No Work Ethic Is Like Having A Lifetime Participation Trophy

In Blog by | March 29, 2017

No Work Ethic Is Like Having A Lifetime Participation Trophy

I hate participation trophies!

The participation trophy attitude is one of the reasons we’ve raised (and are still raising) a generation of kids who believe that just because they show up or are on the team, they are entitled to all the honors and rewards. While the intent might have been good, for the most part, we have unleashed a new workforce that now demands higher pay, more days off, flexible hours and less expectations … all for just showing up!

I was recently speaking to a manager of a local fast food restaurant and he began complaining about his teenage staff. “These kids always want something – days off, less hours, more breaks, free food, exchange duties, and the list goes on and on. However, I ask them to come in a bit earlier, be on time, have a clean uniform, smile at the counter or work an extra weekend, and they look at me as if we speak different languages.” When I suggested making changes in the staff, he quickly stopped me with “but I would just have to hire new teenagers with the same issues. These kids just don't want to work, but they want the money!”

True, all kids are different and to say all teenagers are unmotivated, lazy or uncaring is unfair. However, it’s a trend that was highlighted a few years ago through a survey of 355,000 U.S. high school seniors from 1976 to 2007 (covering three generations). The survey found:

  • Compared to Baby Boomers graduating from high school in the 1970s, recent high school students are more materialistic — 62% of students surveyed in 2005-07 think it’s important to have a lot of money, while just 48% had the same belief in 1976-78.
  • As for work ethic, 39% of students surveyed in 2005-07 admitted they didn’t want to work hard, compared to only 25% in 1976-78.

To me, this survey shows that participation trophies did just one thing extremely well – sent a message to our children that hard work and strong performance are not important.

It’s extremely difficult to succeed in life without having a strong work ethic. As parents, it’s our job to make sure our kids are loved but ready for the big world awaiting them. Having a healthy work ethic will help ensure their success once they leave home. (Remember the goal, after all, is for them to leave.)

I have six kids who are each different and talented in their own ways. They understand that hard work will pay off eventually, though not always directly to them. Maybe their team wins the championship. Maybe they are part of a group presentation that receives an A or a winning debate team. In any case, they understand the meaning of hard work and that it is ok to be the star of a successful (or winning) team.

If you feel that your children could use some extra motivation, here are some suggestions to help your children move past the “lifetime participation trophy” mentality:

1. The Benefit of Competition – I’ve known plenty of parents who have kept their kids away from organized sports, community theater or just about anything else with the hint of competition. The main reason is they are afraid of their child suffering disappointment. Well guess what? Disappointment is everywhere and your child learning how to handle it will make them stronger. Sign them up!

2. The Reality of Winning vs. Losing – Whether your child is 5 or 25, remind them it’s important to contribute to the team and have fun, but in the end, it comes down to winning and losing. This goes for Little League or Corporate America. Remember, there are different levels of contributing, but in real life, an all-star will always earn a greater share of the glory.

3. Put The Time In – The saying “Practice Makes Perfect” works everywhere. Rarely is anyone talented enough to pull something off perfectly without hours and hours of practice. Record books, Hall of Fames and history are filled with successful people who understood that you need to put in the time to reap the rewards of a great work ethic.

4. Set Goals – Setting goals is one of the best ways to guarantee that your child will make progress toward something greater. Make the goals small or large depending on what your child can handle, but make sure they are achievable so your child doesn’t become accustomed to failure.

5. Work Up To It – Have your child start doing chores around the house at an early age. Completing chores is a great way to develop a work ethic and learn about responsibility, accountability and time management. One of the best ways to avoid raising an entitled child is to give them the opportunity to learn to contribute and gain an appreciation for the effort it takes to complete the work.

6. Reward them with Pay – As you teach your children about work ethic through chores around the house, pay them a weekly allowance. Think of it as their first job and put yourself in the role of their employer. Money is a great motivator for children especially when they realize the spending power that comes with it.

7. Take Advantage of Teachable Moments – Not a day goes by when your children aren’t in a position to learn something from you. These “teachable moments” can be more valuable than anything in school since it’s a real life lesson. As parents, it’s our responsibility to use these moments to drive home critical information, even if it’s from our own failures. Don’t let your pride stop you from teaching your children valuable lessons about money, work or relationships.