As a child, when I was in grades 6, 7, and 8, my Mother insisted that I have jobs to do. I was a paperboy delivering the Hamilton Spectator newspapers in our neighbourhood. I did yard-work for a disabled neighbour, Mr. Brown. As well, I had household chores to do, such as cutting our 1/2 acre of lawns, trimming the hedges, and putting out the garbage to the end of the driveway once a week. I earned a percentage of the revenue as a paperboy, I was paid by the hour by Mr. Brown, and I earned a weekly allowance if my household work was done on time, done well, and without complaints. Meeting these elite criteria was not my strength, but, sometimes I succeeded.
Some weeks I could earn $4 to $6 dollars. I absolutely thought that I was rich!
It was fun to earn money and have it to spend. However, I was limited as to how much I could have to fuel my spending lust. My Mother insisted on savings to stay in the bank for the proverbial rainy days ahead.
Her objective was that I discover the value of work, earn my own work ethic, and gain insights into how the world of commerce functioned. You do a task – you get a reward – simple. You do the task to the best of your abilities and you get two rewards – the payment and the powerful feeling of a job well done.
When I was a paperboy at age 10, 11, and 12, she demanded a high level of discipline that has stayed with me even today in my sixties. For example, we would sit together at the kitchen table and count the monies I collected on the two paper routes. She expected all of the bills to be aligned with the heads up and stacked by denomination. The nickles, dimes, and quarters, as well as the coveted, rare fifty cent pieces and silver dollars had to be piled to form exact quantities and eventually rolled in wrappers to take to the bank.
Yes, I had my first bank account at the Royal Bank of Canada to deposit the collections for payment back to the newspaper publisher. A pencil and a piece of paper were used to tabulate the weekly collections, and correlated them against the punch cards that I used to indicate that payment was received. The Hamilton Spectator provided the carrier’s bag, punch cards, and single hole punch.
If you ask to see the cash in my pocket today, all of the heads will be facing front, perfectly aligned the right way, and the denominations are ordered by value. It is impossible to unlearn those important childhood lessons.
The customers kept a card by their doors that I punched with my star-patterned punch on the parameter of their card on the exact date for that week’s deliveries. I also had a large ring hooked to my pant’s belt loop to punch a matching customer card to record the payments. It was simple, and accurate, as long as I remembered to punch the cards. Which I did not always do. This frustrated my Mother.
While newspaper delivery and even many newspaper companies themselves are now long gone, dinosaur businesses of the past, the idea of teaching children a sound work ethic still remains.
Parents are told – among the many, many things modern parents are told – that it is important to instill in their children a strong work ethic. There are plenty of ideas for how to go about doing this. Some insist the kids take on chores or, later, summer jobs. Others make an effort to talk with their children about the value of work and the value of money. Some families may call on a reward system: allowance, or a new book or toy, for small tasks performed. Inspiring a solid work ethic in children can also be achieved through simple modeling. Many children will learn from their parents’ own hard work, ambition, and commitment. No one way is necessarily “better” than the next, and efficacy often depends on the nature of the child at hand.
Which begs the questions: Is work ethic always instilled – by parents, in young children? Can it be learned later on or, in fact, even be inherent?
Surely, instilling work ethic in children is not always easy to do. Families these days are busy. In many cases – most cases, I would argue – it is far less complicated to take out the trash or feed the dog yourself than to have the kids do it, given such an undertaking might include reminding the child, showing him how to do it (again), reminding him (again), and then cleaning up the spills that occur as a result of his “helping.” And so parents do exactly that – perform the tasks themselves – a phenomenon discussed in a 2012 New Yorker piece called “Spoiled Rotten” that presented kids as the most indulged set of young people in the history of the world.
While work ethic is proven to be one of the key factors for success in life; the struggle with children work ethic is one of the most common concerns voiced by parents, teachers, and professionals.
Below are concerns expressed by a mother of a 6-year-old boy:
“My son only wants to do whatever he wants. He avoids any activities that he perceives to be tedious or challenging. He does not show any interest in doing chores, puzzles, reading, drawing, or writing. Even getting dressed and going outside is becoming a challenge. When he starts an activity, he constantly asks for help, gets bored or frustrated, and gives up quickly. The report from his teachers shows that he does not put effort into his work or use problem-solving skills.”
Similar issues are being shared by many parents and are also evident in every classroom. Work ethic challenges are often associated with neurological conditions.
Work ethic is similar to a muscle. It can be strengthened with proper training or weakened with misuse. The bad news is that kids’ work ethic is in a crisis and parents, have a lot to do with it. The good news is that with proper training you can improve your child’s work ethic.
As the next generation joins the work force to become tomorrow’s employees. The chances to succeed in life are magnified greatly if the childhood work ethic foundations are already deeply entrenched and the employee’s work ethic is a natural reaction to living a quality life.
The best way for teaching children is being their role model. Parenting is the toughest job ever created and it requires a high level of work ethic from parents. By consciously investing your time and energy into your parenting job, by not looking for “shortcuts” in parenting, you are modeling to your children the true meaning of work ethic. Our work ethic of today is their work ethic of tomorrow. Investing in your kids’ work ethic is the safest investment with the highest long-term returns.
Now, all work is not the answer either. Teaching ‘balance’ in life is also a vital part of the learning equation.
Drexler, P. Dr. (2014). Can Work Ethic Be Learned? Huffington Post, Verizon Media. Retrieved on April 17, 2020 from, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/-can-work-ethic-be-learne_b_5436860
Prooday, V. (2020). ‘Kids’ work ethic is in a crisis and we, the parents, have a lot to do with it.’ Love What Matters. Retrieved on April 17, 2020 from, https://www.lovewhatmatters.com/kids-work-ethic-is-in-a-crisis-and-we-the-parents-have-a-lot-to-do-with-it/
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. A recent contract was with Wirepas from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.