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The biggest cause of generational tensions over work ethic

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The regional manager – who we had lovingly nicknamed “Whiskey Breath” – was coming the next day to inspect the fast food restaurant where I worked in high school. So the assistant manager asked me if I would be willing to stay late to get the place scrubbed to perfection. I needed the money for college, so we worked until 2:00 am. The place sparkled but I was dead tired.  I was looking forward to sleeping until 11:00, since I didn’t have to be at work the next day until 4:00.

Imagine my shock when my Traditionalist father (who had been raised on a farm) woke me up at 8:30 the next morning. Convinced something was wrong, I jumped out of bed and asked my dad what he needed. He replied that there was nothing pressing… it was just time to get up! He didn’t see any use staying in bed once it was daylight.

He also mentioned that he’d been up for three hours already….


“Dad,” I said, “I didn’t finish work until 2:00 in the morning, so I didn’t get to bed until an hour and a half before daylight.”

Unaware of that fact, he apologized for waking me up. However, he added that it would be okay to sleep in until 10 this time, but the rest of the summer I was to be up by 8:00am. I was too tired to argue so I went back to sleep. That afternoon I did what any resourceful teenage boy would do when running headlong into a sticking point with his father: I pleaded with my mom to stop the stupid rule.

She let me off the hook.

Later, I realized that my “country boy” dad was only trying to teach his “city boy” sons a strong work ethic. Our generational sticking point centered on what should determine one’s working hours – the sun or the light switch.

Older generations think starting work at 11:00 and working until 2:00am is irresponsible. Younger Millennials wonder “What’s the big deal?” as long as the work gets done. I’ve seen through the years that one of the biggest tensions around this issue revolves around the old adage, “early to bed, early to rise….” I’ve noticed that the closer our generation is to the farm, the more we think work should be 9-5. I work as hard as my father did, but I don’t always work the same hours.

What about you? How much does “early to bed, early to rise” play into your definition of work ethic?

[Photo via thefederalistpapers.org]

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