What Happens When Your Employees Work Ethic Isn’t What it Should Be 

All businesses want to cultivate high-performance teams that drive the success of the organization. When all employees are demonstrating a strong work ethic and are operating at high productivity, everyone achieves their goals.   

But what happens when your employees’ work ethic isn’t what it should be? When employees don’t value work or working hard, their productivity suffers. A recent study by Hubspot revealed that lost productivity costs US employers around $1.8 billion annually.  When your team’s work ethic is slipping, you can help boost it from within, but you may also have to consider the way you hire, so that you are focused on hiring candidates with a good attitude and a strong work ethic.  

Work Ethic vs. Productivity  

Work ethic and productivity are not the same things, but work ethic directly impacts employee productivity. If you want more productive employees, it’s necessary to hire people with a strong work ethic and help current employees strengthen their work ethic.  

What do we mean by work ethic? Work ethic is a set of moral principles that an employee uses on the job, and it encompasses traits like reliability, dependability, dedication, responsibility, discipline, goal orientation and more. People with a strong work ethic prioritize work, can be counted on to show up every day and put their best foot forward and work towards individual and team goals.  

Someone who has a solid work ethic tends to be more productive than people who lack that sense of duty. They know what is expected of them, and they manage their time throughout the day to deliver on those expectations.   

Skills can be learned, and talent can be honed, but there is no substitute for working hard. People with a strong work ethic who show up every day and give 110% are your most valuable employees because they are often your most productive employeesThey can be counted on to achieve their goals and can be trusted to pull through when you need them to, and when you find team members with a good work ethic, it’s important to nurture their success.  

Can You Help Improve Your Employees Work Ethic? 

It can be incredibly frustrating when employees who have a lot of potential aren’t putting in 100% on the job. It’s even more frustrating if you notice that someone who had previously been working hard is suddenly doing just enough to meet expectations, or worse, isn’t meeting expectations. What can you do when an employee’s work ethic isn’t what it should be?  

First and foremost, you must temper your expectations. There is no overnight fix for motivating people to give it their all. You can’t yell them into putting in more effort. You can’t punish them into it. You have to commit to a process yourself – a process that involves being supportive and active in their performance.

You can help boost employee work ethic in several ways:  

  • Be the example: If you’re known for coming in late, ducking out early on Fridays or taking long lunches, can you really expect your employees to demonstrate a good work ethic? If you expect your team to go above and beyond, you have to demonstrate that you’re willing and able to do the same. 
  • Set goals and milestones: Goals give people something to reach for, but it’s very easy to fail when you don’t have milestones set up along the way. Work with each employee to set quarterly and annual goals but break those larger targets into milestones. This is also a good idea for large projects, as well. A heavy workload and lofty goals can be overwhelming but breaking them down allows employees to commit to smaller goals and deadlines and to be more engaged in their work.  
  • Recognize achievement: Bag the old Employee of the Month program and work on two new kinds of recognition programs to help boost work ethic. Develop a peer recognition program that lets individuals recognize peers for achievements and offer perks and bonuses for reaching KPIs.  
  • Offer training and development programs: If you provide training or professional development courses to your employees, it will help boost confidence, grow skill sets and encourage a good work ethic.   

How to Spot an Employee With Good Work Ethic 

The value of work ethic can’t be overstated. Many successful people have attributed their accomplishments to work ethic over talent or skills. We often hear stories of CEOs who were children of immigrants and worked their way to the toppeople who were born into poverty who worked their way to the penthouse suite, or athletes who were cut from high school teams but went on to become top professionals. These people often attribute their success to waking up every single day, showing up and working harder than the people around them, which is why it’s so important to focus on work ethic in the hiring process. You may not be hiring the next Michael Jordan or Lee Iacocca, but hard workers will make all the difference to your team and company. 

Evaluating candidates who have a good work ethic isn’t always easy. Any candidate can say that they have one, but it doesn’t always mean they are being forthright.  

Behavioral interview questions, while certainly not foolproof, are the first step towards spotting a potential employee with a good work ethic.  Incorporate questions like these into your interview process to help uncover a strong sense of work ethic:  

  • Can you describe a time when you went the extra mile at work? 
  • When things are slow, or you’ve finished your tasks, what do you do with your time? 
  • What does work ethic mean to you? 
  • When have you worked the hardest? What were your motivations? 
  • Give an example of a time when you completed a difficult task that required you to work harder than normal. 

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. However, you want to evaluate whether candidates are able to quickly provide you with real-life examples of times they went above and beyond. Their anecdotes should be detailed, and they should directly speak to the candidate’s work ethic. 

Signs Your Candidate Could be Lying About Their Work Ethic 

It’s easy for some people to say what a hiring manager wants to hear. Occasionally you’ll have a candidate who has no shame in their game – they’ll flat out admit to being late, only being in it for the paycheck, focusing their own questions on time off policies, etc., but most people are savvier than that in the interview chair. And it’s why so many hiring managers find themselves making bad hires.  

The vast majority of candidates know that you want to hear that they have an excellent work ethic, so they will work to portray this image in their interview.

So, how do you know if a candidate is lying about their work ethic?  

  • Think about their communication patterns: Was the candidate quick to respond to your outreach? Or did it take them a while to decide to get back to you? Are they a little too familiar in the interview chair? Conversely, someone who hounded you could be desperate and hiding things.  
  • Job hopping: On its face, job-hopping shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, but you should investigate it a bit. If someone hopped jobs because of industry layoffs or because they were trying to advance their careers and the only way was to look outside their current company, don’t write them off. However, if the candidate is vague about why they job hopped or is too focused on money, it could be a sign that they are lying about their work ethic. 
  • Their aspirations: Ask candidates about their long-term aspirations. One warning sign that someone is lying about their work ethic is a complete lack of aspiration and ambition. Another is a very unrealistic sense of where they can go. And another still is someone who has no shame in saying that they like working as a bookkeeper for now, but they really want to move to California to be an actor or sail around the world and are just saving up the funds.  

Because there are many people who are excellent at interviewing and saying what they know a hiring manager wants to hear, you don’t want to go off of their answers alone. During the reference checking process, ask direct questions about candidates work ethic and ability to remain productive even during downtime.  

Signs Your Candidate is Ambitious  

It’s good practice to hire ambitious candidates because these individuals want to grow their careers. However, you do want to make sure that a candidate’s ambitions are realistic within the framework of your organization. If you don’t offer opportunities for growth, for example, the candidate might not be well-aligned.  

However, if you sport employees’ professional development, you want to look for someone whose work ethic is driven by ambition to succeed. This is an important nuance. If you are looking for people to grow with your organization, you don’t want to hire someone who may have a strong work ethic but has no desire to grow – and believe it or not, there are lots of people like that in the world. They work hard but are quite happy to remain a worker bee and have no desire to move up 

Determine the types of motivations you are looking for and then identify them in potential new hires. If you are seeking a candidate who is ambitious, you can identify that trait in several ways:  

  • Resume trends: Study the candidate’s resume closely and ask probing questions to uncover ambition. Study each job across the timeline. Has the candidate continually moved up? If each line on their experience section shows they are growing and moving forward, it’s a good sign they have ambition.  
  • Goals: Don’t skip over the old “where do you see yourself in five (or ten) years” question. People who have a well-thought-out plan and who have set clear goals are likely ambitious. As they outline their goals and plans, you can also evaluate whether the candidate will be a good long-term fit for your company.  
  • Failure: Believe it or not, the way someone deals with failure can speak to their work ethic and ambition. Asking candidates to describe failure can often throw them for a loop because no one likes admitting to failure, but the fact is, we’ve all failed. Someone who avoids the question or is extremely uncomfortable may be ambitious, but they may also be completely in it for themselves. Look for candidates who are self-assured, who can admit to failures and most importantly, talk about the ways failure propelled them forward. Learning from mistakes not only shows ambition, but it shows the right motivations and a true desire to learn and grow towards success.  

Remember, an optimistic outlook and ambition are part of a strong work ethic, so try to identify candidates who are motivated to not only perform to their potential, but to continually raise the bar, as well. 

How to Find Candidates With a Strong Work Ethic 

With all of this advice in your back pocket, it should be easy to identify candidates with a strong work ethic, right? Maybe not. Even the most experienced hiring managers can struggle when it comes to identifying ambitious, productive candidates with a strong work ethic. It’s very easy to get caught up in hiring people who look fantastic on paper or who were so charismatic that they won you over in the interview despite a red flag or two on their resume. 

If you want to find candidates who have a strong work ethic and who are also skilled and well-aligned with your organizational culture, it pays to invest in a staffing and recruiting partnership. If your business is in the Dallas, Fort Worth TX, areas or in Springfield, MO, partner with RPC Company today. 

Since 2002, RPC has been providing quality candidates to employers in the Dallas, Fort Worth, TX and Springfield, MO areas for their hiring needs, including temporary, temp-to-hire, direct hire, and more. We can help you identify the right candidates with a strong work ethic for every role.  Contact RPC Company to learn more about the ways we can help you gain a competitive edge through talent. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *