Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 23rd 2017 Contents FEBRUARY 23 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG19
Employees' work ethic and
Solving the problem of poor work
ethic in the nation's labour force
can be a responsibility that is
shared by several parties, inter
alia, the government, via our ed-
ucation system; and the private
sector, via the work of executives in positions
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 businesses should act under the assump-
tion 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. Rec-
ognition of this enables an un-blinkered view
of what a company can do to ensure it provides
an environment which can sustain good work
ethic amongst its employees.
What is work ethic?
An ethic is a set of principles of right con-
duct. 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
professionalism (being dependable and show-
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 performance but it must be noted that
poor performance by an individual could be
caused by reasons other than just poor work
Therefore, companies must ensure that
"poor work ethic" is not being used as short-
hand, or as the default reason, for "poor per-
formance." The former has personal responsi-
bility connotations while the latter demands a
wider analysis which looks to the roots of the
problem which may or may not lie solely with
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 em-
ployee who is ill-suited to a particular role, has
not received sufficient on-the-job training, is
embroiled in a contentious employee-super-
visor 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, compa-
nies 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 al-
ready existing 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 provided the
opportunity for lateral moves throughout the
company and the development of new skills.
Another cause of poor employee perfor-
mance 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
However, once again if you were to step out-
side 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, en-
gage in unprofessional and unethical business
conduct at the top echelons of management,
and base wage levels primarily on what they
can "get away with."
When a poor work ethic is,
in fact, the problem
Regardless of the above, it is undeniable that
there are many employees in today's workforce
who enter an organisation lacking an individ-
ual sense of responsibility 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 expecta-
tions for the operation of the company and, by
extension, the behaviour of its staff.
Timely training of new employees and con-
tinuous re-training of current staff is essen-
tial 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 uni-
form appears to be a polo shirt.
Therefore, adherence to all aspects of a com-
pany's workplace guidelines must be upheld
Supervisors 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.
Role of education
We've defined the perfect employee and the
perfect employer. In a perfect world, the na-
tion's education system would have seen to the
development in its young citizens of not just
the basic skills of reading, writing and arith-
metic and the thinking skills of reasoning, de-
cision-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 voca-
tional skills in all schools), the manner in which
they are taught (inclusion of case studies),
through the fervent promotion of extra-cur-
ricular but still school-based activities such as
student councils and entrepreneurial business
groups, and the encouragement of volunteer-
ism 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 executives pleased at the
outset, with the productive nature of their work
force which would produce a more business
friendly environment in T&T.
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