to be done. The result has been overwhelming exposure in my company – people talking about how hard I’ve worked and how I didn’t say no.
I’d say I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I am. I worked hard – some because working hard is what I do, some because I’m a team player, and some because what we do in my line of work (supply chain) is interesting to me. And it’s paid off.
And if you truly work hard and are a team player, you can toot your own horn, too. Sometimes our society puts down those who are confident in what they’ve done – don’t let them get you down. Keep going, you’ll get ahead of them while they’re still whining.
“But,” you say, “my boss really is trying to make my life miserable.”
You have a choice. Quit and find a new job is a viable option. But what if you took on the worthless tasks your jerk of a boss gives you, intent on making your life miserable, and instead you work hard, consistently accomplishing everything ahead of schedule and/or ahead of expectations? You could stick it to your boss, and could make waves in your organization in the process.
“I can’t do that.” “It’ll never happen.” “I’ll always hate my job.” “I just always have to put up with this BS.”
Unfortunately I hear that more often than not. Sure there’s BS in every organization, regardless of where you are. But, like Dale Carnegie said in How to Make Friends and Influence People, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”
Now, if your boss really is abusive – truly, poisonously abusive – then it’s time to speak up and do something about it (sit-down and talk, HR complaint, legal action, etc.). Don’t think I’m saying not to. There is a line, and unfortunately some people cross it. Address that issue with a vengeance.
While some may be gun-shy sharing their failures, I generally am not. They are learning experiences in my life which I can draw from. Sure they were hard then, but I’ve grown and changed a lot since then and can look back on my failures and say, “That’s who I was then, look at me now.”
As a brand new officer in the Army I struggled in my first true leadership position (for those non-military types, it’s called a Platoon Leader in the Army). Challenges were placed before me, and instead of trying to be a team player (yes, you still have to be a team player as a leader and/or manager) or finding alternate solutions I complained. I shut down. I gave up.
Now I could scape goat others in my organization for my failures. My boss didn’t like me on a personal level. The XO of the unit I was in undermined me at every turn. Even our Squadron Commander didn’t like me. Months later people would say, “They screwed you, sir!” And yeah, they did.
But had I done what I needed to do, if I had been a true hard worker, adapting and overcoming, and by extension a true leader, their actions against me wouldn’t have mattered. I could have been successful in spite of the challenges they placed before me. Instead I gave up and slunk away with my tail between my legs.
There were other factors, too, that led to my failure (an unrealistic view of how the Army should be; poor networking or people skills; complete loss of confidence in myself), but my piss-poor work ethic was definitely a major driver. I most likely could have overcome my other shortcomings had I just worked harder.
Since then I have grown much as an individual and a professional. I had good friends and mentors that helped me lift myself back up, while also teaching me to step back and look at myself, overcome my pride (we all have some – I had a lot), and identify my shortfalls. Wherever I go in the civilian world and the military (I’m in the National Guard now) I seek out mentors while continuing to improve myself. And no matter where I go, I always focus on working hard.
It seems to me these days that too many people whine and try to get out of work, instead of just working hard. Whether it’s a misunderstanding of their boss’ intentions, or even if their boss is a jerk, people seem to be more inclined to complain rather than fight to overcome the challenges placed before them.
Having a strong work ethic, fighting to overcome the challenges at work or in our everyday lives, and persevering in the face of adversity is what defines us, makes us stronger, and could lead to raises and promotions we didn’t think we could achieve otherwise.
So the next time you’re at work and think, “This sucks,” instead put your nose to the grindstone, as the saying goes, and focus on doing the best at the task given to you. It makes the day go quicker, and can enhance your image and exposure in your organization.
Until next time…