Work ethic changing, panel concludes

Kerri Breen
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Is it for better or for worse?

Business owner Janet Kelly says the work ethic of young people today is "different, and I don't quite get it."

"You don't have to like your job; you just do it," she said.

Kelly and three other members of a cross-generational panel were assembled as part of "The Disappearing Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction" - the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council's (NLEC) conference which started Tuesday and runs today at the Holiday Inn in St. John's.

John Sheridan, president and managing partner with Social Media 404, addressed a gathering of the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers Council Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in St. Johns. The conference continues today. Photo by Kerri Breen/The Telegram

Business owner Janet Kelly says the work ethic of young people today is "different, and I don't quite get it."

"You don't have to like your job; you just do it," she said.

Kelly and three other members of a cross-generational panel were assembled as part of "The Disappearing Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction" - the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council's (NLEC) conference which started Tuesday and runs today at the Holiday Inn in St. John's.

The panelists agreed the work ethic is changing - most agreed it's neither better nor much worse.

Kelly, whose specialty store Auntie Crae's is closed two days a week because of a lack of staff, says she gets the best work out of university students and those seeking a means to an end.

The problem, she says, is "lost souls" who don't work how and when they're supposed to. She said she's tried rewarding good work with incentives like extra pay, but it doesn't work.

"I've dangled a carrot in every way possible and it doesn't make a difference."

But Kelly acknowledged workers have changed in some good ways as well. Her employees are smarter, more informed and less intimidated than they used to be.

Representing Generation X, Carol Stringer said the knee-jerk assumption that young people have less of a work ethic needs to be challenged.

"I can remember in school we had a quote ... from someone back thousands of years ago saying, 'I don't know what's going to happen to the world because of the state of the teenagers.' It's hardly anything new," the student and former veterinarian said.

She said it's easy to make sweeping generalizations, but the real question is why changes are happening and how issues can be resolved.

Heidi Williams, vice-president of SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) at Memorial University said market conditions have changed. There are fewer 9-to-5 jobs, and youth need challenges and rewards, and to feel as though they are changing the shape of the workplace.

"If they don't feel like that, then they're not going to work," she said.

The talk was facilitated by NLEC executive director Richard Alex-ander, who said the conference will also address the challenge of generational differences in work ethic. Employers, he said, are dealing with four different generations in the workplace at the same time.

Today the conference will focus on solutions to issues like different work styles.

Alexander said young people are set up to expect knowledge-based jobs that may not be there for them.

"We're seeing the results of that now," he said.

kbreen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador Employers, Holiday Inn, SIFE Free Enterprise

Geographic location: St. John's

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