How To Teach Good Work Ethic

“See a need and fill it”….this is what I tell my children. It’s a simple charge and yet it carries weight. It requires that we see, that we pay attention to our surroundings. It suggests that we should actually be on the lookout for what is needed, however subtle that might be. It calls us to a sharpness that was expected of past generations.

Do the youth of today lack this acuity? I would assert that if young people today lack an awareness of others and an interest in possessing a good work ethic, it’s not for lack of potential, but for lack of training. It’s time we teach them. We can’t expect young people to learn by osmosis. It’s time for us to instruct, to impart wisdom, to present a standard. We do best if we aim to inspire.

Watch a child catch inspiration and watch a child come alive with drive. For any of us, work ethic is strongest when we believe in what we’re doing, when we believe that it matters.

So, the questions we parents need to ask ourselves are: How do we instill work ethic? Is it possible to inspire? Is it ever too late to teach good work ethic?

What is Work Ethic? 

work ethic is applying our best work

Let’s start by defining the term. Simply put, work ethic is applying our best work, no matter the task, not on the basis of who is watching or how we will get compensated or recognized, but based on the fact that it is good and right to do so. It builds character to work hard. It is always best to do our best as we work at the task at hand.

When my mother turned 70, our celebratory dinner celebration turned to an invitation for her to share her pearls of wisdom. After brief contemplation, she resolutely asserted, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” I’ve thought about her words a lot in the ensuing eight years and I see how they are a call to a good work ethic. I’ll think about her words when I’m feeling put out by my daily task of making dinner, for example.

I need to reframe my perspective, I’ll say to myself, because anything worth doing is worth doing well. Feeding my family is certainly a worthy pursuit. It’s actually a privilege. My attitude and outlook get off course at times. Imagine how our productivity and work quality would improve if we took hold of this basic yet profound mantra.

Teaching Work Ethic

it’s worth the journey into potentially choppy waters

From a practical standpoint, how do we go about teaching work ethic as parents? To be sure, it’s not an easy task, but it’s worth the journey into potentially choppy waters.

First, let’s direct our children to get off their devices. Even as I say this, I am amidst my children, phone in hand, typing this article. We’re all on devices now. Even my parents, in their late 70s and early 80s, disappear into their phones more than I would expect when they visit from Florida. It’s easy to detach and sink our noses into our endless emails and inexhaustible news feeds. We feel like we’re being productive as we tap and scroll, even if we’re not. 

So, let’s model a commitment to putting down the devices. For example, resolve to make the meal table a device-free zone. Recapture dinner table discussions. You may have to contend with an overabundance of movie quoting, as we do in our house, but over time we can enter into more substantive conversation as we practice the art of communicating.

It can be a challenge when a slew of often clashing opinions fill the air, as happens in our household, but we need to see the lively banter as a blessing. Take hold of the richness in the laboratory of the kitchen table. Discuss, debate, spark passion. You are preparing leaders of households, heads of companies, the innovators of tomorrow. Press in. It’s your most important work.

What worldview do your children possess? If they don’t see a point to life, they will fail to see the point of hard work. With teen suicide rates on the rise, it would seem that our teenaged children are missing a life-giving worldview. If they don’t see life as worth living, why should they consider the work of life worth fully investing in? Conversely, if they see themselves as having purpose, then they will understand that their story is part of a larger story. Each of us exists for a purpose and that purpose reaches beyond each individual.

Model work ethic

If your children see you consistently take out the trash, then they’re much more likely to see a full trash can and take the bag to the outdoor can. If they see that the kitchen gets tidied after each meal and brought to a clean base, then they’re much more likely to make a habit of cleaning the kitchen after they prepare a meal.

Now, it’s good to mention here that if you are a type A personality, then you are unlikely to find that your children clean the kitchen as thoroughly as you do yourself. But, recognize that their willingness to work is a good start. There is always room for improvement and aspects of cleaning can be taught and refined. It is unlikely to occur overnight, but by the time your children launch, they are likely to have adopted the good habit of cleaning up after preparing and eating a meal. 

Encourage Hard Work

notice the efforts of children

Another intentional way to build work ethic as a parent is to remember to applaud your children for a job well done. It’s worth acknowledging that in recent decades, a trend emerged to shower children with praise no matter what, lest they suffer in the self esteem department.

While this tendency is a mistake, I do believe in the practice of noticing the efforts of our children. Call out their efforts to invest in their work. Be specific as you offer praise. The truth is, kids can see through empty accolades. They can spot from a mile away a ploy to build self esteem with hollow words meant only to fluff up one’s self-concept. Diving into great books can help, like any from our list on personal improvement.

Be authentic as you challenge your children to work hard and to sink quality into their work. Watch your children. Notice what they do and how they do it. And be authentic as you praise them for what’s well done.

Share What You Know

come alongside your children in work

This parental charge is two-fold. First, come alongside your children in work. Far from useless hand-holding, this intentional display of teaching a good work ethic goes a long way toward instilling in your children the work ethic you want them to possess.

As you work with thoughtfulness and take steps methodically, allow your children to see you proceed with patience, troubleshoot through unexpected challenges, and steadily push forward toward the end goal. This shoulder to shoulder work is priceless. This is when a good work ethic can get into the very fibers of our children and become a part of who they are.

The second part of such sharing is to let your children in on your life. What stories can you tell them about times you did (or did not) invest good work ethic in a task or project?

What resulted from either an evasion of good work ethic or an upholding of it? What far-reaching consequences resulted from each tack? When our children see us as imperfect works in progress, they relate to us.

Connection makes for deep learning, and as it relates to good work ethic, the pay off of such learning is priceless.

Read our recommended list of the best survival stories based on true events here.

Be Faithful to Your Commitments

honoring responsibilities is key to teaching good work ethic

Teaching children to honor responsibilities is key to teaching good work ethic. This starts when children are very young. We teach them to form good habits such as putting the Lincoln Logs away before getting out the Legos. We teach them to put their play clothes in the hamper after bath time. We teach them to feed their gekko and give it fresh water daily.

Taking responsibilities seriously provides the base for taking hold of a good work ethic. All of childhood and beyond affords countless opportunities for responsibilities to be assigned and met. Responsibilities grow with our children. We go from expecting children to hang up their coat to expecting them to mind the oil change schedule of their vehicle. The former, if left undone, does not have dire consequences, whereas the latter certainly does. For this reason, teaching children what is expected of them, and holding responsibilities in an important light, builds the foundation of a good work ethic.

In summary, a focus on good work ethic requires a return to the basics. Because anything worth doing is worth doing well, it stands to reason that we should commit to teaching our children the value of hard work. For us to think that our children will learn the value of hard work, we must trust the process. Teaching takes time and repetition. Learning does too.

When we not only instruct our children, but also come alongside them in work, we provide real teaching. We also create shared experiences which serve to influence our children in a deeper way. As we find ourselves spending more time together at home as a family, we can take our pick of projects to pursue. We can invite our children into the tasks involved in the project. We can teach them good work ethic in the process and enjoy the natural outcome of building memories together.

So, what project are you inspired to tackle in this new year? Decide, involve your children, and enjoy the fruit of your shared labor. It’s worth it. They’re worth it.

Blair Witkowski is a public speaker, dad of nine kids and SEO expert.