What Influences a Strong Work Ethic?

August 1, 2017 Richard Justenhoven
image strong work ethic

Where does our ‘work ethic’ come from?

Why do some people have a strong work ethic, and others just, well, don’t? Employers are always on the look out to hire people with a positive approach to work, so is there a way of spotting it in potential employees?

The role of the parent

Attitudes and values develop early in life and there is evidence that the relationship with parents affects the career development of adolescents (Young & Friesen, 1992). But does the relationship between teenagers and their parents also impact their attitude and approach to work as adults?

Leenders and her colleagues (2017) investigated this by surveying nearly 4,000 people in the Netherlands, asking them to rate their agreement with statements about the quality of the relationship that they had with their mother and with their father when they were in their teens.

The results showed that:

  • Overall, people who had had a more positive relationship with their parents during their teens had a more positive work orientation and stronger work ethic later in life.
  • A positive relationship with the father had a greater influence on these aspects of work than a positive relationship with the mother – and this was particularly the case for men.

So, it seems that our relationship with our father is more central to the development of our work values than the relationship we had with our mothers – and even more so for men. Why would this be?

Perhaps, as Leenders suggests, this harks back to when the men of a household tended to have jobs outside of the home and may have served as important work role models. But what about the working practices of today in which far more women have careers outside of the home?

Clearly there are limitations to this study: it looks only at people in The Netherlands and we would be interested to see how the results would be in other countries and cultures.

This work ethic and commitment could also be looked at alongside one of the Big Five Factors – Conscientiousness. It’s the best predictor of job success from the five Big Five factors and of course, it’s something that can be assessed, measured and reported on in recruitment and hiring decisions. The question is, how is this work ethic ‘passed down’ the generations, if at all?


Young, R. A., & Friesen, J. D. (1992). The intentions of parents in influencing the career development of their children. The Career Development Quarterly, 40,198–206.

Leenders, M. V. E., Buunk, A. P., Henkens, K. (2017). The Role of the Relationship with Parents with Respect to Work Orientation and Work Ethic. Journal of General Psychology.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

Follow on Linkedin Visit Website More Content by Richard Justenhoven
Previous Article
Trait Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
Trait Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Taking Job Profiling in the Airline Industry to the Next Level
Taking Job Profiling in the Airline Industry to the Next Level

Subscribe to our talentNews