Work Ethic Definition & Elements of a Strong Work Ethic

© | Ollyy

In this article, you’ll learn 1) the work ethic definition, 2) why work ethic is super important, 3) the work ethics that are in high demand in businesses, and 4) how to develop 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”


Those with a strong work ethic have inculcated principles that guide them in their work behavior. This leads them to consistent higher productivity, without any prodding that many require to stay on track. Therefore, whether staff are naturally this way or need be trained, if possible, into such an attitude is determined by the managers.

Productive Work

Individuals with a good work ethic are usually very productive people who work at a faster pace. They regularly accomplish more work, more quickly than those who lack a work ethic, for they do not quit until the work which they are tasked is completed. At least in part, this is also due to the fact that they wish to appear to be stronger employees, and thus, they wish to appear to be of more benefit to their managers and the company.


Cooperative work can be highly beneficial in a business entity, individuals with a good work ethic know this well. They understand the usefulness of cooperation, e.g., teamwork — they often put an extensive amount of effort into working well with others.

Such people usually respect company authority enough to cooperate with anyone else with whom they are paired, in a polite and productive way, even if the individuals in question are not so ethically inclined.

Ethics in Organizational Culture

Employers, executives and employees, all adhering to an ethics code stimulate an ethical work culture. Business leaders must lead by exhibiting the behavior they wish to see in employees.

Reinforce ethical conduct by rewarding employees who show the integrity and values that coincide with company policy, and discipline those who make the wrong ethical decisions. Positive ethics culture improves morale in a business, plus it may increase productivity and employee retention which cuts the costs of employee churning, consequentially financially benefitting an organization as improved productivity improves company efficiency.


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.


The employment market is now so competitive that if one doesn’t have a positive work ethic, then employers do not bat an eyelid about looking for someone who meets their firm’s requirement.

As a positive work ethic is vital to a business success, then each person from the CEO to new staff, must inculcate this to keep the company functioning optimally. Get to work promptly, arriving late always starts a workday badly, and signals that you are not committed. Take into consideration traffic, weather and so on and leave home to reach on time. Take responsibility for your actions, which includes being punctual.

Step 1: Be professional about your work

Professionalism is beyond a clean shirt, for it includes one’s values, attitude, and demeanor. Practice being cordial and positive while refraining from gossip. Knowing how to communicate constructively and positively, while respecting the feelings of others is an invaluable tool. Respect others and develop a reputation for having integrity, meaning honesty, fairness, and consistency in what you do and say.

Reliability and honesty: Work ethic is more than completing long hours for its foundation is integrity. To develop integrity, one can:

  • Act the same when people are not watching you, as when they are.
  • Perform consistently at the same level of quality. Be conscientious. Be honest in all things.

Honesty isn’t a business policy, it is a state of mind.

Deliver best outputs: A work ethic is fundamental to success at anything, plus it makes you a valuable employee. For career advancement this is more important than ever before. In work assignments strive to exceed expectations by paying attention to details and making the quality of work your central priority. Everyone can work fast, but few will deliver best quality outputs with few mistakes.

Keep everything in an organized method like a good file system for documents (both soft and hard copy), so you can retrieve these easily to get on with the essential tasks. All of us have times when we are more productive, some in the early morning, some later at night. Identify and schedule the difficult work to be completed in those periods.

Be consistent in delivering good quality work and earn good reputation: Everything worthwhile accomplishing requires discipline. Remain focused on a long-term goal while avoiding getting side-tracked by a short-term gratification. To be persistent and able to follow through on assignments… Train yourself.

However productive you may be, there is always an opportunity to increase one’s level of quality work. Effectiveness means doing the work that matters. Be effective first, then become efficient. Efficient is achieving improved output in less time. There is no point in becoming efficient at doing that non-value added work.

Step 2: Manage your time

Know your strength and weaknesses (including potential distractions, so you can avoid them): Evaluate work. Identifying one’s weaknesses and making a plan to improve these areas builds a stronger work ethic. One way of evaluating this is to create a list summarizing the skills and requirements of your work, and the strengths and weaknesses. Be honest about weaknesses, and what it is that distracts you – this is step one in learning to manage those weaknesses.

Distractions are everywhere – Twitter, Facebook, TV, mobile, etc. Complete these before arriving at work for a no-distraction period. Turn off the internet and see how you start doing work in due time. Ditch the unimportant. If the work is nice-to-do but not need-to-do. Stop it.

Accelerate becoming a more productive employee by regularly visualizing yourself as channeled toward higher accomplishments. Vision yourself as highly efficient and feed the subconscious mind with this vision until it is accepted as a command. The individual that you ‘‘vision”, is the individual that you “become”. Lastingly successful people have one common denominator: they focus on strengths and manage around any weaknesses

Set yourself deadlines for delivering even small tasks: Being able to complete your tasks and finish what you start, is an essential part of character building. You cannot imagine a fully mature, fully functioning person who is unable to finish what she begins. The development of this habit is the key to long-term success. Don’t waste time by doing stuff that is not important? Constantly evaluate to check which things absolutely must get done.

Prioritize tasks and set the most important ones in the morning: Complete projects and tasks immediately. A trademark behavior of a worker with a poor work ethic is delaying work until another day, which usually only leads to an incomplete or late project.

Avoid procrastination: Procrastinating is a great waste. Imagine all that could be accomplished by eliminating procrastination from this moment on. To overcome procrastination, first realize that it’s not the real issue. Procrastination, laziness, bad time management, or lack of discipline, are merely symptoms of the issue. The real reason is beneath this. You can also use the Pomodoro technique to avoid procrastination.

Avoid negative talk and gossip: Keep the lazy, the negative minded, and the unproductive, at arm’s length, for it’s a psychological prison. Associate with ambitious, hard-working people, and soon count yourself amongst them.

  • Provide feedback that improves situations and builds people up.
  • Be an active listener and keep an open mind.

Step 3: Keep a balance and deliver consistent high performance work

Do sport, sleep well, and socialize: Play is best when it’s earned, equally sleep. Earn sleep by working hard on one’s goals in the day. A good work ethic isn’t just being glued to a computer. It is also understanding how to take care with decent sleep, and eating nutritiously. Take time to relax and recharge while keeping priorities in your life clear, helps maintain a good perspective at work.

Step 4: Develop good work habits

Steer the self-development path towards choosing to be an employee with a strong ethic, after all, creating a habit for oneself is really a question of being an action-minded person. The ‘doing component’ flows easily when embracing the ‘being part.’

Create and learn habits: Values to inculcate and habitualize:

  • Valuing punctuality and attendance.
  • Valuing time, orderliness, neatness, and speed.
  • Working smarter but not harder; being psychologically self-employed.
  • Playing an internal game of working, yet enjoying the importance of relaxation and rest.

“Do it now” habit: Never leave ‘till tomorrow what can be accomplished today.’ Good ethics habitualize both attitude, action, and inevitably – consequence: how you do, what you do this moment.

  • The initiative habit – positivity.
  • The main cause of poor productivity and self-sabotage is procrastination, for many reasons, including the perceptions that a task is unpleasant, may lead to negative consequences, or is overwhelming.
  • Cultivate flexibility.

“Do it right” habit: A disciplined habit makes a difference in the long term. Don’t try to break bad habits. Alternatively, choose preferable substitutes that you move forward to, in place of the old ones.

Other good habits:

Concentration is the ability to stay on a task until it is completed, by working in a straight line to get from where one is, without distraction or diversion, to the destination, i.e., completion of the work.

  • Get off to a good start.
  • Clean up and get organized.
  • Plan activities.
  • Streamline work and emphasize the important work.
  • Concentrate on one work task at a time until completion.
  • Work steadily.
  • Make smart use of technology.
  • Be in control of office paper, work in-basket, and e-mail.
  • Multitask on routine matters.
  • Make better use of time.

Don’t forget to create some quiet, uninterrupted time!


It is difficult to define the elements of good work ethics, as it is such an individualistic approach and thinking. What may be good work ethics for me may not be the same for you. Much depends upon how each organization or person looks at work ethics and the moral values that each follows. What moral values you practice in daily life will define your attitude towards work and your work ethics. But there are a few common elements that are universally followed and employers look for it in their employees.

  • Honesty: This is the core element of work ethics, all the other elements are based upon your honesty. Be honest about your successes and failures, take credit only where due, do not steal other’s works or ideas, and own up to your failures.
  • Integrity: Do not let people down, try to fulfill your commitments, and be consistent in your thoughts, action and behavior.
  • Impartiality/Fairness: Be fair to all, do not practice favoritism. Treat everyone as equals.
  • Alertness: Be aware of what is happening around and keep an eye on things.
  • Openness: Share your ideas, results and resources with the other team members, so that everyone has the same opportunity and know what you are doing. Being secretive is counterproductive.
  • Respect for others: No matter how urgent a deadline or heated that tempers become, remain diplomatic and poised and show grace under pressure. Whether serving a client, meeting a customer or meeting with management, do the best to respect other’s opinions, even in stressful circumstances. It shows one values other’s individual worth and professional contribution.
  • Reliability and Dependability: Means being punctual for work and meetings, delivering assignments within budget and on schedule. Be reliable about keeping promises for reputation precedes one so that clients, customers, and colleagues do trust in you to do all that you say you will – everyone appreciates the stability this embodies.
  • Determination: Obstacles cannot stop you as they are a challenge to be overcome. Embrace challenges positively and know that your role is to solve problems with purpose and resilience. Push on, no matter how far it is necessary to go.
  • Dedication: Continue until the job is complete, and delivered. “It’s good enough” is not sufficient for you and the team, as you aim to be “outstanding” in content and quality. Put in the extra hours to get things right by attending to detail and excellence.
  • Accountability: Accept responsibility personally for one’s actions and outcomes in all situations, plus avoid excuses when work does not proceed as planned – admitting mistakes or oversights are used as a learning curve and will not be repeated again. Employers expect employees to attain to high standards, and they should fully support staff who accept responsibility, instead of passing the buck.
  • Confidentiality: Any confidential information of documents you have should remain confidential. You cannot discuss it or show it to anyone else, other than the people authorized to do so.
  • Responsibility: Take responsibility for your thoughts, actions, behavior and work.
  • Legality: Always work within the legal boundaries, do not break or twist the law to fit your agenda.
  • Competence: Improve your performance and competence by constantly learning and including the new learning into your work.
  • Professionalism: From how one dresses and presents oneself in the business world, to how others are treated, professionalism is such a very broad category that it encompasses all the elements of a work ethic.
  • Humility: Acknowledge other’s contribution, and share credit for successes. You have integrity and are open to learning from mentors and others, even as you teach via your action, example, and words. Though you take the work seriously, you are also maintaining a sense of humor about yourself.
  • Initiative: Do not be afraid to put forth your ideas or volunteer for work.

These days a work ethics is important in many situations. It is a skill that can be learned by every person and has so often proved to be the path of success for many. All businesses give a higher regard to an ethical employee, and hiring staff with positive ethics is appreciated around the world.

Simply stating that “I have a good work ethic” is not the way to demonstrate it to an employer. Don’t provide generic, wishy-washy utterings, allow the employer to visualize your ethic by defining how they are incorporated in your accomplishments, without condition.


Today the notion of ethics is extremely widespread. They are an important part of our personal and our working life. With a positive work ethic, individuals can become more focused and responsible regarding their work. The individual can also cultivate a sense of achievement, and this too, has positive effects on their career development, and also on the culture and productivity within the enterprise.

If one is able to successfully demonstrate a positive work ethic, then you are sure to get the job you are being interviewed for, retain your position or be expectant regarding a promotion. However, it’s crucial to cognise what constitutes an ideal work ethics before answering the question.

As we have seen, ethics are fundamentally the modus operandi of activity and any work or task where one keeps in mind the synergy and harmony of coworkers involved which is simply one’s demeanor with respect to others, and towards work.

Ethics in the work environment means those positive facets that accumulatively, define the staff of a company, e.g. Integrity, determination, dedication, initiative and so on. If asked about your ethics, then speak about how you implement them in your work and that being in a job that satisfies you, ensures that you are productive in your current job performance.

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