A few years back I had a conversation with an exchange student from Colombia who was working as a busboy to earn some spending money. He spoke English fluently – an aberration in Los Angeles – and I asked him what he thought was the most surprising thing about America. He said “How hard everyone works.” That may have been true then, but we are quickly becoming a nation of slackers.
America’s work ethic comes from our Puritan past. When we were an agrarian country, you either worked or starved. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, we developed into an industrialized nation, led by men with a solid work ethic, that became the strongest economy in the world. This attitude was essential to our victory in two world wars and our transformation into the globe’s sole superpower.
Regrettably, cultural attitudes have changed substantially, and we now often see derision of our traditional principles. Puritanism is now equated to a 1950’s society in which men were the breadwinners and women were stay-at-home moms. Whether that is true or not, working hard has nothing to do with anything other than the desire to become successful. Work equals money, and money comes from work. It is a simple, yet elegant, concept.
Today, however, we often see a different reality. And while it’s easy to recognize how rapidly-advancing technology has made our lives easier both at home and in the workplace, the change in the American work ethic has many causes and has not taken place overnight.
Many people have observed how this new generation is different from its predecessors, and much has been written about the rules under which they now wish to live. The most dismaying aspect is how pervasive this attitude has become. Not only is the average worker or college graduate unwilling to put forth the effort of prior generations, but so are the elite educated classes.
Several attorneys tell me how difficult it is to get young lawyers to work today. The young ones want what the older ones have, but don’t want to make the requisite sacrifices. This might be an aberration – if it weren’t for so many people telling me the same story!
One of my clients proudly told me about his son and daughter-in-law – newly-graduated attorneys working their way up the ladder at big, reputable firms. The next time we spoke, he informed me that they had resigned their positions to go on a worldwide vacation. And last month, he called to let me know that they were now both working for the government – with 9-5 jobs and built-in benefits.