the work ethic that never was (kids these days)

Kids these days… No one gives an honest day’s work anymore… Not like when I was coming up in the organization… What ever happened to people’s work ethic…

You’ve heard these words before. Maybe even said them. I suspect each generation will say these words about the next generation until the sun flares out and the earth dies several billion years from now.

I was recently re-reading Elbert Hubbard’s “A Message to Garcia” and it made me consider the possibility that the work ethic isn’t dead, that it isn’t dying. Perhaps it never really was alive.

Hubbard’s short pamphlet was originally written as rather inspired filler for a magazine and created such demand that it went on sell forty million copies in 37 languages. Clearly, his message struck a chord. It’s a great short read that’s less than three pages long. I came across it here, but you can find it all over the internet.

In it, the author laments how few people are willing to go above and beyond or even do the very basics of their job reliably and without coercion. And how surprising it is when someone does a job and does it well on their own initiative. Speaking of the man who delivered a message to General Garcia without hesitation, without question, and at great hardship, he exclaims:

By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college in the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies; do the thing – “carry a message to Garcia!”


His frustration with the work ethic he saw displayed throughout society is clear. But it wasn’t written about the Millennials. Or Generation X. Or the Baby Boomers. It was written in 1899.

Kids these days…


  1. Love it! My parents complained out my generation, their parent’s complained about their generation, and so on and so on and so on. There are people in every generation who are willing to take on challenges and to work hard, and those who don’t. I actually recently wrote a blog on a similar topic. I do think that in some ways, the next generation is not so eager to say “yes” to the demands for extra time, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. Just like the next generation, we prefer to spend times with friends and family. We just didn’t always have the courage to say “no, this is my time.” Perhaps that is a step in the right direction.


  2. Broc,

    I completely agree with you and Laurie.

    About a year ago, I heard somebody who was probably around 60-70 years old talk about how awful things are now. And I thought to myself that I have heard that many older people in the 1950s when he grew up thought Elvis dancing like he did was just awful.

    I’m not a fan of saying that all people in a certain generation are a certain way. I think all generations have both lazy and hardworking people, etc.


    1. Greg, I just saw an article saying that there is more difference within the generations than between the generations. As you say, all generations have lazy, hardworking, etc. I wish I could find the source again, but I once read a quote about how the wild youth was going to be the downfall of society and civilization – it could have been written by any generation, but was written 2000 years ago.


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