Do Americans Still Value Hard Work?

by Staff - Original publish date: November 5, 2012

Has America's Relationship with Work Shifted?

America is a country that has long prided itself on sweat, determination and hard work. We love stories about people putting in the hours, working harder than everyone else, and pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to enjoy financial success. Historically that’s been true, but is it still the case?

This country has changed dramatically over the years, but we wanted to find out if Americans still value work the way they used to. So we sent out our “Working Study” survey, and nearly 3,000 of you answered. 

Do we live to work as our grandparents and great-grandparents did, putting in countless hours and living a life largely defined by what we do for a living? Or do we work to live, clocking in to jobs mainly so we can pay the bills? Are we lazier than people in other parts of the world? Are older workers more committed than young people? Which industry cares about work the most?

Find out whether we, as a country, are driven by our work or if work is a place we simply have to drive to in order to make ends meet. Some of the answers might surprise you.

"Live to Work" or "Work to Live?"

The basic premise of our survey was based on these two questions. And it appears the present has been largely influenced by the past.

Just less than one in every five respondents -- 19% -- agreed they live to work, while 70% said they work to live. When asked about their parents' habits, 55% of those who live to work said they got that trait from their parents, while 83% of those who work to live followed in their parents’ footsteps. 

Perhaps it has to do with shifting priorities and an increased focus on family, or the fact that job-hopping and having multiple careers is becoming the norm. But whether you consider it a positive or a negative, it’s clear the people in our survey are working as a means to an end as opposed to putting their careers first and foremost.

People Who Live to Work Are More Fulfilled

Overall, 59% of total respondents said they are personally fulfilled by their work, with nearly half (49%) willing to work extra hours simply because they enjoy their jobs.

But it stands to reason that if you make your job a priority, you’ll get more out of it than someone who is simply collecting a paycheck.

Ninety-one percent of people who live to work say they are fully committed to their work, compared to 65% among those who work to live. It makes sense that 80% of the live-to-work respondents claim to be personally fulfilled from their work, with just more than half (51%) of the work-to-live contingent reporting the same.

From a sheer enjoyment perspective, only 57% of people who work to live say they enjoy their jobs. But that number rises to a whopping 78% for those who live to work.

Are Younger Workers Lazy?

Let’s face it, most people think young workers are lazy and entitled. But while many articles and even entire books have been written about the supposed impending doom courtesy of Millenials, our survey data finds all is not as it seems.

Thirty-five percent of respondents ages 18-25 said they live to work -- the highest amount in any age group. People between the ages of 33-39 were second with 29% saying they live to work, with people age 60 and above at coming in third at 27%.

Furthermore, younger workers said they are much more likely to continue to working even if they hit the lottery, with 59% agreeing they’d continue to punch the clock. That’s compared to the mere 32% of workers age 51-60 who said they’d do the same.

Do Americans Still Take Pride in Work?

The good news is most people -- regardless of whether they live to work or work to live -- take pride in their work.

Nearly 83% of those who took our survey said they are "extremely proud" of the work they do. Furthermore, just more than 71% said they are fully committed to their careers.

But things shifted dramatically when children enter the equation.

When respondents were asked if they would recommend their child/children work in the same job, a mere 36% answered favorably. And while results differed by industry, people working in the agriculture/ranching industry were by far the most likely group to pass their career down to their children, with 67% reporting favorably. Professional Services (44%) and Information Technology (43%) were the next closest.

The industries least likely to recommend their jobs to their kids include Hospitality, Tourism & Recreation (25%), Finance & Banking (24%) and Retail (18%).

Supporting a Family

Whether you live to work or work to live, you still have to make ends meet. So we asked people if their jobs allow them to support themselves and their families.

Overall, 78% of respondents said they are able to support their families thanks to the jobs they hold. But a closer look and a more in-depth breakdown of those numbers reveals some interesting tidbits.

First of all, the responses indicate there’s one specific aspect of a person’s life that will greatly improve the chances of finding a job that will comfortably support a family: education. Simply put, the more educated you are the more likely you are to find a higher-paying job. Seventy-four percent of people with a high school diploma said they can currently support their families, rising to 77% for those with a bachelor’s degree, 81% for master’s degree recipients, and topping out at 87% for those who have earned a doctorate degree.

Also, the ability to support a family differed greatly by manner of compensation, with 63% of hourly workers reporting they are able to financially support their families, compared to 83% of salaried employees.

The Role of Technology

The good news is it’s easier than ever to stay connected and work from anywhere. The bad news is it’s easier than ever to stay connected and work from anywhere.

Depending on your perspective, laptops, Wi-fi and smartphones have either increased employee engagement and enhanced our ability to be more productive than ever, or effectively tethered us to our jobs even when we’re away from the office. Overall, 54% of our respondents agreed their company provides them with the necessary technology to be more productive, and 67% said it’s now easier to blend their personal and professional lives. But the flip side is 34% feel anxious when they can’t check on work while at home or on vacation.

Furthermore, less than half (45%) report having complete control over separating their private lives from work, and 27% say checking email or taking work calls after regular office hours causes fights with significant others.

Separation of Work & Life

An analysis of our survey results shows interesting differences regarding work and life among categories such as income level, manner of compensation and education level.

When comparing hourly and salaried employees, hourly workers prefer to have a clearer separation of their personal and professional lives, maintain more control over that separation and feel significantly less anxious when they don’t have access to work emails/voicemail. They also fight less with their spouses. 

When it comes to education level, those with high school diplomas, bachelor’s degrees and master’s all feel almost the same level of anxiety when separated from work (33%). But nearly half of all people with a PhD have to feel constantly connected, or else they feel anxious. Furthermore, only 26% of workers with doctorate degrees say they have complete control over their work/life balance, while 57% blend their personal and professional lives because they feel they have to. That’s compared to the 49% of workers with high school diplomas retaining control of work/life balance, and 35% of high school graduates who feel forced to blend work/life because of their jobs.

Are Americans Overworked?

With the technological tether and longer hours becoming the norm, are people souring on their jobs because they’re overworked?

Even though 63% of those surveyed said they enjoy going to work most days, 45% said they do feel overworked on a regular basis. More women (48%) than men (40%) reported feeling overworked, but we found a more prominent difference when examining income level. 

Those who make less than $40,000 a year are the most likely to avoid work stress, as only 37% said they feel overworked. But even though many would assume the richer you are the less worries you have, that doesn't appear to be true in our survey.

Of the people who earn at least $100,000 a year, an average of 43% report feeling overworked. The highest percentage of people who feel overworked are actually those who make between $80,000 and $100,000 a year, with 55%. 

The Best Things About Work

Whether they’re happy or sad, we wanted to know what, exactly, caused these feelings about work.

When asked what they valued most about their jobs, the results showed money is not the most important thing. Although one-quarter of respondents said they value their paycheck the most, 30% of people said they place the highest value on the work they do day in and day out. Appreciation of coworkers came in third with 17%, followed by recognition (6%), their specific companies (5%) and favorable work schedule and medical benefits at 4% each.

The Worst Things About Work

So what’s the worst thing people reported about their jobs? It’s an age-old complaint that should surprise no one.

Nearly one-quarter – 24% – of people said the worst part of their jobs is dealing with their bosses and/or the people running the company. The surprising second place answer was a long commute (18%), which could be a nod to the scarcity of jobs forcing people to travel farther for quality opportunities.

Unfavorable work schedules (13%) beat out the 7% of people who said their inadequate paycheck is the worst part of their jobs.

Work Is About Pride & Accomplishment

At the end of our survey, we asked people how they define their attitudes towards work in general. And it showed Americans don’t automatically value money.

Twenty-three percent of people said work can best be described as something in which they can take great pride. That narrowly beat out the 22% of people who said they value the sense of accomplishment their jobs give to them. The paycheck came in third with 19% of people saying the most important thing about work is that it pays the bills.

Other answers included work being a stepping stone to a better job (16%), it’s something people are expected to/have to do (7%), being intellectually stimulated by work (5%) and 4% of respondents said their job is "painful."

Times They Are a Changin'

America still loves to work and work hard, but it’s not necessarily the thing that defines us like it did in the past.

Technology and shifting cultural trends have led to different priorities. More people feel they can work effectively from home and they’re negotiating for this, and similar, perks during interviews. And while our grandparents might’ve been willing to sacrifice happiness for a steady paycheck, today’s workforce is displaying a need to be fulfilled and personally satisfied by their work.

As employees become more mobile and shift their attitudes accordingly, employers will have to adapt to allow more opportunities for telecommuting and flexible scheduling if they want to recruit and retain top talent.

Check Out Our "Working Study" Infographic

Check out our infographic and share it with friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social media sites.