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5 Ways to Foster Positive Work Ethic in the Workplace

Beyond the obvious business issues of employees who show up late, leave early, and don't accomplish their tasks, is the fact that their poor work ethic forces everyone else to step up. This can result in burnout, frustration, and even resignation throughout your staff.

Fortunately, poor work ethic can be overcome by paying attention to the needs of your employees and adjusting accordingly.

As a manager, it's not your job to function as some sort of life coach. That being said, there are ways you can adjust your management style to improve employee accountability and foster positive work ethic. It's is all about attitude, and attitude can always be improved with a bit of elbow grease.

Today, I'm going to give a rundown of five ways you can identify and foster positive work ethic in the workplace. They are:

  1. Ask the tough questions (in your interview)
  2. Conduct a comprehensive onboarding process
  3. Give your employee some space
  4. Provide regular, constructive feedback
  5. Introduce social scheduling

Let's dive in.

Ask the tough questions (in your interview)

Marketing guru Seth Godin notoriously asked one interview question when interviewing potential employees at Yahoo in the 80s:

"How many gas stations are there in the United States?"

Weird, right? So what does an interview question from almost thirty years ago have to do with work ethic? Everything. If you are interviewing a younger employee for a part-time role, a question like this could send them running for the door. The same goes for veteran candidates who might take offense to a seemingly silly question. That's a good thing.

Putting pressure on a job candidate by asking tough questions can be a great way to identify work ethic. While it's important for your candidates to be able to perform the tasks they're hired for- whether that's bussing tables, making cappuccinos, or teaching swim lessons-you also need to know if they're willing to put the effort in. If someone is unwilling to engage in a simple, fun mental exercise for the sake of earning a job within your organization, how effective will they be in the role you're trying to fill?

As Godin recalls, a few of his candidates merely said, "I don't have a car," and walked out of the interview. The ones that stayed, treated the question like a fun problem to solve, and tried to figure it out with him-those were the winners. Those are the folks you want on your team.

Conduct a comprehensive onboarding process

Fostering positive work ethic is all about doing your managerial due diligence early on. This will help you establish trust with your employee and reduce the need to micromanage down the line. Positioning your new employees for success starts with a great employee onboarding process.

Creating a welcoming environment on an employee's first day is critical to creating a culture of positivity and enthusiasm. Instructing existing employees to introduce themselves and setting up mentor-mentee relationships is a great way to make the new employee feel part of the team. In that same vein, make sure your new employees are given enough time to learn the ropes and ask questions. The absolute worst thing you can do is rush a new hire into "the fire" because you are understaffed and need the help right away.

Adequate preparation and a stable support system will go a long way in maintaining the enthusiasm and positive work ethic you're looking for in a new hire.

Give your employee some space

A huge part of demonstrating trust in a new employee is having the ability to step back and give them the time and space to "figure it out."

In college, I worked part-time at a coffee shop. The owner was obsessively involved with day to day operation. I remember it being the most unnerving thing when he would come in-not just for me, but for the entire staff. He put an insane amount of pressure on all of us to work just the way he wanted us to.

I'm sure he meant to inspire our best work. What he actually inspired was impressively long bathroom breaks, impromptu sick days, and a lackadaisical work ethic.

Giving your employees the space they need to establish solid work habits will demonstrate your trust in them and make them want to work hard for you. If you've done your job well during the hiring and onboarding processes, this should be a walk in the park.

Provide regular, constructive feedback

This might seem to contradict number three. But it doesn't, I promise.

There is a huge difference between controlling someone's work habits and giving them the tools to take control over their own work habits. Providing regular feedback does just that.

Make time at least once every 3-4 months to have formal, face-to-face conversations with your employees about performance. Provide them with written performance reviews that show your employees that you notice when they come in early, stay late, and seize an opportunity. This positive affirmation can make the difference between an employee jumping on the poor work ethic bandwagon or becoming your MVP. Sometimes, recognition is all an employee needs to get back on track.

Introduce social scheduling

If you're not already using it, social scheduling is a fantastic way to improve workplace accountability and work ethic at the same time.

Basically, it's a way of scheduling that allows employees to submit availability, swap and trade shifts, and communicate to one another about scheduling conflicts without direct managerial involvement. The additional responsibility and convenience help employees feel empowered, which can be particularly important for improving the work ethic of millennials on your team. When employees have a greater say in when they work, they show up engaged (as long as the coffee's ready).

Having this kind of control will go a long way in making your employees feel as if they've landed in the right place of employment. Rewarding this feeling with hard work is all but guaranteed.


As a manager, it's your job to put your employees in a position to succeed and to encourage them to bring a positive work ethic to your business. Focus on the five methods above and you'll be off to a great start.


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