The Death of the Work Ethic

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IN A JOB interview, a young man listens intently as the interviewer explains the specific details of what appears to be his first real career move. But as the details of the actual job unfold, the Gen Y gentleman becomes uneasy and cannot hide his disappointment as he starts, with skilled stealth, to look at his phone.

The interviewer notices and asks, “Is there a problem, Riley?”

“Yes,” he replies. “So, like, I really don’t want to do all of that stuff. I didn’t know the job was so unnecessarily tedious.”

As noncommittal as that response makes Riley sound, in truth, he’s better than many young candidates who simply ghost the next interview or never show up after they are hired.

Two major factors seem to be creating this situation.

  1. Riley has been given the idea that technology has automated the tasks the interviewer said he will have to do manually. After all, Riley has a bot that makes gaming recommendations and has his Starbucks coffee delivered while he’s at the gym. He lives in a world of desirable life hacks.
  2. Working is something he does to fund his life. Work is not something to which he has an emotional attachment strong enough to warrant putting in that kind of effort. This lack of commitment can arise when younger workers haven’t been told something they really need to know: how their job actually helps people (and the world), and that their efforts are valued even if they fall short of initial expectations.

In all fairness, he makes a valid point. Our technology efforts deliver personal and recreational conveniences to almost everyone, but many organizations do not have those advancements built into their jobs. It’s like having a job washing hundreds of dishes by hand but having a dishwashing machine at home. It simply feels ridiculous. As much as we want to brand Riley as a Millennial mistake produced by overinvolved junior Boomer parents (and we do), it’s the job itself and not the candidate that might not have lived up to expectations.

For instance, one industry couldn’t understand why they were losing 50 percent of their new young hires during the onboarding process. When they wisely asked their hopefully engaged new candidates what was causing the mass exodus, they discovered that an 18-minute video that was the essential core of the training process could not be paused. When you attempt to pause it, it simply reverts to the beginning. It was, in fact, the only video that these young people had ever encountered that could not be paused. It may seem absurd to those of us who can be glued 41 minutes straight to an episode of Tiger King that young attention spans are so limited, but we have to deal with people for who they are—not who we wish they were.

I’m not letting Riley entirely off the hook. Anyone reading this who’s 45 or older is thinking either “I’m glad Riley is not applying to my company” or “This kid already works here!” Yet the reality is we might not have created enough work environments to match how we have created people.

This, however, has produced a positive opportunity. Imagine the motivational effect on the younger working generation if we give them a bigger role and louder voice in how we do business. Eliciting their input can be as easy as asking, “How could we do this better?” Your organization could benefit in ways beyond simply making younger people feel engaged or invested; the same innovation that makes a job easier could be used to improve customer loyalty and profits. Historically, innovation is driven by young people who are faced with a world that lives below their tech desires. No one doubts that young gilded-age dudes shoveling horse poop in the 1890s were most likely anti-horse and pro-automobile!

In the final analysis, it will take a willingness from both organizations and individuals to invigorate a dying work ethic. On the part of organizations, let’s invest in easier processes to get the job done. And on your part, Riley (though I’m aware you’re not likely to read this whole article), can you put in your total collected effort and have compassion for the companies that need you? With effort from both parties, we can work together to create (with less hassle) a more successful work experience. 

Garrison Wynn is a nationally known keynote speaker, bestselling author, and consultant. He is the CEO and founder of Wynn Solutions, specializing in how people and organizations can be more influential.

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