Is hard work important, is it still valid?

28 07 2006

Working hard…paying your dues…are these concepts still important and valid in today’s information economy and jobs?

What characteristics do you think of when someone says “she’s a hard worker”?

Is being a “hard worker” a positive or negative trait, something you aspire to?

In the US, the Puritan work ethic still provides a model of how we should work to many people. The Puritans believed that hard work was morally important, physically demanding, difficult or exhausting, required sacrifice and discipline, long hours, and usually referred to physical labor (the dominant labor required at that time). If an activity was pleasant the Puritans were pretty much against it.

Perhaps a better definition of hard work, taking into account the new information economy, is better related to; preparation and research, creating and using your information networks, taking the initiative, follow-through and closure, discipline, focus, efficiency, finding and communicating the solution in a timely manner.

Perhaps hard work is no longer a valid term or concept to apply to information workers.

The time required to do our work has, and is changing. When our principal job was agriculture, long hours were required to plant and harvest. Long hours are no longer required in order to say that someone is working hard in an office, or are they?

As long are workers are hired for an 8 hour day and 40 hour week, employers want to see their employees at their posts, ….doing something. So for many companies working hard still means being in the office for many hours, and extra hours represents hard work.

Long hours in the office could be the result of; research and investigation (good for all), inability to finish your work during the prescribed time (inefficient or fearful employee or workload is too heavy, bad for all), enthusiasm and desire to do more than the norm (good for company and possibly for employee advancement).

“Paying your dues” and sacrifice are also part of our definition of hard work. Paying your dues is part of the initiation into an organization, industry or group. It’s a sacrifice (usually related to long hours) that is part of, or required for, that specific culture. A new employee in many companies might be expected to work extra hours and make personal sacrifices to show they are working hard and paying their dues, trying to become part of the corporate culture.

There is a trade-off for employees between their personal life and business life. In order to succeed and advance in business working in a corporate culture, you must be promoted. To get promoted you have to been seen as possessing profitable skills and be a hard worker and willing to make sacrifices for the good of the company. As our culture becomes more competitive, we are faced with more people willing to work more hours and make more sacrifices, reducing our time with family and friends.

This debate regarding work-life balance is gaining momentum in the US. Workers are evaluating what role work should play in their lives and how many hours they should dedicate to working, and where and who they should “give” their time to.

Our definition of work is changing and evolving, and with it our definition of hard work is also being modified.

At what point do our evaluation and compensation systems take into account new elements that reflect the new realities and definitions of work in the 21st century?


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