Where Kids Are Learning A Work Ethic

Eric Chester will have a new book out in January 2012 entitled: Reviving Work Ethic. In this book he shares his take on the pervasive “entitlement mentality” that allegedly afflicts many in the emerging workforce. He also offers specific actions employers can take to develop within their employees a deeper commitment to performing excellent work.

As someone who shares his emphasis on working hard and getting better at what you do, I wonder how receptive today’s parents, teachers and employers will be to Eric’s latest book—needed as it might be. While he asserts that kids today have not been taught how to succeed in the workplace, at school, or at home. There are some places many students are learning the value of a “work ethic” and that’s in the high-quality music programs, pre-professional business programsspeech and debatetheaterScience OlympiadInvention Convention clubs, Odyssey of the Mind teams, as well as a myriad of other co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Ironically, and mistakenly, the very activities that seem to be cut whenever State mis-funded budget realities force schools to save some dollars. Admittedly, most of these activities happen after school with lots of parent, community, volunteer support and fundraising.

Learning to work in school? Eric’s probably right. Students aren’t learning to work in school as much as they’re learning to work after school. U.S. kids (compared to other OECDmember countries) have one of the the shortest school days, the shortest school years, and only do (on average) about an hour of homework a day. Add to this around a month of “summer learning loss” that occurs thanks to most summer vacations, and it’s no wonder teachers spend too much of their instructional time cramming (I mean preparing) students for some state-mandated tests–most of which are biased and border on educational malpractice. Maybe that’s why 1 in 3 U.S. high school students don’t graduate?

Learning to work at work? Eric might be right about U.S. kids not learning to work on the job either. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the proportion of young people ages 16 to 24 in the work force has collapsed. And if you think this is simply a phenomenon from the recent economic crisis, realize that ever since 2000 (that’s over ten years), fewer and fewer young people have even been working. Of course the one’s who are, might be working harder given the current “less doing more” mentality in the workplace.

Learning to work at home? Now before you go all “Ozzie and Harriet” on me (who, remember were fictional characters), or start quoting President Eisenhower describing a time that has passed:

America did not become great through softness and self-indulgence. Her miraculous progress and achievements flow from other qualities far more worthy and substantial–a satisfaction in hard work.

Realize that research (covering over a dozen surveys of how Americans use their time) taken at different periods from 1965 to 2007 actually show parents spend more time with their children now than they did back in the “I Like Ike” days. Time diaries indicate that married fathers spent on average 6.5 hours a week caring for their children in 2000, a 153 percent increase since 1965. Married mothers spent 12.9 hours, a 21 percent increase. Even single mothers spent 11.8 hours, a 57 percent increase. Over the last ten years the numbers have increased even further—spending 9.6 hours a week for college-educated men, 6.8 hours for other men, all caring for their kids. Of course, when your unemployed it might be a lot easier to spend time with your kids. Hopefully, helping them study since job losses tend to decrease scores on achievement tests.

NOTE: Some have cherry-picked, warped, or misinterpreted survey data from A.C. Nielsen (mostly when urging families to turn off or even kill their TV) and erroneously hype that the number of minutes per week “parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children is 38.5 minutes.” (They simply divide by 7 and state that’s 5½ minutes per day.) Others only consider the “Talking to/with children” calculation from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey data (which cites only 3 minutes per day). Yet wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that given all the childcare activities parents do “with their children” (i.e. physical care, education-related, reading to/with, playing/doing hobbies with, attending children events, travel with, and others) there’s really a lot more quality and quantity time being spent together? Actually, in total, on average, over 90-minutes per day!

While many working parents typically feel guilty for not spending enough time at home, kids often have a different view of things at home. In the landmark study “Ask the Children,” Dr. Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute asked more than 1,000 children about their “one wish” for their own parents. While parents thought their children would wish for “more family time,” the children wanted something different. “Kids were more likely to wish that their parents were less tired and less stressed.” Sounds like they might be working too hard. Now, what kind of example is that for our children?

Disclaimer: To his credit, Eric openly admits he’s an Old Caucasian Dude and that might slant his perspective on kids today as well as the work ethic he observes they bring into the workplace. Yet, I’ll bet his take on the emerging workforce resonates with many and makes his latest book Reviving Work Ethic well worth reading.

Fran Kick

FRAN KICK works with corporate and education organizations, groups, and associations that want to develop better leaders and smarter followers for faster long-term results. As an author, educational consultant, and professional speaker, he always shares relevant research, real-world insights, and actionable ideas YOU can implement to motivate yourself. So you can Kick It In and Take the Lead at work, in school, at home, and in life!