Overalls, Anyone? What’s Happening to our Work Ethic?!

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by Nanci Lamborn – BrightMove Recruiting Software

“I’m sorry. I really need to stop you there.”

I was right in the middle of an interview, explaining in detail the job description, work environment, and company culture to the candidate. On paper this applicant looked like an ideal match, and after the usual grueling question and answer sessions this one really seemed promising. At her surprising request I halted my discourse with eyebrows raised, as I had never been stopped mid-spiel by a candidate before. Was I speaking too fast? Perhaps she had a question on one of the responsibilities. Wrong! She cleared up my silly misinterpretation rather quickly.

“I really just don’t want to work that hard. I wouldn’t be interested in the role as you described it.”

Wait… WHAT?!?! I certainly did not just hear that… oops, she’s standing up to leave, there she goes… Say SOMETHING!

I finally managed to mumble out some drivel about thankful and honesty and nice day, shook her hand, and retreated to the break room for a much needed coffee and chocolate fix. Still to this day, I cannot believe that a bright, educated, skilled, and rather UNEMPLOYED individual could look a potential new employer in the eye and admit that they just didn’t want to work that hard. I wonder what sort of work this candidate would have considered to be to her liking? Perhaps a job as a part time food critic or an aromatherapist with a South Pacific cruise line would be more aligned with her definition of work.

And just when I thought I had seen everything, a temporary staffing agency sent me a new short term worker who, after less than ten minutes into orientation announced “You know I just realized that this assignment is going to mess up my unemployment, so I’ll be leaving now.”


When looking into recent stories about the noticeable decline in the American work ethic, I ran across some rather interesting articles, many of which seem to point to an initial similar decline in the work ethic of American students. Professor Kara Miller of BabsonCollegereceived some rather harsh criticism, some from her own fellow staffers, for her recent article about the atrocious attitudes that she observes daily from some students (http://tinyurl.com/y9ooe64). And one Human Resources professional, Dan Sinas of Personnel Resources in Dothan, AL, will be releasing a book in early 2010 titled Job Killers (http://tinyurl.com/yjh3rqd) in which he identifies government interference and a declining work ethic as the two largest job killers in our nation today. The Sinas book offers some potentially excellent solutions for the government element, but what about the poor work ethic element? Sweeping infrastructural and political change simply cannot force  Ms. Unemployment to want to work harder.

Then we have the “Entitlement” factor, the seemingly growing groups of the currently employed workforce who believe that they are truly entitled to blow off some of their workday and get paid for it. Considering the national flack that Fidelity received over its recent termination of four workers for playing fantasy football on company time, (http://tinyurl.com/y9vjnwv) it seems that many otherwise intelligent Americans truly think taking time and resources from a company really isn’t all that bad. Wait a minute… taking something that doesn’t belong to you… didn’t that used to be called stealing?

The sad part of this work ethics quandary is that there really is no tangible answer (aside from smacking a few heads, for which I would certainly get into legal trouble and have only sore hands to show for it). I do believe that the growing numbers of those who think they are quite entitled to that cruise ship assignment are making the job of recruiters much more difficult. How many of these eleventy-seven resumes in front of me represent someone who will actually perform the work I need when I need it for the wage offered? Ten percent? Twenty-five? Scary numbers even at fifty percent, but recent personal experience confirms that of ten candidates who walk through my door, at least five will not demonstrate even the most basic drive or motivation. Some days, the percentage has been zero.

So I’ll keep looking for the diamond employees in the piles of rough, as I nod in agreement to this underappreciated quote by Thomas Edison. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Anyone up for wearing some overalls today?

Nanci Lamborn

BrightMove Recruiting Staff Writer

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