Work Ethic Definition & Elements of a Strong Work Ethic



What is Work Ethic, and its Purpose?

In its simplest definition, a system of moral principles is called ethics. They affect how people lead their lives, for life is an unbroken stream of decision-making and ethics are concerned with what is the right moral choice, for individuals and for society. This is also known as a moral philosophy. The etymology of ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, meaning habit, custom, disposition or character.

Ethics are therefore concerned with these sorts of moral decision: how to live an ethical life, rights and responsibilities, right and wrong language, what is good and bad and so on. Contemporary notions of ethics have been handed on from philosophy, religions, and global cultures. Ethics are debated in topics such as human rights, right to life, and professional behavior.

In a business, an ethical code is a defined set of principles which guide an organization in its activities and decisions and the firm’s philosophy may affect its productivity, reputation, and bottom line.

Among staff ethical behavior ensures work is completed with integrity and honesty and staff that are ethical adhere to policies and rules while working to meet the aims of the enterprise. An ethically positive, healthy work culture enhances morale among employees.

Work Ethic Definition and Meaning

Traditionally, work ethic has been understood as a value based on hard work and diligence. Capitalists, for example, believe in the necessity of working hard and in consequential ability of enhancing one’s character. Socialists suggest that a concept of “hard work” is deluding the working class into being loyal workers of the elite; and working hard, in itself, is not necessarily an honorable thing, but simply a way to create greater wealth for those at the summit of the economic pyramid.

These values have been challenged and characterized as submissive to social convention and authority, and not meaningful in and of itself, but only if a positive result accrues. An alternative perception suggests that the work ethic is now subverted in a broader, and readily marketed-to society. This perspective has given us the phrase “work smart”.

In recent times, many say that a work ethic is now obsolete and that it is no true any longer that working more means producing more, or even that more production leads to a better life… this is, of course, not to be confused with quality productivity.

Here is one of the views about work ethic from Will Smith and how important it is where Will says (about 2:00 during the interview):

“I’ve never viewed myself as particularly talented. Where I excel is ridiculous sickening work ethic”

What Are Some Types Of Workplace Ethics?

The path to improved work ethics begins with a kee

The path to improved work ethics begins with a keen understanding of the various types of workplace ethics.

The scope of workplace ethics is far-reaching, and no two situations will be exactly alike. However, most situations will typically fall into one of these workplace ethics categories:

  • Business ethics, which includes issues surrounding contractual agreements, advertising practices, and product quality.
  • Employer ethics, which encompasses hiring practices, fair treatment of employees, and development of employee guidelines.
  • Sexual harassment ethics, which includes issues stemming from unwanted sexual advances and discrimination based on gender.
  • Diversity ethics, which involves situations related to race, religion, and cultural differences.

Ideally, employers should cover ethical standards and examples of violations during onboarding and employee training.

However, employees who are unsure about workplace ethics should seek clarification and guidance from their compliance officer or human resources manager. 



Ideally, the policies a business operates with are compassion, fairness, honor, responsibility, and integrity. One of the best ways to communicate organizational ethics is by training employees about company standards. Basic work ethics for any organization should include:

  • Uniform rules and regulations: An ethical organizational example is the common treatment of all staff, i.e., with the same respect, regardless of race, culture, religion, or lifestyle, with equal chances for promotion. Therefore, small company managers should desist from favoring any one employee, for it can lead to lawsuits and is also highly counterproductive.
  • Communication of the rules and regulation to all employees: Company policies must be clearly communicated to each employee with a transparency at all levels of the hierarchy. Employees are the spine of all organizations and should have a say in the goals and objectives of a firm.
  • Respect for Employees: Respect employees and in return receive the same. Regulations should not be so rigid, and therefore, don’t expect staff to attend work two days before a marriage. If somebody is not well, don’t ask them to attend office unless or until there’s an emergency.
  • Allow a degree of freedom to employees without constant micro-management: Key roles of responsibility need to be established on the first day of joining with responsibilities commensurate with a person’s expertise. Employees should be inducted into training if needed.
  • Clear cut salary and promotion policy: Employees crib if they are underpaid. Make sure they get what is deserved and decided in the presence of the person. A major attrition factor is a poor appraisal, promotion prospects are ideally based on merit, not favor. Clarity is crucial.
  • Clear and uniform holiday schedule: It is the responsibility of human resource professionals to prepare the holiday calendar at the beginning of the year and circulate the same among all employees.
  • Effects of Work Ethics within an organization: Preferably a workplace ethic culture will ensure that employers guide and mentor staff appropriately while management treats all as equal. Transparency is essential.
  • How Leadership ethics and Employee ethics can impact the organization: Owner and executive level accountability is a vital function of leadership. Executives, as equally as employees, are expected to be honest and transparent. Organizations need to abide by ethical norms; all of which benefit the consumer, the society and the firm.
  • What are the core ethical elements that define the ethics of an organization: There are at least four elements that aim to create an ethical behavioral culture of employees within an organization.
    • A written code of ethics and standards (ethical code).
    • Ethics training for executives, managers, and employees.
    • The availability of ethical situational advice (i.e. advice lines or offices).
    • A confidential reporting system.

Examples of work ethic skills

Employees with a strong work ethic exhibit a particular set of values and behaviors. These characteristics make them stand out as highly coveted team members and praise-worthy employees.

  • Reliability

  • Dedication

  • Discipline

  • Productivity

  • Cooperation

  • Integrity

  • Responsibility

  • Professionalism


Employees with a strong work ethic are very reliable. You can expect these individuals to be on time for shifts and meetings. They meet their deadlines and offer quality work. A reliable coworker makes an excellent teammate because they contribute fairly to projects.


Part of a good work ethic is commitment and dedication to the job. They know how to focus on tasks without being distracted. These employees usually work until they finish their duties. They stay with one company for long periods of time.


Discipline is an essential part of showing a good work ethic. Highly disciplined employees show determination and commitment to the job. They strive to meet or exceed expectations and seek opportunities to learn new skills and improve their performance.


A strong work ethic translates to outstanding productivity. Productive employees often have a higher output than their counterparts. They complete projects early and do more than the minimum requirements.


A good work ethic is something that employees often spread to those around them by cooperating willingly on projects. They show good teamwork and readily assist others when needed.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume


Professional integrity means holding oneself to high moral principles. Those with a strong work ethic also have outstanding integrity. They’re honest, polite and fair to others.


Demonstrating strong work ethic requires a keen sense of responsibility. Those who are ethical and responsible hold themselves accountable for their actions. They will accept the blame for errors they’ve contributed to and proactively work to fix these issues.


Employees with a good work ethic almost always maintain their professionalism. They exhibit a professional attitude clear in the way they dress, speak and carry themselves. They’re respectful, focused, organized and neat.

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Ways to demonstrate work ethi

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Ways to demonstrate work ethic: Put away distractions Ask for help to identify areas for improvement Spend your time wisely on tasks that align with goals Organize your notes, inbox and workspaces for increased focus, motivation and time management Take breaks throughout the day to avoid burnout Identify motivators such as tasks, goals or colleagues Practice time management to complete quality, on-time work and be more present in meetings

Work ethic examples

Next, we’ll go into a practical examination of work ethic. We’ll review some common examples of both strong and poor work ethic.

Strong work ethic examples

People with a strong work ethic are often referred to as true professionals. Next, we’ll look at some examples of a strong work ethic in the workplace.

First example:

Barney is the employee that always follows through on his commitments. If he agrees to take over another co-worker’s shift, he always shows up. If commits to a deadline, you can count on him to meet that deadline.

Everyone knows him as the guy they can rely on. He gets satisfaction in being the person that never shows up late, and always completes work of the caliber, no matter what the task is.

Second example:

Angela’s supervisor asked her to coordinate reports between patient in-services and insurance. Unfortunately, Angela isn’t very familiar with processing certain insurance claims.

Rather than giving up, Angela decides to expand her skillset. She networks with her co-workers in the insurance department and asks questions of her supervisor to ensure she completes her task to the best of her ability.

In the process, she expands her skills to make sure she meets her goals.

Third example:

Barbara is known for her meticulous work. She never misses a deadline, and still doesn’t sacrifice the quality of her work to do so.

While it may take more focus, and time for certain tasks, she always delivers high-quality, reliable work. Her supervisors know that they don’t need to double-check her work.

No matter what day, what time, or what the circumstances are Barbara never turns in work that would be considered sub-par.

Bad work ethic examples

Individuals with bad work ethic aren’t very hard to point out. However, clear examples can help you point out specific factors that are a problem. If these are corrected, the employee’s performance will also improve.

First example:

Jim’s supervisor asked him to review the financial reports from last quarter to look for purchases from one client. The supervisor gave him this task about a month ago and asked him to complete it within a few weeks.

Now, a month has passed, and Jim still hasn’t reviewed any of the reports. Rather than starting early, he’s left it to the last minute and turns in an incomplete report.

Jim is a standard example of poor prioritization and a weak work ethic.

Second example:

Sheila is sometimes bothered by the tasks required of her. However, she never addresses this with her superiors. Instead, she complains to co-workers, friends, and anyone that will listen about her job.

Ultimately it displays a very poor image of the company and creates a more hostile working environment for her co-workers.

Being resentful and complaining, rather than seeking solutions, is another strong indicator of poor work ethic.

Third example:

Jeff is an employee that isn’t bothered by work schedules. Every weekday he’s supposed to show up at 9 am.

While other employees show up on time or even early, Jeff is rarely, if ever at the office on time. He makes excuses about traffic or other problems but never bothers to get up earlier to correct the issues.

His constant tardiness shows a lack of respect for his job and fellow coworkers. His coworkers know him as unreliable and irresponsible as a result.

Repeated tardiness is another common sign that an employee has a bad work ethic.

Leadership and Vision

John Barrows: So what do you think leadership’s role is in getting people working to the right tune? I get a lot of questions about getting reps working as hard as leadership. And the answer to that is you’re never going to get your reps to work as hard as you, cause they’re not there. They’re not as inventive. If you’re owner and you own 30, 40, 50% of the company and some kid’s getting a commission check, you expect that kid to work as hard as you. So do you have any guidance on leadership on how they can get reps to buy into that and also understand where they fit in the big picture?

Katy Tynan: Yeah. I think there’s a couple of things there and you’ve touched on really well. So one of them is why did we do that at Thrive. I’ll tell you why I did it at Thrive. I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the people. Yeah. I was there every day and busted my ass at 10 o’clock at night for two sets of people. Number one, our clients because I was on the hook for it. You and I had sat in a room with those people, solved their problems and then if something broke, I had to go fix that. Part of it was that intrinsic motivation. I loved fixing things. I love taking that worry from those clients who don’t understand that technology.

If you don’t have intrinsic motivation, if you don’t believe in the product you’re selling to such a level that you’re willing to spend some of your personal time and spend some of your extra energy on doing that, then you need to find a different company that sells a different product that you really give a sh*t about.

That’s part one. Part two from a leadership perspective is it is about a lot of different things for different people. So I was not as money motivated as I could have been, but I was certainly career advancement motivated. I wanted to be at the next level of my career and frankly that Thrive director level position that I had there way early in my career got me somewhere that I would never have gotten had things been different.

John Barrows: Yeah. I always joke that like I was the VP of sales and marketing at the ripe old age of 24 years old, which is a total joke, but at least have that title.

Katy Tynan: Yeah, basically some exposure. Exactly. So you have to think about all the parts. And if you’re a leader, you have to look at each of those people that are on your team and say, why is this person here? Why did they take this job? Is it because of the people?  The money? Is it the opportunity to learn and grow? Is it that they thrive in this particular environment? And then you’ve got to help them see the connection between the work they do every day. And that intrinsic motivation gets them out of bed and it’s going to be different for everybody.

Now that’s like Ninja management. Not a lot of managers are great at doing that. And so they fall back on, I’ll just throw money at this person. But it’s not always about the money, especially at that level in your career. You know, the money’s gonna come at some point, but you’re doing it in order to get somewhere. And I think that’s what leaders need to understand. And that’s your point about the vision.

John Barrows: I think about this a lot, we’re in a world right now where you just have to accept the fact that, that whoever’s working for you is going to leave eventually, right? And they’re probably not going to be at your company forever. So why not create an environment for them where you’re going to get the best out of them in the short period of time. And be open and honest with them about it. And so I’m wondering if it’s, if it’s almost like if you’re a manager out there, one of the things that I would do. This is what I did with Morgan, you know, I asked him, what are your life goals here? Forget about this job for a second.

Ultimately what do you see yourself doing? My job here is to help you get there. Now I want to get the most out of you for us here with this organization. But in doing that, I want to help make sure that you’re developing to get to that next level of your career. I’ll give you an example. Like Morgan, his number one goal when he came on board was meet was he wanted to be the number one motivational speaker on the planet, right? You want like Tony Robbins type of stuff and always cracks me up. And I said, all right Morgan, give me three to four years.

I said, give me three to four years and I want you to bleed for me. I literally want you to go out and I want you to go train and travel and generate as much revenue as you possibly can from my company. And in return for that, I’m going to show you how to run a business. I’m going to show you how to manage. I’ll show you the keys to the castle of how to do this, but I need you to do this for me. And there’s a plan for that. Do you suggest that managers take that approach with each one of their reps? It’s kind of taking a step back and saying let’s talk about your life goals here for a second and how I can help you get there.

Katy Tynan: Yeah, so I do a lot of management development and leadership development work and there are so many theories, dude. I mean, you know, everybody in their mother, myself included, has a book and all of these things that you’re supposed to learn and know and do, and it can be really overwhelming to managers. All the stuff that they’re supposed to know and think about. And what I tell people is you can forget all of it, every single drop of theory, you can let it go.

The only thing you have to remember is to care about those people on an individual basis. And if you personally care about an invest in their success, they will go to the end of the earth for you because that’s all people want. They want to know that somebody gives a shit whether they’re successful or not. And I think you’re right in that partnership idea, integrated vice for managers to sit down and say, where are you trying to go?

How can I help you get there and in return, here’s what I need from you. And it’s a really good win-win relationship. And if it’s not working, I have written a whole bunch of articles about why retention is stupid and why you should stop trying to retain people. I get it that companies know that it costs them money to replace people, but you know what costs them more money? Having people sitting there on the job who don’t give a sh*t and aren’t trying anymore.

So make an environment where the people who are the right people will be super successful and they’ll stay as long as they feel like they can be super successful and then be excited when they move on to something new. Because they’re achieving their goals and they’re going to help you make a really lovely warm handoff and they’re probably going to help you hire their replacement.

John Barrows: Yeah, I mean it’s funny because people ask me about Thrive. What was I most proud of at Thrive? It’s funny because it has nothing to do with the fact that we sold to Staples. That has nothing to do with how we were the fastest growing company in Massachusetts and all that other stuff. The thing I am most proud about is that I gave Kevin Ellis and opportunity to do what he did. Yeah. I mean I’m never going to take credit for Kevin being as successful as he was because that was him. But I put him in a position to be successful and watched him grow. And now where he is in his career. Like I take a lot of pride in the fact that I was

Katy Tynan: Yeah. And you should take pride in that. And you remember what I said to Kevin Ellis when he was there and he was whining to you because I was hard on him. It was because he wasn’t getting it right. I gave him a whole ration of Sh*t and he came to you and said, why is Katy so hard on me? The answer is because I wanted him to be successful. And so I was gonna hold him to that standard because I knew he could do it. I think that’s the management that needs to happen to help people understand that you’re buying into their success, that you’re not going to let them do shitty work because you want them to get where they want to go. So I think that’s important. Yeah.

FAQ about work ethic

What does work ethic mean?

Work ethic represents a set of ethical attitudes towards work that regulates employees’ behavior at work.

What is a strong work ethic?

A strong work ethic refers to an outlook that compels people to succeed within their jobs.

How to develop a strong work ethic?

Create an atmosphere of mutual respect and professionalism among employees. Encourage employees to think of themselves as team players.

How to improve work ethic?

Maintain a professional attitude even in difficult circumstances. Remember that you’re part of a team, and that team needs all players to succeed. If possible, find a mentor (such as a more experienced employee at your company) to help guide you.

What are important skills of strong work ethics?

The most important skills for a strong work ethic include:

  • Hard work
  • Dedication
  • Discipline
  • Productivity
  • Teamwork
  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Determination
  • Professionalism

How to describe your work ethic?

Highlight positive traits about yourself that show your work ethic. Make these traits specific to you and your attitude. Avoid simply listing skills or traits; instead, try to connect them with job experience or examples.

How do you complete your work? Are you: timely, reliable, professional, or driven? Do you: always arrive on time, consistently complete quality work, support your team members?

Use these traits to build your answer, and make sure you can give relevant examples for each.

What is the protestant work ethic?

The Protestant work ethic is a theory applied to many different subjects, including sociology, theology, and other related studies. You may also hear ‘Protestant work ethic’ referred to Puritan or Calvinist work ethic, although the principles are the same.

In essence, this theory says that people are influenced by the values in their Protestant faith, and tend to demonstrate a more frugal lifestyle, discipline, and diligence in their everyday lives.

What is poor work ethics?

Poor work ethic shows when employees demonstrate bad work habits, including a lack of productivity, lack of concern for deadlines, and poor quality of work. In general, poor work ethics are an overall disregard for the job and professionalism.