Work Ethic: Do New Employees Mean New Work Values?

Article excerpt

The concept of work ethic has evolved from the writings of the early 20th century scholar, Max Weber (Weber, 1904-1905), who has been frequently credited with contributing to the success of capitalism in western society with what became known as the Protestant work ethic (PWE) (Chusmir and Koberg, 1988; Hill and Petty, 1995; Hirschfeld and Field, 2000; Kalberg, 1996). Weber highlighted the value of work commitment and raised questions as to why some people place a greater importance on work and appear more conscientious than others. For many years, this remained a dominant theme in the psychological investigation of occupational behavior (Pryor and Davies, 1989). However, in recent years, applied psychological literature has provided decidedly little clarity to this issue, even though practitioners express a growing concern about the waning commitment to the value and importance of work (Hirschfeld and Field, 2000; Miller et al., 2002). Perhaps researchers have been discouraged from continuing studies in this domain because of the high frequency of ambiguous results from prior studies. The enigmatic data may be due to the attempt to study the work ethic construct without considering each of its individual dimensions (Miller et al., 2002).

Challenging as it may be, more empirical research of work ethic is needed. Greater understanding of the desires, requirements, and work-related values of the newest generation of employees may provide a win-win opportunity where both employers and employees benefit. Conversely, the adverse consequences of a knowledge shortfall are enormous. Mismatches between job design and employees will negatively affect job attitudes (Porter, 1969), which in turn may affect a firm's ability to compete. Understanding the values of employees is a requirement for any company that wishes to operate with vigor and vitality (Ralston et al., 1997), and it offers potential benefits to an entire society (Hansen, 1963) as healthy organizations can translate into economically prosperous cultures (Hofstede, 1984). Key to the future success of any company is its ability to manage, train, develop, and reward (Vroom, 1960) a satisfied (Herzberg, 1968) and motivated workforce (Lawler, 1968) at all levels of its organization. This cannot be accomplished unless changes in work-related values are understood. While most organizations have human resource management policies and procedures that mirror the company's culture (Jain, 1990) and are influenced by the root national culture (Hofstede, 1983), they are not always attuned to the values of the changing workforce (Smola and Sutton, 2002).

While the existence of differences in the overall work ethic between established workers and new employees is generally accepted (Hirschfeld and Field, 2000; Loscocco and Kalleberg, 1988), the degree and extent to which they differ is not fully understood (Cherrington et al., 1979). The literature review yielded a wide range of studies that found differences in the work ethic of younger and older people (Cherrington, 1977; Cherrington et al., 1979; Loscocco and Kalleberg, 1988; Taylor and Thompson, 1976). However, findings may be incomplete or misleading since they focus on only one or two dimensions of work ethic (Miller et al., 2002).


The purpose of this study is to understand where differences in work ethic arise between college students and workforce professionals. This investigation differs from related studies in that it compares each of the distinctive dimensions of work ethic of individuals about to begin their professional careers to those already working in those careers. Understanding the differences in these populations provides guidance to employers regarding their current and future workforce. This study also differs from those involving psychological contracts, organizational commitment, or generational differences. For example, psychological contracts have been described as general perceptions of an exchange agreement between two parties (De Meuse et al. …