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Backward Glances: Work Ethics

In a recent conversation the comment was made that people today just don’t have the same work ethic that my generation brags about. Instinctively I wanted to agree but I’ve chosen to think about it a little first.

It seems to me that there have been many shifts in the workplace aside from those resulting from advancing technology. For one thing, it was easier for most of us to find good jobs back in the 1960’s when I was starting out. And I say good jobs because specialized training and post graduate education were not as critical then. Today most jobs offering career advancement and higher incomes require more than the high school diploma that opened doors for my generation.

Back then it was possible to join the public service, work for a large corporation or financial institution as I did, or take up a trade and receive training on the job. Certainly I had to study, take courses and continue my education but while still working, and while receiving a pay cheque. Although an advanced degree increased the likelihood of going further, there were good careers to be had and many very successful entrepreneurs had modest education. I don’t think it works quite the same today.

What was really needed was a strong work ethic and I suspect many younger people today don’t have the head start on that, that we did. Generally we learned pretty early on that we had to work for what we wanted. Around here many of us grew up on farms and orchards. Most people had a vegetable garden and there were always chores to be done. Our parents weren’t quite so charitable when their children wanted to do things or have things that cost money. By the time we hit our teens we were expected to earn our own pocket money. For me, that meant picking cherries, thinning, or changing sprinklers to earn the cash I needed to go to the Kelowna Regatta. If someone needed to hire a strong young back for a little help now and then, they didn’t have to look very far. This contrasts with our current experience.

Some friends recently asked if we knew someone who would do some yard work pulling weeds and general cleaning up and I had to answer that I did not. There just doesn’t seem to be the same labour pool of those wanting to make a few dollars doing casual jobs. If we need regular maintenance or we are doing a major project there are excellent local companies providing services such as landscaping. That said, many people like myself, don’t need a crew arriving in a big truck, they just want someone to come in for a few hours as needed. I can’t remember the last time some enterprising individual rang our doorbell to ask if he/she could cut our lawn, wash windows, or shovel the driveway in the wintertime.

Many of the people we know are at or getting to a stage of life where taking care of things around the home and yard is becoming more difficult. It makes me think back some years to my mother-in-law’s situation at her home. She couldn’t keep up with the yard work so we suggested either finding a “lad” to keep her garden tidy or consider moving. She soon found someone to work as required and she happily stayed in her home until her death. We know a number of people whose situations are similar but they strongly resist the idea of getting help. There seems to be this pride in being able to do things for ourselves and fear of losing our “independence”. What works best for me is spending my time doing things that I enjoy like mowing and light yard maintenance, but I call the professionals when there is serious work to be done. Let us say that it has been a very long time since I stood up high on a ladder trying to paint the exterior of my house. John Pulfer does live just down the road, and he’s very good at it. Wisdom would suggest that if we all tried to do everything for ourselves it would leave a lot of good and needy workers with nothing much to do.

So my conclusion is that the ethics of work are mostly just different these days. While there is no end to the stories of workers who underperform, the majority appear to be working harder than ever. Maybe a few of us retirees need to spend a little more time enjoying what we’ve worked for and providing a little employment to those who need it. Now if I can just find somebody who will come in and prune my shrubs now and again.

Rich Gibbons, Okanagan Centre

This article was previously published in The View on July 6, 2014.



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