Work ethic – what is it and why is it important?

Updated June 4, 2007: Samiran points to an insightful article in the comments section. I think the article points, ever so subtly, to religion as the one that we should focus on, but in the process talks insightfully about purpose.  Ganesh makes a brilliant point in his comment as well – True work ethic is in completing things on time and quality even when you  are not passionate about it. In other words, doing things to the best of your abilities dispassionately – which is Karma Yoga. Couldn’t agree more.


We had talked earlier about passion, but what is the relationship of passion to work ethic? Business Pundit wrote a great post last week about Tiger Woods and how he practices golf.  Business Pundit actually does not use the word work ethic. But this behavior of Tiger Woods is what i would call a winning work ethic.

The Wikipedia defines work ethic as “Work ethic is a set of values based on the moral virtues of hard work and diligence.”  To me this definition does not explain the Tiger woods type of work ethic or the Ricky Ponting work ethic that we covered. 

NK Sreedhar was having some discussions with his friends and sent me an interesting email about work ethic. He concludes that the western work ethic may stem from religion – specifically the protestant work ethic.  Considering that religion has played such an important role in the evolution of culture, i think this is probably a valid conclusion.

I also agreed with Sreedhar on the other conclusion he reached – India’s lack of work ethic may be due to the lack of industrialization or manufacturing industries.  

Where I disagreed with Sreedhar is when he says Hinduism doesn’t accord a similar status to work ethic. I had covered Karma Yoga from the Bhagavad Gita earlier which accords a even greater value to work ethic. So it is not the Hindu religion that is to blame but somewhere during the past few 1000 years after the Vedic period, we have lost the work ethic.

When I re-read my post on Karma Yoga that i referred to above, i realized that it is Mihaly’s state of Flow that we must target. Now this state of flow is not an easy thing to comprehend as well as attain, but  I think if you are passionate about something and you practice or work hard on that something,  you will reach the state of flow.  By extension, if you reached the state of Flow frequently, you are likely to reach higher levels of proficiency in what you are doing. My guess is that top performers like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Ricky Ponting are subconsiously gunning for this state of Flow which allows them to perform way better than everyone else.

What do you think about work ethic and Flow and the correlation to passion?    



  1. Anonymous said June 2, 2007, 3:09 pm:

    A great introspective writing once again. 🙂

    As a fresher I only have Utopian values which I’m struggling to accommodate in a pragmatic world. But If I may dare say something about the question you pose at the beginning. Passion creates Motivation. Motivation leads to accomplishment which in turn inflates Self Esteem. And the moment it happens the “action words” from the quoted definition of Work Ethics somehow align into perspective. I too somehow agree with religion and work ethics synergies.

    Your writeup makes me remember a old post I read, if time permits go through it. It is titled ” Missing the game – self-esteem and work ethic “, the url is:

    Good read as always.

    ~ Samiran Ghosh

  2. Anonymous said June 4, 2007, 12:08 am:


    I believe these are the fundamental elements that go to make up a good work ethic –

    * Honesty – Honesty to one self and others who are dependent on you

    * Commitment – Again commitment to one self or the team

    * Conscientiousness – The urge to fulfill the commitment without any external impetus – i.e, not being motivated by any kind of reward, but motivated because someone else is dependent on you delivering on time and with quality.

    If work happens to be in area that you are passionate about – conscientiousness will automatically kick-in. However, true work ethic is displayed in completing an assignment on time and with quality even when you do not feel that passionate about the work. You still put the same amount of time and energy just because it needs to get done and someone else is dependent on you getting it done.

    I do not think religion has that big a part to play in this. Culture – Yes. But not the social culture but more the work culture.


  3. Anonymous said June 4, 2007, 7:27 am:

    Thanks a lot Samiran. Excellent link. I have updated the post to include the link.

  4. Anonymous said June 4, 2007, 7:30 am:

    Thanks Ganesh. Very insightful comment. I totally agree. I updated the post to paraphrase your comment.

  5. Anonymous said October 17, 2007, 10:15 am:

    Sukumar.. In india, i could site the following reasons for loss of work ethics..

    1. The collapse of morality, particularly in the recent few decades .

    2. The occupation of political space by unethical persons.

    3. The continuous slavery for more than 4-5 generations coupled with suppression & collapse of native industry & education. (5 generation is a considerable one, where we tend to lose the virtues & focus)..

    4. The utter poverty created by british looting, which led to people struggling even for their own lives. I think, india faced utter famines since 1850’s, particularly the bengal famine. When people struggle for their survival, how could they educate their children. And people tend to lose the confidence when atleast 3 generations lived in poverty.

    5. Imposition of a alien education system, which contained science, but lacked teaching of ethics and morality.

    I can cite an anology on how an elephant is tamed.. first its left to suffer out of hunger, where it loses its initial vitality.. then its tied to chains for quite some time..

    particularly in temple elephants, since they are always tied to chains, they would forget their inherent power over the period of time.. after that, even if we tie the elephant with a mere rope, it will not be aware of that.

    We are in such a condition..

    Particularly when we look at the polity till 1990s, there was always license raj, giving unaccountable & unlimited powers to the beurocracy.. so, with all these negatives, we cannot all of sudden blame ourselves .

    Today america has such great work ethics, because they have a continuous legacy of that culture, which gradually evolved since they colonized america. And this is not the case, even with many of the european countries.

  6. Anonymous said October 17, 2007, 11:12 am:

    Thanks for stopping by Senthil. I think you are mostly right about the causes. I find it difficult to agree that it is a phenomenon that started after the British Rule. Are there studies that show that before the British came, we had a great work ethic in India?

  7. Anonymous said October 25, 2007, 9:20 am:

    I agree with your aargument Sukumar but one thing..from what little information available atleast we know that people relegiously followed their duties….If they contitute work ethics i guess we had some sanity then…The again we had people like Gautama Buddha or Mahavira who left their families and kingdoms in search of truth..can we say that they failed in work ..nope i dont think so …we need to define what really is work ethics sukumar…

  8. Anonymous said October 25, 2007, 10:34 am:


    You don’t agree with the wikipedia definition of work ethic that i linked to in the beginning of the post, is it?