ON MARCH 24, 2014




MR. A. A. OKPANI, B. Sc. (Statistics),  M. Sc. (Statistics), NSA PRINCIPAL LECTURER





This paper surveys current issues in work ethic, identifies key factors that contribute to work ethic – Interpersonal skills, initiative, being dependable  etc, and how these can be internalized in our own work environment.                     Taking the initiative and          time    management             as                     core    work    ethic                    values          that       drive Organizations and Institutions are specially addressed.

While emphasizing Work Ethic, the paper also identifies some of the moral dilemmas we may face in the course of duty and how we can attune ourselves to the mission and vision of our Polytechnic -Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana.





Current management literature and research mainly focus on leadership of organizations and competition. A lot of training workshops and seminars are targeted on top management and middle level managers in the hope that the actions of these cadres of workers would lead to the achievement of the organization’s  goals and objectives.  Concepts  like Management  by Objectives, Total Quality Management, and Strategic Management/leadership are often evoked.                   But addressing  the issue  of personal qualities and attitudes  that are critical in the work place has been a special challenge to most organizations and institutions like ours. Acquiring what is now known as employability skills has a hazy starting point: Should schools/institutions impart these skills or should it be the responsibility of employers who need them?

Lankard  (1990)  defined  employability  skills  as  including  personal  image,


interpersonal skills and good habits and attitude. With respect to work attitude, the concept of work ethic is related to the desirable characteristics for a potential employee (Custer & Claiborne, 1991;Hill 1992).In essence, the employability skills needed for the high performance  workplace are a tangible expression  of the underlying  work  ethic,  often  mentioned  in  cotemporary  conversations but seldom clearly defined. The work ethic is a cultural norm that advocates being personally accountable and responsible for the work that one does and is based on a belief that work has intrinsic value (Cherrington, 1980; Colson & Eckerd, 1991; Quinn, 1983; Yankclovich & Immerwahr, 1984). The work ethic as we know it today is a secularized construct derived from Weber’s (1904, 1905) Protestant Work Ethic (PWE) theory.

The PWE asserting that Calvinist theology encouraged accumulation of wealth, has been widely used as an explanation of the success of Capitalism in Western society. Over the years however, attitudes and beliefs supporting hard work have blended into the norms of Western culture, and are no longer attributable   to  a  particular   religious  sect             (Lipset,  1990;  Rodgers,  1978; Rose,1985). The elements of work ethic that are of greatest significance in the preparation of people for work are the attitudes and behaviours ascribed to work ethic rather than a sectarian belief system that inculcates these characteristics.

Work   Ethic   is   an   often   mentioned   attribute   employers   want   their employees to have, but one they often say is hard to find (Boardman, 1994).


Characteristics of Work Ethic


Again and again, Work Ethic and employability skills are listed as something needed for job success and are an area that schools/institutions in general and educational  programs specifically are expected to address. Efforts in this area,


however,  often  fail or fall  short  of anticipated  outcomes.  Various  researchers have   identified   numerous   affective   characteristics   considered   desirable   for working people.

Beech, Kazanas, Sapko, Sisson and List (1978) identified 63 affective work competences considered important by industry leaders and educators and clustered them into 15 categories.

Petty (1993), building on the line of research conducted by Kazanas (1978), identified 50 work ethic descriptors and developed the Occupational Work Ethic Inventory (OWEI) Hill & Petty (1995) using the OWEI to collect data and applying principal component  and factor statistical analyses  condensed  and categorized the 50 OWEI descriptors  into five  factors:  Interpersonal  skills,  Initiative,  Being Dependable and Reversed items i.e negative descriptors.

Succinctly put, “Work Ethic is a value based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. An example would be the Protestant Work Ethic. A work ethic may include being reliable, having initiative, or pursuing new skills. Workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately  promotion.  Workers  who  fail to  exhibit  a  good  work  ethic  may be regarded as failing to provide fair value for the wage the employer is paying them and should not be promoted or placed in positions of greater responsibility” ( ethic).


Factors that Promote Work Ethic

Before  we  discuss  in  detail  the  five  OWEI  factors  identified  by Hill and Petty(1995), Let us consider the following concepts/ factors which are known to promote work ethic in the work place.

Integrity:    Integrity stretches to all aspects of an employee’s job. An employee with        integrity             fosters       trusting   relationships                       with     clients,     co-workers    and Supervisors.  Co-workers  value  the employee’s  ability  to give  honest  feedback. Clients trust the employer’s advice. Supervisors rely on the employee’s high moral standards, trusting him not to steal from the company or create problems.

Sense of Responsibility: A strong sense of responsibility affects how an employee works and the amount of work he/she does. When the employee feels personally responsible for his performance he shows up on time, puts in his best effort and completes projects to the best of his ability. Some employees do only the bare minimum, just enough to keep their job intact. Employees with a strong work ethic care about the quality of their work. The employee’s commitment to quality, improves the institution’s overall quality.

Discipline:  It takes a certain level of commitment to finish your task every day. An employee with good discipline stays focused on his goals and is determined to complete his assignment. These employees show a high level of dedication to the institution, always ensuring they do their best.

Sense of Team Work:  In various assignments in the Polytechnic,   you may have to work together to meet the Institution’s objectives. Memberships of committees or task forces are cases in point. An employee with a high sense of team work helps a team meet its goals and deliver quality work. These employees respect their peers and help where they can, making collaborations go smoother. Internalizing Work Ethic Principles in the Polytechnic

We  shall  consider  the  four  factors  of  the  Occupational  Work  Ethic

Inventory (OWEI) and see how we can rate ourselves in the OWEI scale. Before then, let us ask ourselves individually, the following questions:

i.          What is the mission/vision of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic?

ii.         Why was I employed by the Polytechnic?

iii.        What is my job or job description in the Polytechnic?

iv.        What is my contribution to the goals and objectives of the Polytechnic? These questions must be constantly borne in mind and answers proffered to keep our work ethic alive.

Occupational Work Ethic Inventory score sheet personal rating in the OWEI factors. The five OWEI factors are Interpersonal Skills, Initiative, Being Dependable and Reverse or Negative items.

In the blank beside each item, write your answer from the OWEI. The items are grouped by categories of work ethic characteristics for discussion purposes. Total the answers for each category and divide by the number indicated to determine a score for each.

(See factors and composite items in the Appendix).




Of all the work ethic factors, the most important in driving the organization is the concept of taking the initiative. In order to understand the term and successfully develop its application, it is necessary to answer three fundamental questions:

–     What is it?


–     What is it for?


–     How does it work?


What is it?


The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (6th Edition) defines initiative thus;


1.  A new plan for dealing with a particular problem


2.  The ability to decide and act on your own without waiting for somebody to tell you what to do. E. g. As you won’t get much help, you’ll have to use your initiative.  She did it on her own initiative (i.e. without anyone telling her to do it).

3.  (The  Initiative)  the  power  or opportunity  to  act  and  gain  an  advantage before other people do. E.g. it is up to Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic to take the initiative in accessing the Educational Tax Fund (ETF)grant.


Initiative taking is more than a theoretical definition; it is the understanding of words and action on them.

In other words, it is the action which follows through and applies in practical terms, the decision taken.


What is it for?


Essentially,   initiative   is   needed   at   individual   and   leadership   levels   for organizational growth and development. Specifically, initiative serves:

–     To get us out of a closed situation;


–     To modify the sequence of events;


–     To take a committed stance


–     As an extra asset.



How does it Work?


Taking the initiative touches on two different, even opposing, types of practice;

–     Working  by  reaction:  initiative  arises  to  oppose  an  unacceptable  move already underway:

–     Working  through  desire:  initiative  simply  expresses  a  desire,  wish  or interest.

Initiative which may be defined reactionary is the most common form. This is because it is self-justifying. Taking an initiative is breaching something or rebelling in order to justify our act. It is necessary to have sound motives on which to base our self –confidence.


Initiative and Proverbs


Pro-initiative  proverbs  incite  us  to  act  whereas  anti-initiative  proverbs favour the intention or words as opposed to action  and are signs of reserve, or even encouragement to avoid initiatives. Consider, for instance, the following proverbs:

i.         When in Doubt, Don’t


ii.         Nothing ventured, nothing gained


Proverb (i) advises us not to move, to wait, in order to avoid any possible error. On the other hand the second proposes action even in the face of risk. Action seems the remedy to every situation. In the same vein, your


perception of your work in the Polytechnic either encourages or militates against  your  initiative  taking  or  work  ethic.  (See  a  list  of  proverbs  in Appendix 2 and classify them into pro-initiative and anti-initiative).



To get the desired result, initiative must be taken at the appropriate time. Wrong  timing  can  have  disastrous  consequences  for  a  well  –  intentioned initiative. Know when to get support, read the mood of the management  and colleagues before taking the initiative.

It  may  be  necessary  at  this  point,  to  also  give  some  tips  on  time management as a concept that promotes work ethic.



Shortage  of time is often used to explain  delays and failures  and as an excuse  for  inefficiency  and  lack  of  fore-thought.  Time  management  or  time control simply, means making the best use of time to get the best performance. We must realize that time is a finite resource and a budget item. Some of the ways to make the best use of time are outlined below:


Take time off to stop and think – about the ways you have been doing your job for instance and figure out better ways of doing it to save not only time but also cost. Think of better ways of doing your job to enhance productivity in the Polytechnic.




List the activities that normally waste your time and control them by:

a.  Elimination: This refers to activities that often lead to duplication of efforts that  do  not  contribute  directly  to  your  performance.                                  belonging   to associations. Think of the associations you belong and decide your relative commitment to them.

b.  Developing a Routine: A format can be designed for activities of similar


nature e. g. letter writing, report writing.


c.  Setting Time Limits:  Deciding that a certain task should not take more than a certain amount of time say 2 hours.

d.  Taking a Short Cut e.g. deciding to telephone instead of personal visit.


e.  Establishing Priorities:   The most important tasks must be done first and given the amount of time they deserve.  Rate your activities  in order of priority e.g.

i.           Urgent and important


ii.          Important and not urgent iii.         Urgent and not important iv.      Not urgent , not important

(i)Should be given more time followed by (ii) in that order.




Try and pick – up the telephone handset as soon as it rings. Mention your name and answer the inquiry politely. Get the message clearly and write it down where necessary.



Meetings and committees are widely regarded as prime time wasters. But if they are well planned and run, they can be one best (even the only) way to brief staff on policy, progress and points for action; to uncover facts, to produce new ideas


and to get people involved and motivated. There are two main elements in any meeting;

–     The chairperson and the participants. If you want to be a useful member of the meeting and get the best out of it, you will not allow emotions, inter departmental battles or office politics to inject unwanted hidden agendas into the discussion. Also, you will be

–     Knowledgeable on the subject matter, aware of the purpose of the meeting and conscientious (especially about advance preparation).

–     Prepare to air your views strongly, to make out a good case, to keep to the point, to listen to other opinions, and to be influenced by reason.

–     Discipline and patient, and prepared to contribute your best -thinking and


experience concisely and at the appropriate time.


–     Prepared to accept whatever decision is reached, to defer to the control of the chair and to carry through on schedule any action assigned to you.



You cannot waste other people’s time and claim to save yours. Don’t keep people waiting unnecessarily or ask them to come back the next day or so when you can finish  up the enquiry  immediately.  Do not transfer  your own  responsibility  to other people in the pretext that you are trying to save your own time.


Ethical Dilemmas


In the work place, sometimes our work ethic or integrity is challenged due to certain situations. The following examples may elicit such situations:


As a lecturer, a student who has carried over a particular course of yours for three consecutive times approaches you in the final attempt for assistance; What do you do?

You are working in the Registry, Management had given a dead line for submission of applications and much later this relative of yours brings his/her application. What do you do?

You are a full -time employee of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic and feel you are  not  fully  engaged  and  get  another  full-  time  offer  of  employment elsewhere. What do you do?

You are a head of Department or unit; there is this worker who hardly comes to work before This same worker rushes out of the office by 3.30 pm to catch the bus. This same worker brings overtime form at the end of the month for you to approve his/her claims. What do you do? There is a plethora of cases!

Remember, ethical dilemmas only arise when one is not committed to integrity and the rules governing the Polytechnic.                                                  What the Deputy Rector (Academic) once said is also pertinent’ “Integrity is like a fragile plate; once broken, it is irretrievable”.  Your whole integrity and career may be destroyed with that single help you were trying to render.


At work I can describe myself as


Never             Almost Never       Seldom  Sometimes            Usually                   Almost Always      Always


1                      2                              3               4                             5                              6                                             7


FACTOR I:            Interpersonal Skills At work I can describe myself as Item               Ratings

Never AlmostNever Seldom Sometimes Usually AlmostAlways Always
1 2 3 4 5 6 7


Appendix I


Occupational Work Ethic Inventory (0WEI) SCORE Sheet


Honestly score as you would describe yourself in the work place with respect to the following items:

FACTOR I: Interpersonal Skill


ItemNo Item Never AlmostNever Seldom Somet imes Usually AlmostAlways Always
1 2 3 4 5 67 7
17 Appreciative
22 Patient
28 Likable
29 Helpful
31 Pleasant
32 Cooperative
33 Hardworking
37 Cheerful
41 Devoted
42 Courteous
43 Considerate
46 Well groomed
47 Friendly
48 Loyal
50 Modest



Total: ………………………. Score (total divided by 15)


FACTOR 2: Initiative


ItemNo Item Never AlmostNever Seldom Sometimes Usually AlmostAlways Always
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
5 Independent
6 Ambitious
7 Effective
10 Initiating
11 Perceptive
14 Efficient
15 Adaptable
18 Accurate
20 Conscientious


27 persevering
35 Orderly
36 Enthusiastic
38 Persistent
40 Dedicated
45 Productive
49 Resourceful



Total: ………………………. Score (total divided by 16)

FACTOR 3: Being Dependable




ItemNo Item Never AlmostNever Seldom Someti mes Usually AlmostAlways Always
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 Dependable
3 Following regulations
4 Following directions
8 Reliable
12 Honest
16 Careful


23 Punctual


Total: ……………………… Score (total divided by 7)


FACTOR 4: Reversed Items (Negative Items)


Item Never AlmostNever Seldom Sometimes Usually AlmostAlways Always
1 2 3 4 5 6 7




Total: ……………………….. Score (total divided by 10)





Here is a list of popular English proverbs which have influenced countless generations. The exercise is to classify them with regard to the cultural and psychological impact they have regarding initiative. If they seem to you to encourage initiative, place a tick in the right hand column (pro-initiative) and in the left hand column (Anti-initiative) if they appear to discourage it.

When in doubt don’t
Nothing ventured nothing gained
Everything comes to those who wait
Where there’s a will there’s a way
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs
Once the first step is taken there’s no going back
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs
As ye sow so shall ye reap
Practice makes perfect
The leopard doesn’t change its spots
No news is good news
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
Empty vessels make the most noise
Always think twice before opening your mouth
Strike while the iron is hot
It’s the thought that counts
Well begun is half done
Necessity is the mother of invention
He who hesitates is lost
In for a penny, in for a pound
Look before you leap
Out of the frying pan into the fire




1.   Beech, J. P; Kazanas H. C., Sapko j. Jr., Sisson JK. A. & List R. (1978). Necessary Work Values,  Habits  And Attitudes:  A Final  report  (Report  No 1368).  Jefferson  City  MO: Missouri State.

2.   Hosmer L. T. (1982):Strategic Management


Text and Cases in Business Policy


Pietntile – Hall, N. J. 07 232


(See Case Studies on Ethics in the Text)


3.   Korenblit P. (1994): Taking the Initiative. Self Management Guides: Kogan Page Ltd




4.   Boardman,  K.  (1994)  Labor  Task  Force  working  to  improve  workforce  in  Athens.


Athens Banner – Herald p.6D.


5.   Cherrington, D. J. (1980): The Work Ethic: Working Values and values that work. New




6.      Kazanas,   H.   C.   (1978):   Affective   Work   Competences   for   Vocational   Education.


Cohembus Ohio. Eric Clearinghouse in Vocational Technical Education.


7.      Lonkard,  B.  A.  (1990),  Employability  –  The  fifth  basic  skill.  Eric  Digest  No.  104.


Columbus Ohio: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education.


8.   Lipset, S. M. (1990): The Work Ethic – Then and now: Public Interest Winter 1990, p.




9.   Petty,  G. C. (1993):  Development  of the Occupational  Work  Ethic  Inventory:  paper presented at the 1993 annual American Vocational Association meeting Nashrille, Tennessee.

10. Petty G. C. (1995) Vocational Technical Education and the Occupational Work Ethic.


Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 32(3)


11.             Petty G. C. & Hill R. B. (1994) Are Men and Women different? A                  study of the


Occupational Work Ethic. Journal of Vocational                Education Research. 19 (1)


12.             Petty G. C.; Kazanas H. C. & Eastman (19981):  Affective work                 competences of workers,  supervisors and vocational Educators.                                                              Journal of Vocational Education Research iv, 55 – 71

13.           Quinn J. F. (1983): The Work Ethic and Retirement. In Bar bush, J;                       Lampman,


R. J. Leritan S. A. & Tyler (Eds’). The Work Ethic: A                             Critical Analysis (pp 87 –


100, Madisun, Wisc. Industrial Relation                  Research Association.


14.             Petty G. C. & Hill R. B. (1995): A New look at selected                                     Employability Skills: A  Factor  Analysis  of the Occupational  Work             Ethic: Journal of Vocational Education Research, Vol20 No. 4 pp          59 – 73.

15.             Rodgers, D. T.  (1978): The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850                       – 1920.


Chicago: The University of Chicago press.


16.             Rose, M. (1985): Reworking the work ethic: Economic values                           and socio –


cultural politics. London, schhocken.


17. Weber, M. (1904, 1905). Die protestant ishe under geist des kapitalismus.
18. Archive fur sozialrvissen & haft. 20 -21.


Translated by T. Parsons. The Protestant Ethic and the spirit of                          capitalism. New York. Charles Scibner’s sons.

19.        Yankelovich, D. & Immer Wahr, J. (1984) Putting the work ethic to              work society


21(2) 58 -76.


20.         Strike K. A. & Soltis, J. F. (1985): The Ethics of Teaching. Teachers               College Press, Columbia University, New York.


Stress / Stress Management    :: read moreSudden Death    :: read more