Chapter 7MANAGING DIFFERENCES IN WORK ETHIC

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self; one's own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts…

—Dee Hock1

Of all the areas of conflict among the generations, work ethic is certainly the most challenging to overcome, partly because it's an elusive trait to begin with. An Internet search for a definition, for example, will yield many variations with subtle, yet quite meaningful, differences:

  • “a belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character”2
  • “a belief in work as a moral good”3
  • “the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward”4

These definitions highlight one major area of difference among the generations: the degree to which work and the corporate entity are regarded as “good.” Such ideals have waned in recent decades, and many Millennials don't subscribe to the notion that workers should put work ethic above all else. Interestingly, although both Baby Boomers and Generation Xers grew up amid major corporate downsizing, both generations still value a strong work ethic and believe that employees have a moral obligation to work hard for their companies. To illustrate the different generations' ideas about work ethic in today's corporate America, consider this hypothetical scenario:

  • Bob works at Company XYZ, and his daughter's big soccer game kicks off at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. ...

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