Thursday, July 29, 2021
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Your Work Ethic Always Matters

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there is no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” – New York Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter

Have you been out to dinner lately at your favorite restaurant and discovered that their hours are limited and/or it’s taking longer to place an order and to get your food? Have you physically visited a cell phone store or cable/internet office and had to wait longer than usual because there is a shortage of staff? Have you experienced understaffed, overwhelmed and stressed-out service industry employees at other locations as well?  So have I, and despite coming off “the great pause” hangover effect, we need a solution quickly.

Welcome to the pandemic-impacted labor market of summer 2021. Whether people are still a little skeptical of being back in public or are still getting government unemployment and stimulus money to essentially stay home, there is a real shortage of workers for everyday activities we have too often taken for granted. Have we inadvertently disincentivized people from working? Do we need to be a little grittier and get back to functioning more “normally?” That is a personal decision and discussion for a different column.

I have heard many adults utter phrases such as these lately: “These young kids just don’t want to work. They want everything handed to them. They have no work ethic!” Not so fast, my fellow baby boomers. There are many people itching to get back to work who quite frankly don’t feel good about living off the government, or at least not any longer than they have to do so. However, for some of them it is a matter of not being able to afford to go back to work. In certain areas, such as downtown districts in major cities and resort towns, the housing and/or transportation costs to get to work are untenable. The affordable housing and transportation challenges also need a quick solution.

I am actually writing this week’s column from Hailey, Idaho (just south of Sun Valley ski resort), where I spend two weeks every summer teaching the Overspeed Hockey Camps at the base of the magnificent Smoky Mountains in the Sawtooth National Forest. The popular tourist town of Ketchum, Idaho is the next town over. It recently made national news because of the trouble they are having finding people to work at restaurants, hotels, and other service jobs specifically because they can’t afford to live in the town.

“The employment numbers signal an increase in jobs in Blaine County, with likely fewer workers to fill them than there were 15 months ago,” said David Patrie, outreach director for Sun Valley Economic Development.  “This is a developing phenomenon that is not unique to Sun Valley.”

Like almost all challenges these days, these two real life hot button issues have become politicized. Instead of working toward a solution for “the greater good” everyone wants to point fingers and blame the other side.  Come on people, we can and must do better. That goes for the people who could be working and choose not to as well as those whining over a lack of employees available at their favorite establishments which causes them angst because they are used to a certain level of service. Both need to step back and look at the bigger picture and then require their local leaders to stop griping and help find solutions.

Kudos to the workers who have come back, I salute you all. I also feel your pain. I see it in your faces as you deal with the pent-up emotions of a society that has been waiting to get back in the game and expects you to provide service at the pre-pandemic levels, even though you are short-staffed for the aforementioned reasons.

To all you service industry employees, full-time or part-time, don’t let others get you down and don’t take it personally. You control what you can control. Take charge of your attitude. Work on coping skills that give you the responses to angry overbearing customers while making them feel like a valued customer to the very best of your ability. Those of us who are customers need to chill out and keep things in context. Be patient and more empathetic to the servers and customer service representatives during this time of transition back to opening up the economy.

One thing is for certain: change is coming post-pandemic. We are all in this together whether we like it or not and we need real leadership now more than ever to help us all succeed.

Regardless of what the future of work looks like for you, I have a recommendation for everyone, but especially the young people in the workforce. Bring a strong work ethic with you regardless of your circumstances. You do have control over how much you care, how hard you work and whether you are going to escalate problems or try your best to be part of the solution.

What do I mean by work ethic? The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition is “the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward.” It is the self-satisfaction of a job well done and of achieving something yourself or as a part of a group. You will know it when you achieve it because you will feel it deep down inside and it will release the kind of endorphins that we all need. It will give you a sense of pride, especially knowing you are helping others.

Take six minutes out of your day and watch the YouTube video “Make Your Bed” by U.S. Navy Admiral William H McRaven.  It will inspire you to understand that doing the simple tasks in life matter and they lead to an appreciation of what it takes to go after the bigger goals in your life.

Evi Johnson is a great example of someone who walks the talk with regard to the value of a great work ethic. I first met Evi four years ago when she was a goalie in our camp. She is a Hailey, Idaho native who outworked everyone on the ice. I have seen some competitive athletes in my day, but Evi was at a different level in terms of her work ethic. Yes, she had talent, but there are more talented kids out there. Her work ethic is her superpower (along with her incredibly positive attitude). For a young lady to make her way from Hailey, Idaho to earn a spot on an NCAA varsity team at St. Norberts, a Wisconsin school steeped in hockey tradition, was quite an accomplishment.

Evi was so dependable and so mature with her attitude that while she attended camp in our high school group last year, she worked as a counselor in the younger group. I never had to ask Evi to do something. She was ahead of us in setting up the drills and moving things into place. She interacted with the younger kids with passion and gave them an added value of her time and attention. This year she is back after her freshman season at St. Norberts as a full-time member of the coaching staff and once again I was reminded of how she has earned this opportunity and how much faith our camp director Toby O’Brien and assistant director Matt Bertani have in her. Evi will go on to be employable and successful after college simply because of her work ethic and tremendous attitude.

The lesson to be learned here is that if you want to be employable in any economy, even a pandemic-influenced one, then you need a work ethic. You don’t have to be a workaholic mind you, just committed and focused on what you have promised to deliver when on the job, and then go a little above and beyond.

A coach of mine loved the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are!” It was in the context of bringing your skills, your creativity, your energy, your passion and your work ethic to whatever you do. Having a great work ethic is a difference-maker in helping you get through this unprecedented time and to help mold and prepare you for your next opportunity. 

Your work ethic always matters.