Addressing Work Ethic in the New Century

Addressing Work Ethic in the New Century

Victor X. Wang (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Susan K. Dennett (Northwood University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6046-5.ch039


This chapter takes the reader through a historical review of work ethic and the ways in which organizations can motivate their employees to adopt a healthy rather than unhealthy work ethic. McGregor's Theory X and Y theory is examined. To determine whether an organization has acquired a healthy work ethic based on Theory X and Theory Y, Wang's valid and reliable instrument for the organization's employees to use is presented. Maslow, Hertzberg, and McClelland's motivational theories form the foundation of the factors that motivate employees. The diverse characteristics of employees are reviewed, including the Baby Boomers and Generation X and Y, and how these cohorts of employees look for different motivating factors in their job. The chapter concludes with future trends that are impacting organizations and the workforce and the importance of understanding the different motivating factors that play a part in employees' work ethics across cultures.
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In order to define ethics, one should look closely at the roots. Ethos is the Greek translation which means customs, conduct or character (Northouse, 2013). The term of ethics can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks Plato and Aristotle. Northouse (2013) goes on to say that ethics focuses on values and morals in a person and why people behave as they do. Aristotle describes an ethical human being as possessing the following 9 virtues:

  • Courage.

  • Temperance.

  • Generosity.

  • Self-control.

  • Honesty.

  • Sociability.

  • Modesty.

  • Fairness.

  • Justice (Northouse, 2013).

It is understood that these virtue-based ethics are already within a person’s character and as a person grows older and practices these virtues, they become more of a habit.

To correctly understand one’s work ethics, it is necessary to examine how people view work through the ages. A brief review of the dominant meanings that people have given to work at different times in history contributes to our understanding of work ethics needed in today’s organizations.

Wenrich, Wenrich, and Galloway (1988) noted that the Hebrews thought of work as painful drudgery and so did the Greeks and Romans. The same scholars noted that early Christianity followed the Jewish tradition by regarding work as a punishment. However, everyone in the West seems to agree that Christianity added a positive function, that work is necessary not only to earn one’s living, but also so that those who wished could share their profits with the poor. Many philanthropists in the Western societies share this positive view of work by donating most of their wealth to charitable organizations. For example, Bill Gates and the second wealthiest individual in the United States have given away 80% of their wealth to societies in the world. It is true in the past people worked for livelihood—a means of substance. This is true in the past for the Europeans and so is the case with Asians. Unfortunately, a number of people in developing countries still struggle to work for just this livelihood. Most Africans belong to this category. To people in developed countries, they work beyond their daily bread; they work because it is the right and moral thing to do (Kazanas et al., 1973; Tilgher, 1930). DeGrazia (1962, p. 45) wrote that American Protestants and Puritans considered work as good and idleness as bad.

To date, scholars and practitioners have summarized seven well accepted viewpoints towards work:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Ethic: It refers to moral or correct behavior. When used in its plural form, it means a system of moral or correct conduct, moral principles. In this article, ethic is a countable noun, meaning moral and correct conduct and moral principles. Traditionally, organizations focused on X work ethic, which indicates employees with X work ethic must be controlled, coerced and forced to work. As more and more organizations buy into humanism, which means employees have unlimited potential for work and learning, organizations begin to look further into Y work ethic, which is more desirable in terms of achieving surplus value in work.

Work: Work is defined as to labor, exert force. Of course, it has many different yet similar meanings. However, Bott, Slapar and Wang (2003) AU24: The in-text citation "However, Bott, Slapar and Wang (2003)" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. defined work as a physical or mental effort directed toward some end or purpose. This may be a paycheck or it could be the joy and satisfaction of doing something worthwhile. To some people, work is a good and moral thing to do. To others, work may be painful drudgery that must be avoided. This dichotomy leads to what we call X work ethic and Y work ethic in today’s organizations.

Controlling: It refers to the process of having power or authority over somebody or something.

Assumptions: Beliefs that something will happen. Assumption’s synonym can be supposition.

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