We Americans, I like to think, are proud of working hard. Which isn't to mean that people outside of America aren't, but it just seems like sort of a romantic, old-fashioned notion, maybe one that's the accumulation of many different cultures arriving to the shores, each taking a part in building what, it seems to have been in a relatively short time span, a magnificent country.
My own parents instilled in me a strong work ethic, and the best way I can describe what that means is what C.S. Lewis said about integrity, "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking." Plus, I'd add to that a bit of doing the right thing every day, and on top of that, wanting to find a way of doing it better than you did the day before.
And I'm sure that running into me was - for them - pretty much the same irritating experience.
I remember even from a very young age hearing people shout out, either to myself or someone else, "take it easy, don't work too hard" and I always thought it was an odd thing to hear someone say; to encourage someone else to do less than what could be done, to be less helpful or less productive in some way. To see your chosen work as something bad, as something to be avoided. It went against the grain of what I'd been taught by my parents was right and good in the world. Yet for many people, that seemed to be the case, and I accepted it as a part of the rainbow of peoples and personalities I would meet throughout my life. And I believe I'm probably richer for having met them all, even when we didn't hold similar values.
I recently counseled a colleague who'd been through a disappointing interview, one where a new large staff was in the works, including a new Estate Manager position, to help bring into focus all the newly built properties - and a newly built large staff yet to come.
My colleague, who I'm proud to also count as a good friend, had become rather deflated during the process when it was discovered the long-term, soon-to-be Executive Housekeeper he'd be managing was, by admission of all persons involved, including the family, "Pretty lazy... but you can probably figure out a way where you won't have to deal with her too much."
My friend decided the opportunity was probably not for him. He just knew it wouldn't be a good fit. He had zero (probably less than zero) interest in how to "figure out a way where you won't have to deal with her too much," because his management style was dealing with people in a positive, highly engaged every day manner where he could put his extraordinary leadership skills and mentoring into action, and in taking great strides to improving service. At this new job, he realized no opportunity for either of those would exist.
And like he knew I would, I again referenced by favorite Gallup survey mentioned already several times on this site, the infamous twenty year study of over one million workers across all industries, whereupon the best workers (not the worst or the most mediocre, yet the best, most highly productive) had on their list of twelve most important things in a work environment:
Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
And the reason is simple. Birds of a feather flock together. Staff members who work hard, those who are always thinking up new ways to provide more and better service to the principals, will want to be around like-minded people. Because it's energizing, it's successful, it's simply a positive-energy feedback. Conversely, those who are adept at seeking ways to do less work, to hold sloth in regard as their own personal standard and still manage to draw a paycheck, will want to be around those who share those same values, or at the very least, bully those who are more productive into submission, and shaming their attempts at making improvements.
My colleague, who was so excited to get into the ground level as the manager for what at the outset appeared to be a newly blossoming estate enterprise, suddenly realized he'd be spending his day being deflated and depressed by having to work with someone with no penchant for service, no desire for success other than to wait around for payday, someone who'd have to be peeled away from the break room every time the smallest of chores were at hand. It was just too much -- as it would have been also just as horrible for this housekeeper to have deal with a manager who wanted to work hard - and for the staff to make a difference each day.
In fact, we discussed the topic at great length, of working with staff who hold differing work ethics, of how to lead by example (when such example is recognized by those who are seeking), of how to manage by standards (when such standards are acknowledged and supported by the principals as valid), of how to get through one's own day and feel a valuable contribution has been made, despite differing opinions all around as to the validity of making a contribution in the first place.
We came up with a list of the most egregious comments we'd heard over the years at various times and places, most notably:
"Don't work so hard, you're making the rest of us look bad." (from the two senior housekeepers to the newly hired housekeeper, after she had offered to help the visiting chef with washing the pots and pans, during those times when her own duties from washing dinner party dishes were caught up and she had a few extra minutes to be helpful).
"No, don't help her clean that bathroom, because then she might ask you to help her clean the others, too." (Butler training his new Assistant Butler, cautioning him about being too helpful to the housekeeping staff).
"Don't get her used to that, we do enough already." (from the personal assistant, when a new housekeeper came up with a way to spend an extra one or two minutes wiping down the bathroom area in the morning while the Misses was out for her daily walk, to help freshen up the place a bit more than what had previously expected.
Don't work too hard?
Well, I just don't know. I mean, I know it's supposed to be a well-wish, a kind of cute, bouncy thing you just toss out there because lots of people say it.
But it just falls flat for me.
Because it's another power grab from the Caretakers of Complacency.
It has nothing to do with working.
It's all about the lazy.
And it's just not attractive.