How Does a Leader Build a Work Ethic in a Recent Graduate?

Over a year ago, I returned from an overseas trip, tired and depleted. Upon my arrival home, however, I was scheduled to speak at an event in Michigan. So, I did what any healthy American would do. I repacked my bags and fulfilled my obligation…as a tired man.

What makes this story interesting is—I had scheduled an intern to join me on the trip. The intern was a recent college graduate who had not been on my trip, so I figured he’d be a breath of fresh air and a bundle of energy. But alas, I was wrong. He told me he felt he couldn’t go on the trip because he was tired.

Tired from what? I wondered.  He had barely put in forty hours that week. I was stunned to think that I, a fifty-year old man, had more energy than a 22-year old.

More than once, I’ve encountered great students who’ve never been introduced to hard work. The students aren’t bad or stupid. Just new to real work. Consider the reasons why youth today may enter the workforce with a poor work ethic and why we must introduce them to career expectations as their managers:

  1. This may sound cruel but its true: school has coddled them. Sure they work hard to write a paper or take a test but it isn’t a taste of the real world. In some majors in college, students can tour through four years without any early morning classes. This may be poor preparation for the job they’ll have at graduation. My trip to Asia; 10 events in 6 days; two days later: event in Michigan.
  2. Often, parents have protected them from it. The “real” world is still foreign as most high schoolers never work during their teen years. They’re busy with soccer, piano and parties. Unlike my teen years where the average student had to work to have any money, the average adolescent doesn’t have to until college and beyond. Bosses may be the first to introduce hard work.
  3. Expectations have shifted regarding responsibility. My research tells me that one hundred years ago, four-year-olds were expected to participate in family chores; “tweens” were working several hours a day; teens were leaders for their younger siblings. In fact, in one-room schoolhouses, the teacher taught older students (teens) so that those teens could teach the younger ones.

Tomorrow I plan to offer a handful of suggestions for introducing a work ethic to young people on the job. But today—I’d love for you to weigh in. Do you observe any other reasons why a strong “work ethic” may be new to students?


How Does a Leader Build a Work Ethic in a Recent Graduate?