What Does it Mean to Have a Strong Work Ethic?

by Anne Kinsey ; Updated October 17, 2018
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Successful entrepreneurs are known for having a strong work ethic and the ability to stick to their goals, carrying out the everyday tasks required to consistently reach and exceed them. While others around them struggle to get out of bed without hitting snooze five times, these entrepreneurs are often the ones who are up before the sun and have already hit the gym, eaten a healthy breakfast, taken personal development time, read some of a book and dropped the kids off at school before they even walked into the office.

Having a strong work ethic is partly about determination, but it is also about other things like respect, honesty, self-improvement and working with a growth mindset. Business leaders have the opportunity to decide what kind of work ethic they want to see in their teams and then cultivate those behaviors in themselves in order to set the pace for the organization.

What Is Work Ethic?

When people have a strong work ethic, it generally means that they intrinsically value work and fair reward for consistent work. This value shows up in their behaviors as they clock in every day, work dependably and independently and demonstrate solid business results. While work ethic sounds like simple mind-over-matter determination, the dynamics that contribute to it are actually complex and take time to cultivate and grow. If you struggle with your work ethic right now or are helping an employee who does, expect to see personal growth develop in this area with consistent practice over days, weeks, months or even years.

A strong work ethic means working consistently, purposefully, systematically and in a focused way. It means having a solid grasp on your purpose in life that causes you to persevere when the going gets tough or when you feel too tired to do one more thing. Living out a strong work ethic means practicing daily routines that work for you by putting the repetitive details of your life on autopilot. When self-care, home maintenance, health tasks, family care and daily business maintenance tasks are automatic, you are freed to spend the bulk of your creative problem-solving energy on getting the most important things done in both your business and personal life.

People with a strong work ethic have solid boundary-setting skills in order to work for their purpose instead of working to please everyone around them. Sticking to your commitment to work certain hours of the day or to spend a set amount of time on your most important task means you need to have the skills to say no to everything else that tries to intrude on that time. When you say no to distractions, it actually means saying yes to accomplishments. When you schedule time to socialize outside of your work hours, it actually means larger blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on the business tasks at hand.

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People with a strong work ethic have a solid grasp on what is most essential in their business and personal life, and then they focus only or primarily on those things, blocking out anything unessential. When you focus on the things that create the biggest bang for your buck, you and your business start to build momentum in a way that encourages you to keep working. That momentum also makes it possible to delegate smaller, less-essential tasks to others in order to create additional productivity space in your calendar. When you focus on what is essential and build momentum, it feels more and more natural to maintain a strong work ethic that gets you to your goals.

As you work, you might find that some of your own emotions or personal hang-ups sometimes stand in the way of achieving your goals. Face those obstacles head-on through business mentoring relationships, personal growth books, business coaching or therapy. Facing things head-on right now means that your personal issues are less likely to sneak up on you later and sabotage your work ethic and business. As you grow personally and get out of your own way, you will more automatically make positive business decisions and work consistently, with greater results.

As a small business owner or entrepreneur, your work ethic sets the pace for your entire organization, so model the kinds of behaviors you want to see. Focus on what matters most in your own business life, and give your team permission to do the same. Block out distractions and focus during work hours, but then fully enjoy your personal time and encourage your team to do the same. As you model a healthy work ethic, you and your organization will create sustainable rhythms of work and play that produce consistent results in the workplace in order to get you where you are going.

Why Are Ethics Important in the Workplace?

Ethics are important in the workplace because they keep relationships intact in a way that propels businesses toward their goals. For instance, the qualities of a strong work ethic are things like hard work, honesty, humility, responsibility and respect. With these kinds of values, employees stay in their own lane, take pride in their work and enjoy contributing to the overall work and mission of their team and the company. This contributes to the reputation of the company, its bottom line and its success in the marketplace.

Consider what happens when the opposite of those values comes into play. If a company is unethical and operates with qualities like laziness, dishonesty, ego, irresponsibility and disrespect, there is no room for forward growth and a solid bottom line. Relationships disintegrate and any illusion of success is just that – an illusion. When the truth comes out or a shaky foundation crumbles, the illusion of success comes tumbling down, bringing the company with it too.

In the everyday running of a business with to-do lists longer than the hours in the day, it can sometimes feel tempting to rest a little longer, fudge this number here or there, inflate your accomplishments or blow off a day at the office for the golf course. However, once you compromise your ethics once, you will probably feel tempted to compromise them again, and you might also set an example for your team that you do not really want them to repeat. Compromising ethics is a slippery slope that can feel harmless at first but soon snowballs into an avalanche that you do not know how to stop. To safeguard your company, make everyday business decisions with ethics and the long term in mind.

What Is the Meaning of Ethics?

While ethics apply to how we work, they also apply to other aspects of business, like how you treat your coworkers, employees and customers. A person's ethics include the moral principles and values that govern his behavior in every area of life and relationships. Ethics are a person's sense of what is right and wrong and have great meaning in shaping the direction of people, teams and entire organizations. Someone who values hard work and respect is likely to work consistently and relate with coworkers and superiors in a kind and polite way. On the other hand, someone who values laziness and disrespect is likely to show up late for shifts, miss days of work and snap at colleagues or clients. In both cases, their moral principles and values are showing up in their behavior and patterns in the workplace. When you are mindful of your own ethics and look for these moral principles and values in your potential employees, it becomes easier to create a work environment shaped around doing the right thing.

How to Run an Ethical Business

An ethical business starts with ethical leadership, which means that you and other leadership members need to perform your job and live your lives in an ethical way that sets the pace for the rest of the organization. Ethical leadership starts with the understanding that people are more likely to do what you do than what you say. Know when it is time to push your team, yet let your management style be one based on inspiring them instead of ordering them around. If you want your employees to show up on time, then make it a priority to show up on time yourself. If you want your employees to focus on the next most important thing, do that yourself. Not only will your actions set the pace for your people, but we can best teach work ethic and ethics in general when we have the experience of living them out ourselves.

Running an ethical business means creating ethical systems and standards that reflect the personal moral values you already live out in your own life. Choose your employee health plan, attendance standards, break schedules, shifts, vacation policies and conflict resolution procedures with ethics in mind. Ensure that each employee has a supervisor or mentor who can encourage her as she develops professionally and personally in your business and field. Encourage and require continuing education and professional development, and then provide those opportunities intentionally. Prioritize employee health and growth and watch your company as a whole experience health and growth.

Running an ethical business means keeping stellar records and documenting everything. If you are not gifted in keeping financial records, hire someone who is. Document employee struggles and product issues, keep meeting minutes and meet regularly with leadership to ensure that all your ducks are in a row. Schedule regular institutional audits as a safety guard in ensuring that your financial and organizational ducks are in a row.

When ethics start with leadership and flow into systems, standards, relationships and institutional accountability, relating to your customers or clients comes more naturally. Create standards of hard work, honesty, humility, responsibility and respect in relating to clients. Give them avenues for sharing feedback about their customer experience, reward employees who get rave reviews and provide avenues for growth to employees who need a little extra help. People notice when a company feels good, is transparent and accountable and serves them well, helping your business to achieve stability and longevity and meet your goals and projections.

Operating an ethical business also means knowing when to make a tough call. We cannot have ethical businesses when we overlook unethical behaviors and patterns in systems or in our employees. An ethical mishap does not always have to mean firing someone, but it does always need to be addressed promptly and effectively. Strive to find out why people act the way they do and provide them with the tools, information and motivation to act differently next time. If next time comes and old unethical behaviors surface again, you might need to make a tough call about a stricter intervention or about terminating the employee. This can feel extremely uncomfortable, especially if you are friends with the employee or team member, but knowing when to set a firm boundary helps protect the rest of your organization and the values of hard work, honesty, humility, responsibility and respect. Your commitment to ethics helps ensure your reputation and adds stability and longevity to your organization.

About the Author

Anne Kinsey is an entrepreneur and business pioneer, who has ranked in the top 1% of the direct sales industry, growing a large team and earning the title of Senior Team Manager during her time with Jamberry. She is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and freelance writer who has written for publications like Working Mother, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and Our Everyday Life. Anne works from her home office in rural North Carolina, where she resides with her husband and three children.

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