Some people believe work ethic is a quality you’re born with, while others think it can be learned and developed over time.

Either way, one thing is for sure: work ethic has a big impact on the success of your business and the productivity of your team.

In this article, we’ll explore the factors that influence work ethic and how to identify employees with a strong work ethic and a weak work ethic. We’ll also look at some work ethic examples in action so you can better understand how it impacts workplace productivity and success.

Key Takeaways:

  • An employee’s work ethic is impacted by their environment, workplace culture, and attitude toward labor.
  • Managers should take note of employee work ethic to help them realize their full potential.

Is Work Ethic a Character Trait or a Learned Skill?

Work ethic can be defined as a belief in the importance of hard work and the willingness to apply oneself diligently to a task. But the question of whether work is a character trait or a learned skill is a topic of much debate.

Recent research has pointed out the link between self-determination theory and work ethic. It suggests that individuals who have a strong sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are more likely to exhibit a positive work ethic, as this mindset reflects their personal belief system and values.

It suggests that work ethic is closely associated with a person’s sense of moral duty and is considered a ‘‘syndrome of attitudes and beliefs” surrounding work.

As such, work ethic is not a fixed character trait but a malleable attribute that can be influenced and shaped by the people around us, as well as our cultural and familial values.

Outstanding Work Ethic Examples

Employees with an outstanding work ethic are a valuable asset to any workplace. As workers, these individuals are incredibly reliable, take ownership of their work, and are capable of working independently with minimal supervision.

outstanding work ethic

This is especially important in hybrid work environments, where trust and self-accountability are essential for success.

An employee with an outstanding work ethic:

  • Is always going the extra mile
  • Is constantly looking for ways to improve
  • Is highly independent
  • Inspires others to be their best
  • Is proactive and self-motivated
  • Admits when they’ve made a mistake

Case Study: Brian, the Outstanding Worker

Brian starts his day by reviewing his tasks and identifying opportunities to go above and beyond what’s expected of him. He proactively seeks feedback from his manager and colleagues to improve his work and ensure he’s meeting expectations.

Throughout the day, Brian remains highly independent, completing tasks with minimal supervision and always completing his assignments before their deadlines.

If one of his projects doesn’t meet the standard he sets for himself, he voluntarily works overtime and, in doing so, inspires his colleagues to do the same.

Despite his exceptional performance, Brian remains humble and is able to admit when he’s made a mistake.

Due to the amount of pressure Brian puts on his work performance, he doesn’t allow himself the time to relax and enjoy life outside of work. Instead, he often uses the weekend to log back onto work assignments or improve previous tasks based on his manager’s feedback.

How to Use Interviews to Find Employees With an Outstanding Work Ethic

You can start building a team of employees with an outstanding work ethic as part of your hiring process.

During interviews, you can effectively identify candidates with an outstanding work ethic beyond just the show they put on to impress you on the day.

By paying attention to candidates’ initiative, preparation, professionalism, and passion, you can make informed decisions about who will contribute positively to the company.

Take notice of candidates who:

  • Have thoroughly researched your company and prepared for the interview
  • Are dressed professionally
  • Show interest in your workplace through their tone of voice, body language, and general enthusiasm
  • Answer questions interestingly and insightfully

Good Work Ethic Examples

A good work ethic is characterized by punctuality, accountability, honesty, professionalism, and a healthy work-life balance.

good work ethic

For managers, hiring employees with a solid work ethic can help set a standard for success in which not only is achieving organizational goals important but so is getting along with your co-workers and prioritizing your mental and physical needs outside of work.

An employee with a good work ethic:

  • Arrives to work on time
  • Consistently meets deadlines
  • Is reliable and trustworthy
  • Completes their work to a high standard
  • Is a team player
  • Is willing to work overtime when required
  • Looks for opportunities to help others
  • Is accepting of additional workloads

Case Study: Amy, the “Good Great Worker”

Amy starts her day by arriving at work on time and ready to tackle her tasks after having taken time to relax and rejuvenate outside of work hours. She consistently meets deadlines and produces high-quality work that exceeds expectations.

As a team player, Amy looks for opportunities to help her colleagues and is willing to take on additional work to help her team out.

When necessary, Amy is willing to work overtime and is always happy to help out her team. However, she maintains a healthy boundary between work and her personal life.

Amy doesn’t make a habit of staying in the office if not required and instead spends her time off having an active social life and fulfilling hobbies, as they contribute to her quality of life and well-being.

Why “Good” Might Be Better Than “Outstanding” When It Comes to Work Ethic

While an outstanding work ethic might seem like the most desirable trait an employee can have, it can be unrealistic to maintain for a long time.

These individuals focus almost exclusively on their work, putting an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to perform to a certain standard.

Lack of a strong work-life balance can also lead to severe burnout, which impacts not only work ethic in the long term but also work quality and productivity.

On the other hand, employees with a “good” work ethic are able to consistently maintain a smooth workflow because they enforce boundaries between their professional and personal lives. This leads to a more sustainable and healthy approach to work.

For employers, offering flexible work arrangements is a great way to support a good work ethic. Hybrid and remote work ensures that your team has the ability to work around their own lifestyle in a way that suits them so they can focus on taking care of themselves outside of the office.

Mediocre Work Ethic Examples

Employees with a mediocre work ethic meet minimum expectations but don’t exceed them.

mediocre work ethic

While employees with a mediocre work ethic don’t do anything counter-productive or problematic in the workplace, they also won’t go out of their way to boost their performance and are not always receptive to feedback.

A manager might notice that an employee who was once an outstanding worker has suddenly slipped into the “acceptable” work ethic category. Or they might mistakenly hire an employee they assume is outstanding who turns out to have a mediocre work ethic.

Employees with a mediocre work ethic:

  • Arrive at meetings on time but don’t prepare notes or talking points
  • Complete their work to an acceptable standard but never ask for feedback or advice on how to make it better
  • Are willing to help others when asked but don’t proactively look for ways to do so
  • Do what they “need to do” during the day but don’t talk or act passionately about their work

Case Study: “Demi the Mediocre Worker”

Demi starts her day by arriving at meetings on time but without preparing any notes or talking points. She completes her work but never seeks advice on how to improve it or requests feedback.

Demi is prone to asking for extensions on her work. While she does her work quietly, she doesn’t express passion or enthusiasm for it and stays a considerable distance away from her colleagues.

How to Motivate Your Employees to Reach New Heights

Employees with a mediocre work ethic aren’t necessarily bad workers; they may simply be cruising through their workdays without a sense of purpose or passion.

These workers are often disengaged and linked to the quiet quitting phenomenon, where they’ve emotionally checked out and are just going through the motions.

If you’re finding that an employee’s work ethic has room for improvement, try the following tactics:

Poor Work Ethic Examples

Poor work ethic is characterized by chronic lateness, low productivity, frequent absences, and poor quality of work.

poor work ethic

Employees with a poor work ethic often look for the “easy way out.” As a result, they often don’t take their job seriously — and this can contribute to a negative or toxic work environment.

Managers should look out for these behaviors in their employees. They’ll also need to determine if workers with a poor work ethic are an appropriate fit for their team.

An employee with a poor work ethic:

  • Frequently arrives to work late
  • Often asks for deadline extensions (including after the due date has passed)
  • Is unwilling to help their colleagues out and actively avoids taking on any extra responsibilities
  • Regularly checks their phone or scrolls through social media during work hours
  • Has a poor attitude toward managers when asked to work on something outside of their normal duties
  • Relies on others to do all the work in collaborative tasks

Case Study: Mark the Underperforming Worker

Mark frequently arrives to work late — but he always has a coffee in his hand. When working remotely, Mark constantly refuses to join video calls, claiming he’s “too busy.”

When asked, Mark is unwilling to help out his colleagues and actively avoids taking on extra responsibilities, especially if it means he has to put in extra work.

Mark doesn’t like to collaborate with his colleagues, is often rude to his managers, and purposely ignores instructions. Additionally, he is often the first person to leave the office or log off for the day.

Are Employees With a Poor Work Ethic a Lost Cause?

Employees with a poor work ethic can have a significant impact on a company’s operations. However, factors other than simple laziness could play into these situations.

Recent research has shown a link between an employee’s self-esteem, confidence in their job, and extrinsic motivation.

Factors that can impact employee work ethic include:

  • Personal issues outside of work
  • Poor management, including micromanagement
  • Lack of adequate training
  • Feelings of stress or failure
  • Boredom
  • Lack of recognition or appropriate payment

If you believe that some of these factors might be affecting an employee’s work ethic, try to work with them to improve their mental health. This can make a big difference in their performance.

However, if that employee continues showing a poor work ethic even after you’ve attempted to remedy the situation, it might be necessary to let them go and find someone more committed to the role.

Supporting Employees: The Key to Improving Work Ethic

When employees see that their colleagues are going above and beyond, they’re more likely to be motivated to do the same.

However, it’s important to note that work ethic is not just a personality trait — it can be shaped and influenced by extrinsic factors, such as work environment and company culture.

One way to support your employees and get the best out of them is to create a flexible, productive, and collaborative work environment.

For that, you need the right hybrid work software.

OfficeRnD Hybrid is a powerful hybrid work solution that can help your organization adopt and thrive in a hybrid work model by streamlining when, where, and how people work together via seamless workplace experiences.

Get started for free with OfficeRnD Hybrid or book a live demo with one of our workplace experts to see how OfficeRnD Hybrid can transform your workplace and boost the work ethic of your employees


What Is a “Basic Work Ethic”?

A basic work ethic is a set of values and beliefs that guide the way people behave and work in the workplace. It’s the fundamental characteristic that employees have to strive for excellence, ensure that they finish their projects on time and to a certain standard, and maintain a positive attitude toward their work.

What Are Some Professional Work Ethic Examples?

Employees who have a strong professional work ethic exhibit reliability, productivity, professionalism, time management, teamwork, integrity, good communication, and respect for leadership.

What is a Good Example of a Good Work Ethic?

A good example of a strong work ethic is consistently meeting deadlines while maintaining high-quality work. This demonstrates reliability, dedication, and attention to detail, key traits valued in any professional setting.

How Would I Describe my Work Ethic?

To describe your work ethic, highlight your commitment to reliability, efficiency, and quality in your work. Mention your dedication to meeting deadlines, your ability to work effectively under pressure, and your consistent pursuit of excellence in all tasks.

What are Signs of a Bad Work Ethic?

Signs of a bad work ethic include consistently missing deadlines, showing a lack of initiative, and producing low-quality work. Additionally, frequent tardiness, a negative attitude towards tasks, and an unwillingness to collaborate or improve are also indicative of poor work ethic.

What Causes Poor Work Ethic?

Poor work ethic can be caused by a lack of motivation or engagement, insufficient recognition or rewards, and a mismatch between the employee’s skills and their job requirements. A toxic work environment or unclear expectations can also contribute to a decline in work ethic.

Miro Miroslavov
CEO and Co-founder of OfficeRnD
Miro Miroslavov is a software engineer turned into a tech entrepreneur. In 2015 he co-founded OfficeRnD - a leading flex space and hybrid work management platform. As a CEO at OfficeRnD, he grew the company from inception to a leading software vendor that serves thousands of customers worldwide. He is a big fan of flexible working and is on a mission to "Making Flexible Working the Way of Working".