ROSE NOLEN: Attitude toward work needs an adjustment

Tuesday, May 3, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My neighbor told me the other day that her grandson had quit his job because the place where he worked had too many rules. I've heard a lot of people express that opinion about their workplace. Since every place I ever worked had rules, I decided to find out more about this phenomenon.

The first young woman I questioned worked in a hospital. She said her employers were very strict about tardiness. If one was over a half-hour late, one's paycheck would be docked an hour's pay. If one was late five times in one month, the employee could be fired. She was adamant about the unfairness of those rules.

A young man who worked in a major hotel attending the needs of guests said his bosses were constantly addressing he and his co-workers about their personal appearances. According to his viewpoint the bosses were obsessed with their demands that the workers appear clean, and neat with their uniforms freshly laundered at all times. Even if the guests were rude, the employees were required to remain polite and courteous when dealing with them. He was so fed up with those rules that he had made up his mind to look for another job.

I remember several years ago when a young friend opened a woman's shelter and I asked her what the rules were, she insisted that there weren't any. After all, she declared, the women had suffered enough and she wanted them to feel free from rules. That attitude lasted about a month. When I revisited the shelter six months later, a list of rules was posted in the entryway.

Most people over the age of 50 can write a thesis on the subject of our declining work ethic. Many children who have grown up in the households of permissive parents have an extremely difficult time adjusting to a cold world that has expectations of them and is constantly making demands on them and their time. Every now and then I run into a smart kid who soon realizes that he is always going to be at odds with a work-a-day world unless he or she learns self-discipline. These kids usually wind up going back to school or enlisting in one of the military services.

I grew up on rules and I have always been happier in places where people have rules and enforce them. And, of course, like most workers I have encountered employers who arbitrarily establish rules for the sole purpose of controlling other people's lives. Fortunately, these individuals find it difficult to operate successful businesses, so for the most part that makes them few and far between. But, of course, when you operate in the realm of mega-corporations where greed is systemic and out-of control personalities reign, the rules change. In the everyday world, I have usually found that most employers devise rules necessary to operate a successful enterprise.

Unfortunately, I don't foresee any change ahead that will lead to the improvement of the work ethic. It seems to me the more technological advances that are made the less incentive many people have for applying themselves to the business of upgrading their work habits.

Maybe, if those in charge of training workers would concentrate on developing the proper attitude toward work and adjusting the personal habits of the worker to help them get to work on time and adapt to the environment of the workplace, instead of teaching them how to do the job, they might enjoy a more successful undertaking Frankly, I think that individuals who pride themselves on being able to operate a motor vehicle in traffic and text on their cell phone at the same time won't have a problem learning how to fry a hamburger. The difficulty seems to be in disciplining one's mind to prioritize one's time to be able to fit work in and tailoring one's thinking to honor the contract between one's self and one's employer.

And, believe it or not, the American worker has been doing that for centuries.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Ellis Smith May 3, 2011 | 12:28 a.m.

Proof positive there really IS a generation gap. But, Rose, training America's workers starts AT HOME, long before workers arrive in the workforce. That's where the real and major problem is. Why is it the job of business to to what parents have failed to do? Have you ever listened to what Bill Cosby has to say on the subject?

We've raised a generation of Americans whose mantra seems to be: "We want it ALL, we want it NOW, and above all we don't want to make the slightest effort to get it!"

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall May 3, 2011 | 9:35 a.m.

It's more than rules. Remember when we were kids and would go to a birthday party? There would be games like pin the tail on the donkey. And the winner would get a special present.

But then somebody decided that it was just too hurtful to allow the other kids to not get anything if they didn't win. It might damage their self esteem. So now, every child gets the same gift, and they get that gift for bothering to show up. This attitude has carried through to sporting events too. The epidemic of the meaningless reward.

What we have created is a generation of children who don't know how to lose or even what losing is. They have not learned that working and achievement yields higher rewards. They do not know how to deal with disappointment or adversity. They have learned that the only thing they need to do in order to get their "ribbon" or "present" (a paycheck) is to bother to show up. Many think cheating on a test or pulling a paper off the internet to turn in for homework is perfectly acceptable.

They have been catered to and petted and spoiled their entire childhood. Then when they hit the real world, where there really are winners and losers and they really will have to actually WORK to accomplish goals, they are bewildered and angry and lost. How dare we actually expect something from them! They have shown up, and that's all they need do. Anything else is burdensome and unfair. After all, doing nothing and getting a prize for it has been their entire life.

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Ellis Smith May 3, 2011 | 11:43 a.m.

This recalls a common saying from years ago: "Let George do it!" I'm told that "George" is supposed to refer to George Washington, whether that's the origin of the saying or not.

Good old George must have a lot on his plate! These days he's supposed to straighten out an entire generation of young men and women who should have been taught better by their parents. "George" is now a "stand in name" for our public schools, for our state and federal governments, and for private sector firms who are wasting valuable time and money teaching young people things their parents were already supposed to have taught them.

In short, "George" these days is highly "remedial*."

Robin, I agree with you. We are today enjoying all the "benefits" of PC. Yuk!

*-I'm still laughing over a response some years ago from an admissions officer at Victoria University, Wellington, NZ, when she was asked how they could say their 3-year business degree equaled a 4-year business degree in the United States. "We teach exactly the same core curriculum you do [and they do], but we don't waste one entire [freshman] year teaching students what we have already taught them in high school." Right on,lady!

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Nicholas Quijas May 3, 2011 | 12:30 p.m.

Great article Rose. It doesn't even take someone of an older generation to be dismayed at the attitude of the younger generation. I am 23 years old and can say that I am constantly disappointed by the work ethics of those around me. I was brought up with the mindset that I had to work for praise (a B+ in a class needed to be raised and I was expected to work for any sort of allowance my parents granted me) . However, I am constantly meeting people my age who seem to find it outrageous that they have to actually work for their pay.

Recently I had somebody share an amusing story that displays this mindset so well. This story was about a student in college that I know who managed to obtain a very well paying job (makes twice what I every made in college), but still has their rent, car insurance, etc, paid for by their parents. When tax time came around this year, that student owed a couple hundred dollars in taxes due to the high amount they made. The student was then shocked to find out that their parents actually expected them to pay these taxes, as they had fully expected their parents to cover it all.

When I heard this story I couldn't help but actually laugh out loud at how ridiculous it was. I won't say that it shocked me to hear, as I see these things every day, but the constant reminders are really disheartening. The only real bright point that I can see is, with how dependent our generation is, and with how much they expect to just be given everything, I can't help but think their expectant attitudes can't get a whole lot worse.

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frank christian May 3, 2011 | 2:37 p.m.

Ellis - No offense, "old timer",after looking around to make sure, I'm certain it was not G. Washington that everyone depended upon in this context, but Geo. DeBeeson who collaborated with Sperry Marine to introduce the first airplane autopilot. The thing was referred to as "George", then, rather than fly the plane, "let Geo. do it".

When first included as crew on an Air rescue airplane in AF @ West Palm Beach was told about the training "night navigation" flights across the Gulf and back. On this one, it seems it was getting late and the plane had been over water a long time when radio operator noted both pilots were sound asleep. He went to rear to ask the navigator about it and found that he was only one on the whole, damned airplane Awake.

George was "doing it all" that night.

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Kevin Gamble May 3, 2011 | 2:56 p.m.

This is a problem, and some good points are made here. No matter what each generation earnestly tries to do for its children, there will be effects that take a while to manifest.

One other contributing factor, though, is the often poor quality of work and workplaces that are available these days. Workers seem to be disposable these days, with decent wages and benefits seemingly on the decline, and the work itself increasingly meaningless, robotic, and uninspiring.

There's a Tony Robbins quote I like: "People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals - that is, goals that do not inspire them." While it may be possible to be just plain lazy, a more compassionate view may suggest that people are a product of their circumstances. We can say that everyone just needs to buckle down more, or we can aspire to something that's more inspiring for everyone to contribute to than some dead-end Wal-Mart or fast-food job.

But for that to be the case, we have to start by believing there's more to life and work than making money.

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Robin Nuttall May 3, 2011 | 4:52 p.m.

@Kevin, I don't really buy the "poor quality of work" idea. Almost all young kids are going to have to start off in an entry level position, sometimes with unpleasant work. One of my first jobs as I was attending college was a summer working at McDonalds. At that time the labor laws were such that you didn't need to give an hour break unless the employee worked more than 8 hours. So we were all assigned 7 3/4 hour shifts with a single 15 minute break for "lunch" and two 5 minute breaks for the bathroom.

The uniforms were very heavy polyester. It was like wearing a plastic sweatsuit all day. If I worked grill, the temperatures were over 100 degrees. At one point I accidently laid a fryer basket on my arm and got a severe burn. There was no workman's comp or even stopping to put ice on it. I still have the scar. My other job was cleaning tables, emptying the trash, and cleaning the bathrooms. It was gross. I absolutely HATED that job. But I showed up every single day, on time, and I got the work done. Because that's what I signed on to do.

Some jobs just plain suck. All jobs suck at least sometimes. We have failed to give many of our children the inner strength, integrity, and commitment to go out there and work their hardest at what they do no matter what it is.

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frank christian May 3, 2011 | 6:06 p.m.

Kevin Gamble - Your post reminds me of one the first "stories" I read about in the study of industrial revolution, in this country. I'm sure you will agree that the "poor quality of work and workplaces that are available these days. Workers seem to be disposable these days, with decent wages and benefits seemingly on the decline, and the work itself increasingly meaningless, robotic, and uninspiring.", were at least as prevalent in the early 1900's, as they are today. Maybe not, but it seems a new superintendent had taken over a failing factory. He inspected first day and near the end, in front of the employees, he asked, how many "units" (don't remember the product) the day shift had produced that day. He gave no lecture, made no promises. He was told the answer was "6". He then got chalk and wrote a huge 6 on floor at factory door. Curious night workers wanted to know what the number was about and were told. Next day when Superintendent arrived 6 had been replaced with a huge "7". Etc, Etc, until the factory was humming and making money, which as we know most was inhaled by the owners.

We have changed the relationship between owner and worker since then, much to the side of the worker, but it seems the desire to compete, has been lost. Why? Could it be due to our education (not the years, but what is taught and learned)?

I don't know either one of you, but there certainly seems to be a great deal of difference between; Robin, who deems Any job, she?, is given, is to be cherished and given her best effort and you, who has wrapped your thought up with, "But for that to be the case, we have to start by believing there's more to life and work than making money."

Think about this and give me a reply.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 3, 2011 | 6:09 p.m.

I don't buy the "poor quality of work" notion either. spend your 20s getting used to this idea called "work". You probably start in your chosen "field", get married, buy your first house, and need to make money to make ends meet.

In your 30s, you should be an apprentice for what you intend to do for work the rest of your life. This is the time for significant real-life learning.

In your 40s, you should find yourself telling more people what to do than the number of people telling YOU what to do. You should be upwardly mobile, and you should be well up that road. The difference between your asset and a hole in the ground should be clear to you. A well-developed sense of delayed gratification should be in place.

In your 50s, you should be making lots of should be nearing or at your peak. If you never learned what an asset was and/or if you never practiced delayed gratification......give up. You're toast. Don't aren't a victim here. What did YOU decide to do in your 20s, 30s, and 40s? What did YOU expect was going to happen when you were content and satisfied with making your 2-4% salary increase each year and maybe a promotion every decade? Did you think you were gonna get rich or sumpin'?

Do the math. It's easy...if you paid attention in high school.

Is this missive trite and too simplistic?

"Perhaps" to the first......absolutely not for the second.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 3, 2011 | 7:10 p.m.

One of the easiest and most gratifying things to do in life is blame one's problems on everyone and everything except oneself.

As the cartoon character "Pogo" so aptly put it, "We have seen the enemy, and he is us."

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Robin Nuttall May 4, 2011 | 8:15 a.m.

@Frank, to be clear, I'm not saying that people should put up with horrible conditions and poor treatment just to keep a job. If an employer is not following fair labor laws, or if you find the job is just plain miserable for you, then work to change it, or work to find another job. Meanwhile, show up to work and do your job to the best of your ability. In other words, suck it up and deal with it until you can make a change. And when you do leave a job, always leave it on good terms. Never burn bridges. Always be professional.

And yes there is far more to life than your job. But doing your job is part of it, like it or not.

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frank christian May 4, 2011 | 10:54 a.m.

Robin - "If an employer is not following fair labor laws, or if you find the job is just plain miserable for you, then work to change it, or work to find another job.", is exactly what I thought you meant and changes nothing in my opinion of your work ethic.

How does, always strive to improve yourself and the world around you to the best of your ability, but keep moving, sound? As opposed to,Kevin's compassionate view, step back from lackluster employment and "aspire" to "something that's more inspiring for everyone to contribute to". Don't go to work until the "real thing" comes along?

Just noted, Kevin wrote of "workers", "people" and "we". No individuals, not even himself were mentioned. Is he one that can't deal with individuals, only think about what is best for the "huddled masses? I hope not.

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Jimmy Bearfield May 5, 2011 | 9:41 a.m.

I don't think this is a generational thing. When I was in my teens and 20s, I worked with lots of people from Nolen's generation, and often I heard: "Stop working so hard. You're making the rest of us look bad."

I sometimes run into those former coworkers, and I can see where that attitude has gotten them: still driving a beater, even fewer teeth than when I when I first met them and still whining that there's too much month at the end of the money. I suspect that they're also among the folks who argue that the rich don't pay enough taxes.

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