Work Ethics That ‘Work’

Working hard one day at a time leads to many days of slowly coming together.

See the latest issue of Briefings at newsstands or read in our new format here.

By Liz Bentley

It sounds simple enough: a good work ethic still wins. Yet if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how complicated even that can be. Both last year and now at the start of the young year, we’ve been forced to reimagine our lives in many ways, including how we work. We have shifted how we communicate with our colleagues and clients, market and brand our business, distribute our products, and think about the future. And the evolution will continue. But the one thing that will remain constant, and become more important than ever, is our work ethic—namely, the ability to work hard and get things done no matter the obstacle, the moving target, or the demands placed on us. Let’s look at some of the key issues.

Why people struggled

In the face of health concerns and shutdowns of businesses and schools, people have struggled on all fronts, including finding their motivation to work in the face of hardship. They had trouble finding meaning in their work and were overwhelmed by the changes. And for parents, it was incredibly taxing and frustrating. The biggest pitfalls that derailed people from their work arose out of everything from self-pity (feeling sorry for yourself kills productivity) to self-sabotage (the biggest obstacle to self-discipline is ourselves).

Why people excelled

The pandemic has expanded the divide between high performers and the rest of the workforce—otherwise known as the difference between “the good” and “the great.” As the great have gotten even greater, the good have seemingly stood still, which at this new pace of change is actually making them slide backward. High performers adapted quickly and developed a critical mindset that allowed them to approach their work with a mentality that drives success. And they displayed grit, the ability to keep on keeping on, no matter the struggle. For this group, when their work piled up, they increased the pace of their work to get more done, quickly and efficiently, with no errors. This new pace and heavy workload helped them get better at everything in their jobs.

How people will rise

If you struggled with your work ethic, you aren’t alone—but you will have to make some critical shifts to get more focused.

Get into motion now. Don’t wait for it to get better. There is no indication that 2021 will be any different from 2020, and in some cases it could be more complicated. Make the adjustments you need now, and keep adjusting as needed.

Don’t seek happiness, because it’s temporary and distracting. It leads you to make short-term decisions that will likely not build on themselves to productive outcomes. For example, if you had a hard day, you might want to have a glass of wine to relax and “feel happy.” But in fact, it may just make you feel more depressed, and what you really need to do is work out to refresh your mood and thinking.

Seek fulfillment. Fulfillment is about the journey and how we continue to grow and evolve. In doing so, we recognize that there will be ups and downs, but we need to continue on the road in a constant effort to build our future. Fulfillment gives us grit and the ability to measure difficulties with a clear perspective.

Be comfortable being uncomfortable. 2020 was a year of discomfort, and here is what we know about being uncomfortable: it gives us the chance to grow and evolve. It is in our discomfort that we are pushed to change. And it was a year of change, so people who were able to sit in their discomfort were better at seeing how they needed to shift.

Show up today. Working hard one day at a time leads to many days of slowly coming together. Right now, it is very hard to predict the future and control outcomes, so living in the present and tweaking your work daily to drive better results is the best strategy for the moment.

Bentley is an executive coach and the founder of Liz Bentley Associates. She is a regular guest host on several national news and business shows.