Who Killed the American Work Ethic?


A restaurateur friend of mine recently opened a new restaurant in North Shelby County. When I asked him how it was going he was very excited and especially pleased with the friendliness of the customers that frequent his restaurant. His biggest problem? “Stewart, it is nearly impossible to find people who are willing to work,” he told me. “Oh, we get lots of people applying for jobs…and they all say they’re willing to work hard but once they’re hired, they then say they don’t work evenings; don’t work weekends; want to know when they can use their cell phones; want to know when they can take a break.”
So here we are at the tail end of the worst recession since the nineteen thirties with true unemployment topping ten million and there are jobs available but very few job seekers who are willing to do what the job requires. This is not just a North Shelby County problem but a nationwide epidemic.
I have the good fortune of owning a company full of hard-working associates so I surveyed them on this topic. What emerged is our thoughts on the causes and cures for restoring work ethic in America.
The Cause: The Entitlement Mentality. It is natural for parents to want the very best for their children. As we have become a more affluent society we’ve used our increasing resources to benefit our children. In some ways this can be very positive such as the ability to live in a community with a great school system or allowing for a private school education.  However, in many ways, parents have used financial power to enable their children. Children growing up in more affluent communities often expect to be given a car when they turn sixteen; expect to have a cell phone paid for by their parents; expect to tap into their parents pocketbook for all matter of spending and aren’t expected to ‘do anything’ in return. Many affluent families are substantially helping their children buy their first home or are buying it outright for them. I have so many friends that continue to financially support their adult working children, allowing them to live a lifestyle not supported by their income.
At the lower end of the income spectrum, there are now third generation welfare recipients. These teens and young adults have never seen their parents work and there is an expectation that the government will take care of them as well.
The Cure: The Work Mentality. The common thread of my hard-working associates was that each was expected to work starting at an early age. One’s first job was a lifeguard at age fifteen. Another was a stock-boy at a shoe store at age fifteen. At age twelve, my father dropped me off in a neighborhood with a case of fire extinguishers and said, “Don’t come home until you’ve sold them all!”
Here are our three rules for restoring the work ethic in America:
  1. Chores. At a very young age, children can learn the concept of responsibilities of being a member of a family unit. One of my associates requires that her four and five year old children keep their bedrooms clean. She’ll pay them ‘allowance’ for special chores such as sweeping the kitchen floor. As a youngster, I had to mow the lawn every Saturday before I could go play in the neighborhood.
  2. Work. Once children are old enough to get a summer job, they should be expected to work. If they can’t find a job, require that they serve as a full-time volunteer. During summers, I had to either have a job or be in summer school…and sometimes both.
  3. Team. Require that your children be involved in some type of team activity. Sports are great but there are many other options such as math club, debate team or choral team. In this age of non-stop texting, our children are losing the ability to communicate and work together as a group.
By the way, if any of you live in North Shelby County and are willing to work hard, email me at stewart@welchgroup.com and I’ll be happy to pass your name along to my restaurateur friend. Just put ‘job’ in the subject line.