Where does our ‘work ethic’ come from?

Why do some people have a strong work ethic, and others just, well, don’t?

Psychology research has helped define these main indicators of work ethic:
Framing an end result or goal
Prioritized focus
Being available and reliable
Conscientiousness
Creating a rewarding routine/system
Embracing positivism

The role of parenting
Attitudes and values develop early in life and there is evidence that the relationship with parents affects the work development of adolescents.

With regard to adults, Leenders and her colleagues (2017, journal of general psychology) investigated this by surveying nearly 4,000 people in the Netherlands, asking them to rate the quality of the relationship that they had with their mother and father.

The results showed that: Overall, people who had had a more positive relationship with their parents during their teens had a more positive work orientation and stronger work ethic later in life. And, youngsters who had parents with a strong work ethic also tended to work harder.

Does work ethic matter?
In 2009, a study entitled “Personality and Career Success: Concurrent and Longitudinal Relations” found that people scoring a high degree of conscientiousness (work ethic) on the Big Five test earned considerably higher incomes and reported greater job satisfaction.

A National Institute of Mental Health Study found that conscientious men earned significantly higher salaries than their low-C counterparts.

A 2006 study reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology linked conscientiousness with entrepreneurship, finding that successful entrepreneurs scored far higher on conscientiousness than managers.

Research from the University of Sheffield in the UK is one of the many studies that link conscientiousness with high educational attainment. Simply put, conscientious kids do better at school.

Other studies associate conscientiousness with long life, as conscientious people are far less likely to smoke, drink to excess, abuse drugs, drive too fast or break the law. They are also drawn to other conscientious people, which puts them in long-lasting stable relationships and healthy work situations.

Conscientiousness even determines your chances of becoming an influential presence on Twitter, according to a University of Cambridge study.

In my opinion, the most remarkable thing about conscientiousness is its ability to cut across situational variables. Arriving on time, being on top of deadlines, making plans and sticking to them – these skills help you regardless of your life stage, transitions, or work situation.

Personality Variables
Out of all the big-five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism; conscientiousness is the only trait that consistently shows a strong relationship to work ethic. Overall, conscientious individuals tend to demonstrate a strong work ethic, be reliable, punctual, pay attention to detail and show commitment and purpose.

Conscientiousness can be broken down into two sub-traits:

Industriousness, which refers to the ability to suppress disruptive impulses and pursue non-immediate goals

Orderliness, which refers to the ability to adopt and follow rules (either self-imposed or imposed by others).

Work ethic and neuroscience
High Conscientiousness has been linked to a greater connectivity between several neural networks in the brain:

The cognitive control network controls your executive functions- attention, planning, working memory, and social behavior.

The salience network primarily decides which things you pay attention to and which things you ignore. Both of these networks are controlled by the Frontal Lobe, the conductor of the brain. 

Please also read: Leenders, M. V. E., Buunk, A. P., Henkens, K. (2017). The Role of the Relationship with Parents with Respect to Work Orientation and Work Ethic. Journal of General Psychology.

Embolden Psychology
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Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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