Work ethic is a set of values 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 maintaining social skills.
Workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory (and ideally in practice) 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.
The idea of a meritocracy is based somewhat on the work ethic, in that under a meritocracy, workers who possess a good work ethic (work hard and play by the rules) are to be rewarded and move ahead, and workers who do not have a good work ethic are to be punished, or not be rewarded.
Steven Malanga refers to "what was once understood as the work ethic—not just hard work but also a set of accompanying virtues, whose crucial role in the development and sustaining of free markets too few now recall.
Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides. ... Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.(Italics in the original)
Weber notes that this is not a philosophy of mere greed, but a statement laden with moral language. Indeed, Franklin claims that God revealed to him the usefulness of virtue.
In the 19th century, the Arts and Crafts movement of William Morris in the UK and Elbert Hubbard in the US noted how "alienation" of workers from ownership of the tools of production and their work product was destructive of the work ethic because in the expanding firms of that era, the workers saw no point in doing more than the minimum.
The industrial engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor revised the notion of work ethic to include giving up control over the work process to management so that the latter could study and "rationalize" the work process, and the notion of work ethic thereafter included acknowledgment of management control.
Marxists, and most non-Marxist sociologists, make short shrift of "work ethic" as a useful sociological concept. They argue having a "work ethic" in excess of management's control doesn't appear rational in any mature industry where the employee can't rationally hope to become more than a manager whose fate still depends on the owner's decisions. The French Leftist philosopher André Gorz wrote:
"The work ethic has become obsolete. It is no longer true that producing more means working more, or that producing more will lead to a better way of life.
The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as-yet- unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more, but by producing differently, producing other things, or even producing less. This is especially true as regards our needs for air, water, space, silence, beauty, time and human contact. Neither is it true any longer that the more each individual works, the better off everyone will be. The present crisis has stimulated technological change of an unprecedented scale and speed: `the micro-chip revolution'. The object and indeed the effect of this revolution has been to make rapidly increasing savings in labour, in the industrial, administrative and service sectors. Increasing production is secured in these sectors by decreasing amounts of labour. As a result, the social process of production no longer needs everyone to work in it on a full-time basis. The work ethic ceases to be viable in such a situation and workbased society is thrown into crisis." André Gorz, Critique of Economic Reason,Gallilé,1989