How Does a Leader Build a Work Ethic in a Recent Graduate? Part 2

Yesterday, I told the story of how so many of the students we work with, who have a 4.0 GPA, have never had to work a day in their life. When they come to work with us for a project or in an internship it is their first exposure to a high-energy team working hard to fulfill a mission. We love them—but we are the first to introduce them to the idea of a “work ethic.”

Like any generation of students, kids today bring to the job a sense of idealism, hope and creativity that we adults need. On the other hand, young people are conditioned by a culture of speed, convenience and leisure. Society celebrates these components. Sadly, they reduce the chances that kids will bring a strong work ethic to their first job. In countless survey results I peruse, I continue to hear supervisors moan:

  • Kids today don’t want to start at the bottom of the ladder.
  • Students refuse to “pay their dues.”
  • Young people seem nonchalant about their work ethic.

My guess is, we all wrestle with this. If you oversee a young person on the job, you may wonder: How do you communicate a vision for a strong work ethic to someone who’s completely new to real-life-experience? Let me suggest a few ideas.

1. Discuss specific expectations with them up front; have candid conversations about reality of working conditions and expectations. In our office, we only take people who exhibit high-energy temperaments. Others can’t keep up. In the spirit of transparent disclosure, we tell them that up front.

2. Explain to them that while they may be at the beginning of their career they likely possess one trait that every team needs. The one thing a young intern DOES have is energy and passion. They may have no work experience, but they have the ability to come in early and stay late. Let them know how valuable that is to you.

3. Model what you want. Take them with you and have them shadow you on projects you expect them to work on later. Show them how you and other team members approach the task. Then let them know they don’t have to emulate your methods, (you value their creativity), but you do want them to share your work ethic.

4. Describe what success looks like. Most young people enter a job asking: Where do I fit? What do you value in me? Consequently, at Growing Leaders, we unveil exactly what we look for. It can be summarized in three words: initiative, high energy, and a strong work ethic. This is something we demand in every intern. For team members, we hire for three elements as well: character, competence and chemistry.

Near the intern desks in our office, we’ve hung a framed sign that reads: “When you were young, you were told to be polite and not to take anything. At Growing Leaders there are some items we DO want you to take. Please take responsibility, take initiative and take ownership.”

Nuff said. Is there anything you would add to the list above?


How Does a Leader Build a Work Ethic in a Recent Graduate? Part 2