Can You Train People to Work Hard?

RJ Morris Audacious Ideas, Career Paths, Change, Change Management, Coaching, RJ Morris

Think about the people who have failed at your workplace. We know that it’s not usually because they lacked technical skill. It usually falls into one of two categories: He was a jerk, or he was lazy. She alienated people, or she didn’t get enough done. Hard work matters in the workplace, especially early in your career. As you progress in your career, leadership, networking and mentoring skills matter, but hard work still separates people. People tagged with a label of “lazy” never, ever recover.

So, how does someone become a hard worker? Can you train for it? According to Charles Hugh Smith at dailyreckoning.com, it’s an early-acquired skill, so probably not. Also, the recent downturn in labor force participation rate is creating a real problem—people who stop working hard.

Simply put, job growth is not keeping pace with population growth–specifically, the growth of the labor force which is generally defined as the population between the ages of 18 and 64.

So what happens to the economy as millions of people never acquire the habits of hard work or lose them due to chronic joblessness? … Those who fall out of the workforce (or never join it in the first place) may lose (or never develop) the habits of hard work and cooperating with others that are necessary to be productive. … the earlier one acquires the habits of hard work, the more likely it is that those habits will last a lifetime:

Just like kids that start smoking when they are young tend to keep smoking until they die, people that start working hard when they are young tend to work hard until they die. On the flip side, kids today that don’t do any work when they are young and are told what to do every minute of their days are not wired to work hard or think outside the box, which is an essential part of making the kind of decisions necessary to run a business.

I’ve noticed that the people that work the hardest grew up working hard because they HAD to…
We encourage studying hard and playing hard, but how many programs in our educational system give young people an opportunity to learn how to work hard, especially for themselves as entrepreneurs/ self-employed? All too often it’s assumed that studying hard and playing hard teach people to work hard. That is not necessarily the case, as work requires another set of attributes and habits. Some of these overlap with study and athletics, but not all.

I wish there were some more science behind his observations, but this sounds right to me. I have not met many people who suddenly decided to work hard. Some people can work hard for a while, but, unless it’s hardwired early in their lives, they usually don’t have the stamina to keep it up.  I do not think this is an L&D issue.

What’s the Talent Acquisition play? It might get weird talking to people about their early childhoods, but I think you could dig into the very first job someone had in their life and how they approached it. I learned a ton in my first high school and college gigs, and those lessons have followed me. Simply put, look for examples of hustle in someone’s story. It’s a consistent trait.

RJ Morris

I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.