Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 21st 2014 Contents AUGUST 2014 • WEEK THREE www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG21
Solving the problem of poor work ethic in the
nation s labour force can be a responsibility that is
shared by several parties, the most important of which
are the Government, via our education system; and
the private sector, via the work of executives in posi-
tions of management and ownership.
The perfect employee arrives to work already imbued
with a respect for the intrinsic value of work and an
acceptance of responsibility for its proper completion.
Outside of this ideal, however, is the reality that busi-
nesses should act under the assumption that its
employees require motivation to perform at a high-
level, rather than relying on an individual s personal
standards. In addition, businesses should acknowledge
the existence of poor employer work ethic. Recognition
of this enables an un-blinkered view of what a com-
pany can do to ensure it provides an environment
which can sustain good work ethic amongst its employ-
What is work ethic?
An ethic is a set of principles of right conduct.
Work ethic, then, is an extension of this conduct or
behaviour, to the workplace. It may run the gamut
from ethical and moral behaviour (no theft of company
property), to effective interpersonal relationships with
clients and colleagues, to what is viewed as profes-
sionalism (being dependable and showing initiative).
Generally, however, all businesses share common
overall criteria for defining what constitutes a "good"
or "poor" work ethic.
The elements which comprise good work ethic are
also requirements for the achievement of good per-
formance but it must be noted that poor performance
by an individual could be caused by reasons other
than just poor work ethic.
Therefore, companies must ensure that poor work
ethic is not being used as shorthand, or as the default
reason, for poor performance . The former has personal
responsibility connotations while the latter demands
a wider analysis which looks to the roots of the problem
which may or may not lie solely with the employ-
The causes of poor performance
Apart from poor work ethic and the existence of
macroeconomic vagaries more powerful than either
the employee or the institution, substandard employee
performance can be caused by, amongst many other
things, an employee who is ill-suited to a particular
role, has not received sufficient on-the-job training,
is embroiled in a contentious employee-supervisor
relationship, or is otherwise dissatisfied with the job.
The reasons behind poor performance could be as
many as the actual number of employees within a
company. One way in which to learn more about the
members of a labour force is to ask questions of them.
Whether done by survey or orally, companies should
encourage employee feedback. This has a direct link
to an employee s sense of belonging and empowerment
within an organisation, which in turn positively affects
The performance appraisal is a vehicle already exist-
ing in many organisations, which may be tweaked to
encourage detailed feedback from employees on their
motivations. Perhaps the employee who Management
assumed was driven by performance-based bonuses
would gain greater satisfaction from being granted
flexible working hours; or the employee who it was
assumed wanted a job which provided the opportunity
for promotion, in reality, preferred a role which pro-
vided the opportunity for lateral moves throughout
the company and the development of new skills.
Another cause of poor employee performance lies
in the failure of the employer to abide by a proper
set of its own work ethics. The perfect employee has
already been described, but what of the perfect
employer? This would be an individual or institution
which provides a safe work environment; treats
employees with dignity and respect; operates the
business with integrity; and provides fair wages. How-
ever, once again if you were to step outside of such
a utopia, business executives must acknowledge that
there is ample evidence of employers who remain
non-compliant with OSHA regulations, have been
found guilty of improper practices by the Industrial
Court, engage in unprofessional and unethical business
conduct at the top echelons of management, and base
wage levels primarily on what they can "get away
When a poor work ethic is the problem
Regardless of the above, it is undeniable that there
are many employees in today s workforce who enter
an organisation lacking an individual sense of respon-
sibility and self-discipline, while saddled with under-
developed social skills and low self-esteem. Faced
with such an individual, the employer must initially
shore up its first line of defence, which is its written
guidelines and expectations for the operation of the
company -- and, by extension, the behaviour of its
Timely training of new employees and continuous
re-training of current staff is essential to enforcing
these written guidelines. An employee who receives
a well-written manual, explicit on several details,
including the office dress code, notwithstanding having
read such a document, will not wear a jacket and tie
for long if seated next to a colleague whose uniform
appears to be a polo shirt.
Therefore, adherence to all aspects of a company s
workplace guidelines must be upheld by everyone.
Supervisers, or those who seem to be exempt from
the rules, create dissension in the ranks and make the
process of attaining good work ethic amongst everyone
even more difficult.
The role of education
We ve defined the perfect employee and the perfect
employer. In a perfect world, the nation s education
system would have seen to the development in its
young citizens of not just the basic skills of reading,
writing and arithmetic and the thinking skills of rea-
soning, decision-making and problem-solving, but
also the personal qualities and employability skills
of self-management, pride in work, personal image,
interpersonal skills and integrity.
This last set of employability skills and behaviours
can be integrated into a school curriculum by the
choice of subjects on offer (melding purely academic
topics with vocational skills in all schools), the manner
in which they are taught (inclusion of case studies),
through the fervent promotion of extra-curricular
but still school-based activities.
These activities include student councils and entre-
preneurial business groups, and the encouragement
of volunteerism in the student body.
Once this is done, and these students grow into
young adults having had the benefit of a more holistic
education, we should expect a cadre of business exec-
utives pleased at the outset, with the productive nature
of their work force which would produce a more busi-
ness-friendly environment in T&T.
Work ethic and the
T&T Chamber of
Industry and Commerce
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