Daily Archives: March 6, 2015

An exploration into declining work ethic in modern society

“Thus human work is an imitation of God’s work, a participation in God’s creation and His creativity. Ruling, subduing, multiplying, causing plants to grow, making things- these are what God does, and yet God gives them as tasks to human beings” (Veith, 2002, Kindle Locations 737-738). Workers at all levels of society contribute to the well-being of society, and in the current global economy, the world. This being the case, work ethic with its close relationship with production is an important aspect of modern commerce that requires a lot of study. In the early 1900s much was said about an observed correlation between predominantly Protestant communities and their increased work ethic. In recent studies into work ethic a concerning decline can be seen. If work is a reflection of God’s creation and Christians are to take part in it as Veith asserts, then the work ethic of a nation in Judeo-Christian decline would expect to see a decline in work ethic. Seeing the decline in work ethic, instruction on the place of vocation becomes increasingly important for the modern Christian.

Scope of the issue:

A good amount of study has been done on the influence of Protestant beliefs and the work ethic that come with such a large number of people in the United States. Max Weber’s book of essays called The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism has been a long held study on the Protestant Work Ethic and its influence on what has become the free market economies found in parts of Europe and the west. Weber’s collection of essays were published in 1905 in German and later translated and released in English in 1930. Weber (1930) in his book begins by observing that “business leaders and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labour, and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly Protestant” (Kindle Locations 12-14). Looking to Weber’s study, others have looked to see if there are similar relationships with religion and work ethic as well as to question Weber’s assertions.

In recent years, many in academia have looked to expand on Weber’s findings. One rather current study by Feess, Mueller, and Ruhnau (2014) states that “Most literature focuses on the macro level by comparing the average work ethic in countries with different dominant religions or religious origins. By contrast our study is on the micro level, as we analyze the impact of different religions of the degree of religiosity of individuals on their work ethic” (p. 506). This study with its focus on the micro level, looked at individuals instead of survey data to look into the religiosity, or their level of adherence to their religion, to see if there was a relationship. At the same time they took into account the findings of Ronald Inglehart from his book Modernization and Postmodernization which asserts that wealthier societies put less emphasis on Protestant values and more on leisure activities. In their complex study, Feess, Mueller, and Ruhnau (2014) found:

“We share this view, in particular as it is never fully possible to distinguish the historical development of worldviews from the beliefs anchored in different denominations. In any case, the positive impact of religiosity is robust to an extent that it seems trustworthy” (p. 527).

Even though their study took into account many different religions and denominations, it is helpful to know that strong adherents to their faith show strong work ethic and that this can go a long way to improve work ethic in the Christian faith.

The role of human vocation in addressing the issue of work ethic:

One tool in helping to address work ethic today is instilling it in our schools. As the work force transforms from that of assembly line production to problem solving teams, work ethic will be increasingly important. The journal Education (1992) addressed this idea in their fall/winter article Restoring the work ethic in America stating “Modern-day employers seek workers who are skilled in decision making, problem solving and the ability to be team players” (p. 2). This speaks to the somewhat autonomous difference today from the assembly line work of yesterday with its delineation of authority, time clocks, and quotas. Today employers need their workers to be responsible and trustworthy. In the twenty-first century, teams of workers are making decisions together, sometimes autonomous of leaders. Today employees often work in groups to help their employers improve processes and efficiency.

To help prepare students of today for this new type of work, Education (1992) states that “Schools, parents and businesses all share responsibility in the process of establishing a positive value system in the upcoming work force. A commitment from these three sectors together with government assistance is required if a solution is to be found” (p. 2). Furthermore, Education (1992) states that “Whereas schools formerly emphasized individual achievement and competition, the focus now is on cooperative-learning, where the emphasis is on teamwork as an avenue for learning” (p. 2). Schools need to encourage team learning in their instruction to meet this change in the work environment.

Potential “boundaries” that must be respected in addressing the issue of work ethic:

There are some critical boundaries in place for addressing the issue of work ethic in the public square or in public schools. Obviously in public schools, teaching of ethics with a strictly Biblical outline (or any other one religious belief) is forbidden. Moral education has become the current battle cry for education when dealing with ethics of work, working together in groups, and fighting the effects of bullying. In working to instill moral or ethical education in public schools, a problem has arisen. What morals should schools teach? A naturalistic viewpoint in moral education has taken root. Richardson and Slife (2013) note that “one category of phenomena that appears to have been largely excluded in moral psychology and education in the US involves experiences of God” (p.193). The question that often comes up in the literature on moral education is: what is right and wrong, and what should that be based on? Richardson and Slife (2013) go on to state that:

“The idea that naturalistic inquiry into moral phenomena is sufficient without consideration of God’s activity likely alienates many theistic participants in research and education, and prevents researchers and practitioners from fully understanding and accounting for many theistic conception of morality” (p.205-206).

One can see that a completely naturalistic moral education is lacking in its approach. In teaching moral education that encourages a better work ethic, an approach needs to be created that does not ignore God’s input. The pluralistic society that the United States has become can be a challenge. Yet as Feess, Mueller, and Ruhnau (2014) found in their research on work ethic, those with religious convictions or high religiosity (different denominations or religions as they might be) show positive correlation with work ethic. One would surmise that it behooves those in education to embrace religious values in some way in their moral education.

The ways I will use my personal and professional skills to make a difference in my community:

With all the evidence presented, it is quite clear that moral education with an emphasis on the shared beliefs of the Lutheran school where I serve is important in instilling a strong work ethic in my students. The clear advantage in Lutheran education is that the Bible can be the foundation for our teaching in this regard. The key teaching from the Bible that comes to mind in teaching such skills comes from the book of Colossians where Paul states,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17 English Standard Version).

By teaching morals in our Lutheran schools with the Bible as the source, we are following God’s instruction to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 English Standard Version).


Feess, E., Mueller, H., & Ruhnau, S. G. (2014). The Impact of Religion and the Degree of Religiosity on Work Ethic: A Multilevel Analysis. KYKLOS, 506-534.

Restoring the work ethic in America [electronic edition]. (1992). Education, 1-8.

Richardson, M. J., & Slife, B. D. (2013). A ‘narrowing of inquiry’ in American moral psychology and education. Journal of Moral Education, 193-208.

Veith Jr., G. E. (2002). God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life (Kindle Edition). Crossway.

Weber, M. (1930). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism [Kindle Version]. New York: Routledge Classics.