Why it’s Hard to be Positive

Why do so many workers (especially young ones) have a bad attitude at work? It’s in part because they’re good students, and they learned it from us.

Eric Chester is the author of Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. Chester has spoken to or surveyed over 1,500 employers in the course of his career, and he specializes in coaching companies on how to motivate their entry level workforce. Chester cites four reasons why you will find more bad attitudes than good ones on the job.

First, a bad attitude is more hip than a good one. Blame the Baby Boomers; our “don’t trust anyone over 30” attitude and penchant for questioning authority turned a whole generation into cynics. Or blame it on Elvis Presley. Ever since he burst on the scene in the 1950’s, breaking all the rules and personifying bad boy rock and roll, it’s been cool to be bad. If you’re compliant and perceived as supporting the status quo, you’re either delusional or hopelessly naïve. Only people with cynical attitudes seem to be in the know and attract followers; “company men” don’t stand a chance.

Chester also points out that “work sucks.” How do young people know that? They learn it from their parents. Yes, you. Think about the number of times you’ve expressed some variation of “TGIF.” How much do you look forward to the weekends and dread Mondays? It’s impossible for young people not to notice that workers hate work. If you can name an adult who absolutely loves Monday morning and the return to work, email me. I will feature him or her in a future blog post.

Chester also writes that the world is a much more negative place these days. The Millennial generation is very connected to the world through instant access to media and the internet. The result is that they hear every piece of bad news as soon as it happens. Pay attention to the news and commentary around you for a day. It would be easy to believe that the best days of this country are behind us. It’s hard for anyone to be positive in that environment; the bad news can easily squelch your optimism.

Finally, Chester says, young people are often astonished by the disconnect between their lofty expectations and the reality of the entry level work they are assigned. “Is this my life now?” he quotes one young worker as saying after just a few days on the job. “I just come to work over and over and do the same thing?”  Remember that this is the generation that was told they were special and “gifted” from an early age. Doing menial or dull work and waiting years to be promoted to more interesting work seems like a prison sentence.

Are you leading by example at work and at home? We all say that we’re thrilled to be working and glad to be getting a paycheck, but do we look the part? Are we unconsciously teaching young workers and our children that work is a prison sentence? A quick Google search for “I hate my job” turned up roughly twice the number of hits that “I love my job” did (and many of the love hits were parodies.)

It’s no accident that what we get paid for work is called compensation. The first definition in the dictionary is “Something, typically money, awarded to victims as a recompense for loss, injury, or suffering.”

In this Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams, there’s only one person who really likes his job. See who here: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2002-12-19/

5 thoughts on “Why it’s Hard to be Positive

  1. From Publisher’s Weekly at the end of their review of the book: “While first and secondhand accounts give readers a glimpse into the employer’s world, the book would have benefited from similar accounts from the employee’s perspective.”

    I would think when you leave out the very people you are talking about, this makes the rest of what you have to say suspect.

    Granted, the main focus of Eric Chester’s book is the latest generation of incoming workers. Yet the Eric Chesters of this world are rarely acknowledged, as having a strong; vested; monetary; interest, in such topics. Not one of these experts has transformed the whole of America, despite the glowing testimonies, proclaiming their expertise as invaluable to numerous companies and major corporations, etc.

    Now, I read an excerpt from his book. He makes some good points, but don’t all these experts? I don’t disagree with him, but I think we might start by asking Eric Chester, Publisher’s Weekly’s implied question: “Why were there no similar accounts from the employee’s perspective?”


    1. workethicguru

      Since you posed the question, Wyman, allow me to answer. Reviving Work Ethic is a book written specifically for leaders and managers to help them develop the work ethic in the emerging work force. It is not targeted for employees to better understand employers. I have a book titled “Bring Your A Game to Work – The Seven Fundamental Values that Will Make Every Employer Want to Hire You and Fight to Keep You” (http://www.TheAGame.com) that is part of a comprehensive training and certification curriculum designed just for that purpose.
      There are many Gen Y management books that feature comments of young workers. This is a matter of style and it is used frequently by academics to prove that they have done their homework and that a few select interviewees offer opinions that are representative of an entire generation. I am not an academic ‘expert’ but rather an individual who has spent more than 25 years in the trenches working with millions of high school and college students. I choose not to include a few random interviews to make my points but rather to focus on strategies and tactics that have proven successful for my clients.


      1. Eric – I appreciate you taking the time to follow and reply. I plan to check out The A Game and write about it as well.


  2. Eric Chester, thank you for taking time from your very busy schedule to reply to my comment. (I feel honored and blessed.) After reading book excerpts at B&N’s website and Amazon’s website, I had an idea how you might respond to the question. However, it is best to see your own words, so there can be no doubt. Thank you again. Best of luck with the current Generation and their elders too!


  3. workethicguru

    Candace, I like the focus of your blog. I’d invite you and your readers to visit the Center for Work Ethic at http://www.WorkEthic.org. This is where you’ll learn how my team is creating cutting-edge work ethic training tools and resources for business leaders and owners, managers and supervisors, and front line employees. We are committed to bringing all three levels into alignment around the 7 non-negotiable core work ethic values from top to bottom, bottom to top, from the inside out. Thank you for your exceptional contribution to work readiness and career preparation and success.


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