Value Shifts: The New Work Ethic

It's the eternal Peggy Lee question, says John Izzo, Ph.D.: "Is that all there is? Is all this time I'm spending at work worth it?"


It''s the eternal Peggy Lee question, says John Izzo, Ph.D.: "Is that all there is? Is all this time I''m spending at work worth it?"

The answer, according to many employees these days, is "no," added Izzo, who spoke about what he calls "the new work ethic" during a session sponsored by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses at the American Occupational Health Conference and Exhibit in Chicago this week.

Izzo mentioned a billboard he observed recently. It referenced "the 70,000 hours you''ll spend at work during your lifetime," a remark that was met by murmurs from the crowd. He noted that:

  • Americans work the equivalent of one month longer per year than they did 18 years ago. "So if you feel tired…you are," he told the crowd.
  • 26 percent of men under the age of 45 say that if they must choose between having a good family life and getting ahead in their careers, they''ll choose their family.
  • One-third of the population has a definable psychological problem, and the three most prescribed medications in the United States are for depression and ulcers, both of which, noted Izzo, can be stress-related. "Look at the person to your left and to your right," he joked. "If they look normal…"
  • Almost one-third of American workers believe that management routinely lies to them.

"The workplace is where a lot of illness and wellness is going to happen, folks," said Izzo.

He noted that in recent years, there has been a shift in values in the workplace, a change that was accelerated by the events of September 11th. He said more employees expect a balance and synergy between work and their personal lives; believe they should be treated like partners at work; expect their work to support a noble cause; want a sense of community at work; and believe they should be able to trust their employers and have their employers trust them.

Gone are the days when people came to work, did as they were told and went home. Also gone are the days when managers were told they shouldn''t be friendly with employees and employees were told not to bring their personal lives to work, Izzo noted. A recent study, he said, found the best predictor of a highly productive workforce is the presence of a supervisor who took an interest in employee''s personal lives.

At a division of a company that continually makes Forbes'' "100 Best Places to Work" list, managers are told to take new employees out on a "First Dinner" within two weeks of their start dates. During the dinner, work-related topics are forbidden. Talk is limited to families, hobbies, life experiences and other non-work-related topics. The program is so popular that employees who worked at the company before the program started have been grandfathered in so they can have their "first dinners," albeit five, 10 or 15 years after their start date.

"The most cited reasons for quitting a job are ''I wasn''t appreciated.'' ''I wasn''t valued.'' ''I wasn''t listened to,''" said Izzo. "The most cited reason for turning down a new job offer: ''The work is interesting. I''m learning something new and growing and don''t want to leave.''"

He noted the case of one bank vice president who told Izzo that he had a list in his desk of the names of the 20-plus employees in his division. He made it a point, he said, to compliment or encourage each employee publicly - in front of clients or coworkers - at least once every two to three weeks. As he made his way down the list, he crossed off the names (although compliments weren''t limited only to the time the employee''s name came up on the list) and when all the names were crossed off, he started all over again.

"No one knows I have this list," he confided to Izzo. "Only my wife." While the employees didn''t know about the list, said Izzo, they certainly responded to the positive reinforcement, making that vice president''s division one of the most productive in the company.

While interesting work and caring supervisors are important, said Izzo, don''t forget trust. Just look at the sad case of Enron and accounting firm Arthur Andersen. Although just one office out of the many Arthur Andersen operates around the world was implicated in the Enron case, the entire company is paying the price. The federal government is breathing down their back, long-time clients have dropped them and they''ve been forced to lay off a large number of employees. "Companies that betray trust are punished in significant ways," notes Izzo.

He suggested audience members write down five to seven values that matter most to them and that when those values are present, they experience "joy and satisfaction." Try to make those values present in your job, he urged, and if that isn''t possible, then think about a new job or career that would promote those values.

"Life is too short not to live your values at work," he counseled.

Izzo''s book, Values Shift: The New Work Ethic and What it Means for Business, is available from

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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