Work Ethic – Does Anyone Have It?

Anna Liotta Generational Speaker Bruce-Crandall-and-Anna-Liotta-e1530135247182

Anna Liotta and Bruce Crandall

Each generation’s view of what “work” is directly impacts how they view work ethic.

I have the honor of knowing Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Bruce Crandall. Featured in the movie “We Were Soldiers,” Bruce “Snake” Crandall (played by Greg Kinnear) is a true American hero who led 750 combat missions as part of the 9th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

Bruce is a great example of the Traditionalist work ethic in action. As I travel the country delivering keynotes I frequently hear leaders say, “This generation has no work ethic.”

But what people are really saying is, “Their work ethic doesn’t match my definition.” Interestingly, each generation believes they have a good work ethic.

Work ethic conflict can easily be seen and felt between generations. The key to working productively and harmoniously together comes in understanding each one’s Generational CODE™ that drives their definition of what is a good work ethic.

Anna Liotta Generational Speaker Work-is-white-background

How does each generation measure  work ethic?


Anna Liotta Generational Speaker I-have-a-good-work-ethic-2-white-background

So how do we solve this conflict?

Baby Boomers

Boomers wore their 80 hour work weeks like a badge of honor. It became a competition to work longer and harder than your peers. A Boomer defined a good work ethic by arriving at work 10 minutes prior to their boss and waiting to leave until 10 minutes after their boss. While they have modified their behaviors some to fit with the current workplace practices, their Generational CODE™ still notices and rewards those who work the long hours.

Gen Xers

Gen Xers think the 80 hour work weeks of Boomers were inefficient (to put it politely). Gen Xers value arriving early (before others get to the office) because they can complete their work more efficiently in the peace and quiet of the office before the daily interruptions begin.

Xers hate to over promise and under deliver, so they will stay until the job is done.

Xers do prioritize family as their most important accomplishment. Xers will often rise before their Global kids awake, crank out dozens of email and text responses, pause to have breakfast with the kids and take them to school. They arrive at the office and dig into the work with an intensity that can be a little intimidating, but the goal is to managing to leave work early enough to have quality kids time.


Millennials push the envelope further by resisting strict adherence to “work hours” – especially long work hours, just for the sake of bragging about the length of your work week.

Millennials do NOT buy into the TIME WORKED = WORK ETHIC equation.

Unless they understand the “why” of needing to arrive at a specific time, they are likely to keep loose work start and stop times.

Millennials’ Generational CODES™ say, “Work is not a destination. Work is what I do from where ever I am.” Millennials see themselves as “Talent”. They bring the gifts, passions and talent with them where ever they work from. So measuring their work ethic based on time and location is a mismatch with their definition.

A Millennial that is inspire by the vision of your team, the mission of your organization or the cause of your company will give immeasurable amounts of discretionary effort and invest their heart and spirit into making it a success. They don’t start and stop with a clock. When we are measuring Millennial work ethic, a better place to focus and measure them is through clear deliverables and outcomes (D&O).

Generationally Savvy™ Solutions:

To honor the Generational CODES™ of each generation and retain your top talent:

  1. Explain the “why.” Don’t think that your “work ethic” definition is common sense. It is based on your formative experiences and will not be implicitly clear. Be explicit about job requirements and explain the “why” behind job requirements such as: what time the work day begins, how early to arrive before a shift, being on-campus/site to do work.
  2. Clarify what will be measured. Clearly identify and document the deliverables and outcomes (D&O)s you are using to measure them. Will the job measure time spent, output, revenue, punctuality, profit, number of calls, etc.? Every generation will benefit from a new level of clarity and transparency in knowing how their work success will be measured. The more transparent you are, the more satisfied talent will be (which translates into longer tenures).
  3. Outline a clear path forward. Millennials are looking for companies to provide a road map to success and a timeline for career progress (Xers will also appreciate some clarity on this. They have felt in the dark for too long).

Every team member is feeling the increasing uncertainty pinch and wants to be in action to move forward.

Ongoing open dialogues between talent and leaders on how to invest in their future creates engaged employees, reduced turnover and increased profitability for your entire organization.

About Anna Liotta
Founder of The Generational Institute and author of the best-selling book Unlocking Generational Codes, Anna Liotta began studying generations first as the youngest of 19 children and later as a college faculty member, keynote speaker and generational consultant. Based in Seattle, Anna is an expert in helping organizations create a generational savvy culture. Contact us to book Anna to speak at your event.


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