Region’s work ethic yields multiple meanings

D&H Distributing Inc., an employee-driven ESOP corporation, sells computer products and consumer electronics to resellers and retailers across the country.The Harrisburg-based company has five nationwide distribution centers, including this facility in Susquehanna Township. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

The term gets tossed around in job interviews, sales pitches and TV commercials, but a “good work ethic” can mean different things in different industries, across generations and throughout Central Pennsylvania.

“It’s really a very discretionary buzz phrase today,” said Linda Goldstein, vice president and COO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. “While Central PA has been known for having a high–quality workforce with a good work ethic, those in management never really talk about what that means. It’s tough for us to define.”

Still, Goldstein said, she’s seen a common thread in manufacturing, health care and other professional services in how people view work ethic in the region.

Integrity is one of the biggest defining attributes of a good work ethic, she said, and many employers expect integrity to lead to trusting relationships with staff. She also believes a sense of responsibility is another overarching quality of a good work ethic, often seen when an employee shows pride in his or her work and is consistent with performance.

She also believes a sense of teamwork has become a big part of the midstate’s work ethic, especially when it comes to technology-based companies that require groups of people to work together on developing programs and finishing projects.

A healthy mixture of millennials and baby boomers in the workforce also can help create an effective work ethic because of some of the generational differences, Goldstein said.

Many millennials are looking for personal growth, ways to develop their skills and how they can be influential in the community, she said. Baby boomers, on the other hand, focus more on doing a good job, getting a raise and sticking around for a long time.

“One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but they can work really well when meshed together,” she said.

Erica Mulberger, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp., hears most businesses want someone who will show up on time, whether it’s in health care, manufacturing or the lumber industry.

While some people use the same definition for work ethic, their expectations can be different because of company culture, she said. A situation in which new employees take full lunch breaks while older staffers rush through their lunches can lead to a sense of animosity in a company, she said.

“Communication about the employer’s expectations have to be the same across the board,” Mulberger said.

Many people are happy to comply with company standards for dress code or hours worked, but they need to be told about those things either in the interview process or during a training program.

“Setting work ethic expectations early ensures, in most cases, that they are followed through,” she said. “Many people want to do a good job and make their bosses happy, but they need to be told how to do that.”

For Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the work ethic of the region is characterized by drive and ambition, with people committed to showing up on time, sharing information with others and moving a company’s interests forward.

In addition, many people want to improve themselves and their communities, Barr said, and companies can use that to their benefit. He suggests companies give employees the chance to work in team operations, volunteer in the community or participate in skill-improvement programs.

They just have to keep in mind generational differences.

Many older people take their professional skills into the community through Rotary and other programs, while younger people would rather perform a function, such as volunteer at a food bank or charity. The formalities that some organizations require just aren’t appealing to younger workers, he said.

“Things will always be different than they were 50 years ago, but that desire to have a positive impact and improve yourself still exists,” he said. “Companies that can give their employees time to do that will find their culture flourish.”

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