Work ethics. Is there a "right" one?

Now I’m working on a documentary for my thesis. I’ve been labeled a “perfectionist” by a professor. Perhaps that has a wee bit of truth, but here’s the question: How many have lived abroad in Asia, and been effected by Asian work ethics and see there is a benefit, if not a plus, to working very hard to produce a quality product?

I believe my “perfectionist” tendency don’t arise from Taiwan, but from my time spent in Japan. And while I would recall laughing and mocking the Japanese work ethic, even the ones that work you to death, there is no argument with quality they put out with their products. On the other hand, I’m back in America, and have observed how integrity is not an option, something that occurs if you feel like it that day, how capitalizing on one’s mistakes so that the next attempt will be better is not considered, and how complacency and even blame/victimization is rewarded, if not acceptable personality traits. All the while aggressiveness has become attractive trait in new hires.

What’s up with that?

I can only speak to my experiences living a year in Japan and 3+ years in Taiwan, and I do not believe there is any uniform “Asian work ethic”. I don’t believe broad generalizations apply to everyone and every situation. That being said, and given your claim above, I will make some of my own.

In Japan, my experience was that Japanese generally worked obscenely long hours and took great care in their work. They were logical, thorough and detailed in completing their tasks. Taiwanese also seem to work obscenely long hours, but only because they are afraid to leave before the boss or be considered by co-workers as being a slacker. The way things are done in Taiwan often appears to me to be illogical and inefficient, causing people to work harder than is necessary. Japanese products have a reputation for being high quality where, sorry to say, Taiwanese products do not. In my limited observation, it appears the Taiwan market considers cost to be more important than quality, so things are made as cheaply as possible. Goods that are manufactured in Taiwan for export are of higher quality not because of some work ethic or perfectionist ideal, but because the overseas market demands it.

I can’t imagine anyone’s perfectionist traits being connected to Taiwan, where mediocrity reigns as employers pay as little as possible and rarely acknowledge or reward hard work. People put in long hours because it would be a career-limiting move to leave before the boss does, not because they want to.

Mind you, I’ve been away from the US for a while, but I don’t remember such a dismal work environment as the one you describe. Integrity was valued far more there than here, at least in my limited experience in Taiwan, where my employer cheats me at every possible turn. I have caught my employer in 3 blatant lies in as many months.

What do you mean by: “something that occurs if you feel like it that day”? I’ve never worked in such an environment. My jobs were typically in customer service or sales, which was always driven by customer demands. If I didn’t feel like meeting the customers’ demands on a given day, I’d quickly be out of a job.

The last large corporation I worked for in the US treated most mistakes as learning tools the first time they were made. If the same mistake were made repeatedly, then it became a problem.

How is complacency, blame and victimization rewarded? Are you saying getting to the bottom of an issue and determining the real reason for a problem is not a valid pursuit? Is taking responsibility for a mistake not of your doing, helpful?

Finally, what’s wrong with a prospective candidate being aggressive? Doesn’t it show enthusiasm, a strong desire for the job and a likelihood that they will work hard? If the position being filled is in sales or marketing, I would respectfully submit that the trait is absolutely essential!

Good luck with your documentary and thesis.

This subject is a very old one, and it is at the core of all business endeavors, you know. Managing quality is at the very heart of pricing decisions, for example, and that’s really where the rubber hits the road. Your question is like asking “is breathing a good thing?”

More helpfully, though, in American biz school this area is known as Total Quality Management, a management science (not real science, but biz folk lurve the cachet that comes with “science” stuck anywhere they can stick it) (although I used to work for Raytheon, where TQM really is pretty much a science thanks to the MIT folk they tend to employ) (they also prefer their missiles to strike the objects at which they’re aimed). In some large American manufacturing companies it goes by the name of Six Sigma, which is the modern American reflection of a philosophy taught by the American statistician Edwards Deming to post-war Japanese manufacturers. The whole point is to manage variance to your advantage (variance from the norm, the statistical term). It was those pesky Japanese who really perfected the philosophy, and of course over the past couple decades American manufacturing has scrambled to relearn it as Six Sigma.

The Germans have different ideas about quality, fwiw.

But yes.

I have no idea what the hell is up with those new hires, though. Have you tried slappin’ one of 'em upside the head? Might help, and who knows.

Of course there is a benefit to working hard in order to achieve excellence, but I didn’t learn that in Taiwan. In fact, I don’t see much striving for excellence in Taiwan’s work ethic at all. My work ethic is homegrown, learned from my parents, and from society.

PS What, in your mind is the difference between benefit and “a plus”? You ask if we see there is a benefit, if not a plus, to working very hard… What’s the distinction?