Out of Touch?

There was a time, not so long ago, when work ethic was considered a virtue. It didn’t matter if you were an employer or an employee, rich or poor, liberal or conservative – a good work ethic was a good thing to possess, and therefore, a good thing to encourage. Well, those days are over. Today, if you encourage a strong work ethic, you will likely be accused of carrying water for the “oppressor class,” or being wildly “out of touch.” Or worse.

The latest person to learn this lesson is Niraj Shah, the CEO of Wayfair. Shah is a very successful entrepreneur running a very successful company in a very competitive marketplace. Last week, Shah told his 15,000 employees in a company memo that, in spite of a very good year in 2023, the future was uncertain, and that much would still be expected of those in his employ. “Winning requires hard work,” he wrote. “Working long hours, being responsive, blending work and life, is not anything to shy away from.”
Shah also had some things to say about the importance of frugality, initiative, and smart negotiating, but here’s that part that seems to have triggered the most backlash. “Hard work is essential for success, and a key part of getting things done. There is not a lot of history of laziness being rewarded with success. Everyone deserves to have a great personal life, but everyone manages that in their own way. Ambitious people find ways to blend and balance the two.”

Naturally, the most hysterical meltdowns have occurred on Tictok, and if you want to see hundreds of triggered twenty-somethings calling for boycotts and vowing to “never again buy a chair from Wayfair,” I’ll leave it you to conduct a search. However, the truly triggered are not limited to Gen Z. Here’s Richard Quest over at CNN, who is absolutely beside himself. He “doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” and believes that Shah is “out of touch with best business practices.” This one is worth a watch. https://bit.ly/47iZmDg

To be fair, in spite of all his sputtering contempt and righteous indignation, Richard Quest isn’t wrong. What Shah wrote is in fact, absolutely “out of touch” with the current take on modern employment. For instance, Shah doesn’t seem to know, (or care,) that millions of people today no longer see work ethic as a virtue, but rather, as a rhetorical cudgel employed by the ruling class to keep the downtrodden under heel. He also doesn’t seem to know, (or care,) that his personal net worth has made him unpersuasive to the many people who now believe that wealth and greed are one and the same. But of course, being wealthy doesn’t mean that Shah is wrong, just as being “out of touch” doesn’t mean he isn’t right. I’ve read his letter three times, and I can’t find a single untruth therein. Can you? https://bit.ly/3H13bmc

Obviously, I’m biased. I’ve run a foundation for the last fifteen years that awards work ethic scholarships, and like Shah, I’m criticized every year for being “out of touch.” People still want to know where I get off asking people to sign a S.W.E.A.T Pledge, https://bit.ly/3TIDsXe and why I’m so certain that work ethic is still a virtue worth elevating. The answer is simple. Work ethic is a virtue worth elevating, because like all virtues, it’s available for free, to anyone who wants it.

Unlike the color of your skin, or the country you were born in, or your gender, or the net worth of your parents, or any other circumstance out of your control, you can choose to work hard. Just as you can choose to be grateful, or thrifty, or patient, or kind, or responsible, or curious, or ambitious. I realize that no one wants to be reminded about such things – especially by a billionaire – but that doesn’t change the fact that people who embrace those virtues are far more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Nor does it change the fact that we are born into this world totally helpless, utterly dependent, completely selfish, and void of all virtue. And we would surely stay that way if we weren’t challenged to do virtuous things. Because virtuous things are hard things, and people who do hard things are more interesting, more reliable, more competent, and more successful than people who do easy things. That’s a fact, regardless of how it makes you feel, and irrespective of who repeats it.

In related news, I’m delighted to report that mikeroweWORKS has now awarded over $1.6 million dollars in work ethic scholarships in 2023. That’s a record for us, and I’m proud to say, with your help, we’re doing our part to train the next generation of skilled tradespeople. The latest batch of recipients was just confirmed, and I’ll share their names on this page, before the New Year. Till then, I remain shall remain profoundly and unapologetically “out of touch,” but sincerely grateful for all the support and encouragement I’ve received this year. You are all, as always, invited to apply for a work ethic scholarship, or share the site with someone who’d like to master a skill that’s in demand, at mikeroweworks.org.

PS For the record, if there is one, I don’t know anything about Wayfair. Home décor is not my thing, and I have never met Niraj Shah. But I did like his letter to his employees and I wish more CEO’s had the guts to tell their people the truth. So please, sir, stand your ground. Don’t apologize for encouraging your people to do the hard thing.

Business Insider: Wayfair CEO tells employees the company is profitable once again — but to expect long hours and ‘blending work and life’

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