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close this bookTechnical and Vocational Education and Training in the 21st Century: New Roles and Challenges for Guidance and Counselling (IAC - IAEVG - UNESCO, 2002, 149 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction: Counselling and Guidance: International Perspectives, Hans Hoxte
View the documentChapter 1: Understanding the Context of Technical and Vocational Education and Training - William Borgen, Bryan Hiebert
View the documentChapter 2: Building Community Capacity - Diana Aisensen, Lynne Bezanson, Flo Frank, Phyllis Reardon*
View the documentChapter 3: Career Guidance and Counselling for Lifelong Learning in a Global Economy - Raoul Van Esbroeck
View the documentChapter 4: Basic Education and TVET - Howard B. Esbin, PhD
View the documentChapter 5: Reaching Marginalized People: Linking Skills Training and the World of Work - John Grierson, James Schnurr, Craig Young
View the documentChapter 6: Workplace Wellness and Worker Well-Being - Norman Amundson, Jeff Morley
View the documentChapter 7: Building Positive Work Habits and Attitudes - Mary McMahon, Wendy Patton
View the documentChapter 8: Where to from Here? Guidance and Counselling Connecting with TVET - Bryan Hiebert, William Borgen
View the documentBack Cover

Chapter 7: Building Positive Work Habits and Attitudes - Mary McMahon, Wendy Patton

Changes in the world of work over the past decade have significantly altered the psychological contracts that existed in the industrial era between workers and their employers, and workers and their work. Traditional concepts such as a job for life and loyalty between workers and employing organizations are on the decline in a world of work increasingly based on economically driven short-term contracts in which periods of unemployment and underemployment may be common (Patton & McMahon, 1999). Workers are being urged to become managers of their careers (Savickas, 2000) and to regard themselves as being self-employed. Further, it has been claimed that the new career will require “learning a living” rather than simply earning a living, as individuals strive to keep pace with rapid work changes.

These changes in the world of work are particularly evident in the entry of young people into the workforce. Indeed, the transition from education to work has attracted a good deal of attention from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in recent years (Sweet, 2000). It has also become a focus of attention in many countries since the mid 1980s, as high levels of youth unemployment and changes in the youth labour market have become evident. The social and economic costs of youth unemployment have become an object of concern for the governments of several countries. For example, social exclusion, particularly of young people who have dropped out of the education, training and employment system, and the potential benefits of guidance and counselling have recently been examined in Britain (Watts, 2001) and the latter have been promoted in Australia through Structured Workplace Learning and other alternative learning pathways for young people (Patton, 2000b).

Attitudes to work are also changing, in parallel with changes in the world of work. For example, Hill (1997) observed that the decline of the work ethic was a recurring theme in the contemporary literature on work and that the attitude to work was increasingly becoming one of indifference, while time spent outside the work place was regarded as more important. A recent Australian study concluded that “occupational destiny is not all there is to life” for the post-1970 generation (Dwyer, 2000, p. 9). The participants attached at least equal importance to areas of their lives other than paid employment, and defined themselves not in terms of what they might or might not do in the paid workforce but rather “in terms of ‘mixed patterns’ of life that interconnect ‘being’ and ‘doing’” (Dwyer, 2000, p. 9).

Such findings challenge many preconceptions about the place of paid employment in people’s lives. Even during times of economic growth enough jobs may not be created and people in employment may not necessarily experience job satisfaction. Thus, the environment of the global economy raises questions about how positive work habits and attitudes may be developed. Indeed, the concept of positive work habits and attitudes itself may need to be rethought. For example, are the work habits and attitudes that were regarded as positive in the industrial era still appropriate in the postindustrial era, and would they be appropriate in all contexts? The focus of this chapter is thus threefold. First, several facets of the concept building positive work habits and attitudes are explored. Second, the notion of building and its complexity are illustrated. Finally, the role of guidance and counselling in building positive work habits and attitudes is discussed. Throughout the chapter questions will be raised for the consideration of policy-makers, school personnel, and career guidance and counselling practitioners.

Exploring the concepts

Considering work habits and attitudes in society today necessarily involves considering what is meant by the term “work”. Traditionally, an economic view of work has prevailed: it is seen as “what people do in order to earn a living” (Brief & Nord, 1990, p. 2). However, this view of work has devalued other forms of work, such as unpaid work, work in the home, and voluntary work, and some forms of paid work have been valued more highly than others. For example full-time permanent work is more highly valued than casual or part-time work, and professional work is more highly valued than blue-collar and unskilled work. However, in a post-industrial era in which portfolio careers, casualization of the workforce, and the rise of a contingent workforce are commonplace, the traditional view of work may no longer be adequate.

The post-industrial era and the emergence of constructivist thinking have given rise to alternative ways of thinking about work (Savickas, 2000). Changes in the structure of work have seen a corresponding shift in thinking about the relationship between individuals and work. Increasingly, individuals are being viewed as the managers of their own working lives and attention is being paid to the meaning people attribute to the role of work in their lives (p. 59). Indeed, Brief & Nord (1990) contend that “work has no ultimate essence that can give it universal meaning” (p. 17). They claim that the meaning of work is tied to individuals’ attitudes, beliefs and values; shaped by the environment in which they live; and affected by their personal experience of work. The meaning of work involves a dynamic interaction between individuals and communities and this necessarily involves change over time. This is evidenced by Savickas’ (2000) description of the changes in working lives brought about by the shift in North America from an agrarian economy to an urban economy and then to a global economy. In the global economy, it is possible for individuals to have more than one work role and to ascribe a different meaning to each. For example, an individual may work part-time in a secure and stable role that pays well but is not satisfying or enjoyable in order to work part-time in a field that is poorly paid and unpredictable, but provides creative and challenging opportunities.

The foregoing discussion prompts many questions:

· What is work? Is it understood similarly throughout the world?

· Does the term “work” refer only to paid employment, or does it also cover unpaid work?

· Is a pensioner who does hours of volunteer work demonstrating positive work habits and attitudes?

· Is a parent who chooses to stay at home to raise a family demonstrating “positive work habits and attitudes”?

· Is a long-term unemployed person who accepts unemployment benefits and who voluntarily monitors the environmental health of a region and makes it more salubrious demonstrating “positive work habits and attitudes”?

Thinking about “work habits and attitudes”

To understand the concept of “work habits and attitudes,” we need to ask: “What exactly are “work habits and attitudes?”. Is the phrase “work habits and attitudes” synonymous with “work ethic,” a term that originated in the early 1900s when an economic meaning of the term “work” prevailed? Recently, Hill (1997) has used the phrase “work ethic and work attitudes” to describe personal qualities such as individual responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self-management and integrity. While it is difficult to dispute the value of such qualities, or the usefulness of promoting them, it is less certain that the term “work ethic” will endure in the post-industrial era, or even whether it is still relevant or appropriate.

Hagstrom and Gamberale (1995), for example, describe the rise of post-materialistic values and attitudes towards work such as “quality of life, self-expression, belonging and intellectual satisfaction” (p. 475) which are important to young people in the post-industrial society. They contrast with the materialistic values and attitudes towards work of earlier generations, which focused on “economic growth, law and order, and security” (p. 475). Workers in the post-industrial era are more likely to place emphasis on “meaningful work and working with congenial people” than on “safe jobs and high income” (p. 476). The work ethic and attitudes of Generation Xers may well be viewed less favourably by employers, who are more likely to be from the baby boomer generation. More recently, it has been suggested that Generation Y workers have yet another set of work attitudes, which focus on flexibility and lifestyle (Simpson, 2001).

While Simpson (2001) cautions against assuming an absence of uniformity between generations, some generational differences do exist, perhaps as a function of age and life-cycle. These differences prompt several questions: What are the implications of a range of different attitudes to coexisting in a global economy? Are these different attitudes mutually exclusive or can they coexist? What contributions could each of them have to make?

A further consideration in relation to work habits and attitudes is their usefulness to individuals themselves and their relevance to their capacity to negotiate in, and navigate through, the complexity of the new world of work. In the global economy, where individuals are expected to be managers of their own working lives, to continue learning and training throughout life, and to seek paid employment several times in a lifetime, work habits and attitudes will be critical to self-management. Thus, whereas work habits and attitudes have traditionally been associated with paid employment, in the future they will have increased relevance to individuals’ capacity to be successful managers of their working lives, fashioning careers for themselves that provide personal meaning and vocational direction (Savickas, 2000). Young people will not only need to be aware of employer expectations, but will also need confidence and resilience and the skills of resourcefulness and enterprise to cope in a world where secure employment is not guaranteed.

There is a strong link between work habits and values and the call for individuals to consider themselves self-employed and responsible for managing their own careers. In this regard, Patton (2000a) suggests that as the world of work shifts from career models constructed by organizations to careers constructed by individuals, there will be a need for individuals to determine the meaning they attach to work and other life roles. It seems thus that in the global economy work habits and attitudes will involve more than their traditional association with paid employment in an organizational context.

In the past, an emphasis on “workforce development and job search philosophy” (ACES/NCDA, 2000) has dominated career guidance and counselling practice, and this is reflected in many government policies to promote technical and vocational education and training (TVET). A more contemporary view, promoting “growth and development of the whole person for work and other life roles over the life span” (ACES/NCDA, 2000) has received much less support and funding from governments. Attention needs to be paid to both philosophies (Hiebert & Bezanson, 2000). For example, job search skills and work habits and attitudes will need to be set in the context of life/career management, which will call for attention to be paid to roles other than paid employment, for example volunteer work.

To remain relevant to the needs of clients in the global economy, career guidance practitioners will need to adopt broader definitions of career and career development that recognize individuality rather than adopting a “one size fits all” approach to careers work. In addition, they will need to map their practice onto the emerging world of work, rather than the one which is fast sinking from view. If they are to address the emerging world of work, career services will have to be available across the lifespan and career information will have to reflect the permutations of career possible in the global economy. Career guidance and counselling professionals will need to become more vocal advocates of career services that reflect both a workforce development philosophy and a lifespan development philosophy. In addition they will need to become more involved in research into the outcomes and delivery of career guidance and counselling services and TVET (Herr, 2000)

The above discussion prompts some further questions about work habits and attitudes:

· What exactly are work habits and attitudes? Can they be viewed as something akin to a character trait or could there be a more holistic and developmental interpretation?

· Do work habits and attitudes need nurturing, sustaining and maintaining?

· Are work habits and attitudes transferable in a global economy?

· How might work habits and attitudes for an individual be the same as, or different from, those of employing organizations, policy-makers and government bodies?

· Who should develop work habits and attitudes? Are they only applicable to workers or should employing organizations, policy-makers and government bodies also develop them?

Thinking about “positive” work habits and attitudes

Value judgments about whether work habits and attitudes are positive may vary between individuals and organizations and from one task or culture to another. Thus, situational variables may influence whether or not work habits and attitudes are considered positive. This raises questions about the use of assessment instruments such as the Occupational Work Ethic Inventory (OWEI) (see Hill, 1997). If some work habits and attitudes are labelled positive and others labelled negative, several questions need to be addressed:

· Who is qualified to make this judgement?

· Are positive work habits and attitudes applicable to all occupations and work settings in all cultures?

· Is a person who refuses to work for a company demonstrating positive work habits and attitudes? What if the company has exploited him/her in the past?

· Is a multinational company with billion-dollar profits that pays its employees well demonstrating positive work habits and attitudes? What if its profits are made partly by paying paltry wages to employees in Third-World countries and operating there with lower safety standards?

· Is a person who likes work, is a good employee, and earns a good income demonstrating positive work habits and attitudes? What if that person also gambles the income away and leaves the family struggling to make ends meet?

Illustrating complexity

In their Systems Theory Framework of career development Patton & McMahon (1999) point out that individuals are participants in their systems of influence as well as receivers of information from those systems. Thus the meaning of work is shaped by people’s beliefs, attitudes and values and the recursive interaction between individuals and their systems of influence. The social influences of family, school and workplace, as well as the environmental/societal influences of the employment market, political decisions, and socio-economic status, contribute to an individual’s understanding of the meaning attributed to work. Increasingly, globalization and technology also influence the meaning of work.

Similarly, the development of work habits and attitudes is a product of a complex combination of influences. For example, Mackay (1997) suggests that the approach to work of Generation Xers has been influenced by their desire for better marriages, more time with their children, and a more balanced lifestyle than that of their parents (the baby boomers).

Australian research indicating that paid employment is no more important than other facets of life for the post-1970 generation (Dwyer, 2000) supports such claims. In similar vein, Simpson (2001) points out that Generation Y, a generation with significant exposure to multimedia and the first generation to undertake significant amounts of paid casual work during their secondary schooling, have different work attitudes from both the baby boomers and General Xer


Figure 1 illustrates how work habits and attitudes may be developed in individuals through complex recursive interactions with the elements of the system.

The recursive influence may be direct or indirect. For example, a young person’s work habits and attitudes may be influenced by a parent’s attitude to work, which was itself influenced by long-term unemployment resulting from the closure of a mine brought about by an international trade policy agreed to by the national government. Underemployment and long-term unemployment have emerged as significant issues in the global economy. In a world where unemployment has been reported to be over 800 million worldwide (International Labour Organization, 1994), it is possible for adolescents to be facing third-generation unemployment and to never have had the experience of witnessing first-hand an adult in their family participating in paid employment.

As indicated by the Systems Theory Framework, career guidance and counselling and TVET may be an influence in the development of work habits and attitudes in young people at both an individual level and at a broader systems level. At an individual level, programmes such as career education, work experience, work observation and mentoring may be influential. In Australia there has been extensive government funding and promotion of TVET programmes involving school-based traineeships and apprenticeships. Such programmes not only forge closer links between schools and workplaces, but also assist in the development of “work habits and attitudes” in young people. Such programmes also have the potential to individualize the nature of the TVET pathways taken by young people as they move through the school system. However, in many countries these programmes focus on fitting young people into the existing labour market rather than on the more holistic concept of lifespan career development which prepares them for life/career management (Hiebert & Bezanson, 2000). At a broader systems level, career guidance and counselling professionals could thus play an advocacy role, urging governments and education authorities to provide career development programmes for all young people.

Thinking about building

Whether work habits and attitudes are viewed as positive may also be a product of the interaction between elements of the system. Similarly, work habits and attitudes are formed as a result of the complex recursive interaction between elements of the system. To simplify this process is to deny its intricacies, its local nuances, and its specific nature. The formation of positive work habits and attitudes cannot be attributed to a single influence or carried out at a particular point in time. Rather it is a process of co-construction between individuals and the elements of their system of influence that occurs over time (Patton & McMahon, 1999). Thus family, schools, guidance and counselling personnel, policy-makers and employers all have a role to play in building the work habits and attitudes that will benefit to both society and individuals.

What emerges from consideration of the Systems Theory Framework of career development is that:

· Building is not something that can be done to an individual but rather a process of construction within an individual;

· Building is a subjective, qualitative process of construction within individuals rather than an objective, quantitative process;

· Building is not a one-off event, but rather an ongoing process of construction involving continuous refinement, reshaping and redevelopment;

· Work habits and attitudes cannot be attributed to a single influence but are the product of the repeated interaction of many influences;

· Guidance and counselling are but two influences in the building process.

Issues and challenges for guidance and counselling

Building positive work habits and attitudes contributes to the preparation of the workforce, described by Herr (2000) as possibly “the most critical issue for any nation” (p. 15). In many countries, schools have been influential in preparing young people for the workforce (Sweet, 2000). For example, in many countries closer links have been forged between industry and schools thanks to the development of TVET programmes. Traditionally, industry has contributed to the development of individuals’ work skills, but its contribution to the development of positive work attitudes is uncertain (Hill, 1997). In this regard, Patton (2000b) has called for closer ties between Structured Workplace Learning and career guidance and counselling in the Australian education system.

In Australia there is some evidence of tension between career guidance and counselling and TVET, the latter currently receiving more government support and funding (McCowan, McKenzie, Medford & Smith, 2001). While TVET is regarded as useful, concerns have been expressed that TVET alone will not provide employees with the qualities employers are looking for in workers or individuals or with the skills enabling them to manage and develop their careers effectively (Smith, 2000). For example, Smith claims that TVET emphasizes training at the expense of “the student’s development as a learner, and of the development of generic qualities that prepare young people for successful participation in the workforce, both from a personal and an employer perspective” (p. 8). Increasingly, individuals need to identify and learn skills enabling them to manage and develop their careers effectively, an activity which traditionally has been the domain of career guidance and counselling. Career guidance and counselling professionals are thus called upon to demonstrate the complementarity of guidance and counselling to TVET and the potential social and economic benefits of collaboration between the two.

There is evidence that in many countries the provision of career information, as of guidance and counselling services, is not regarded as a high priority, and is therefore not funded or supported appropriately (Sweet, 2000). For example, in Australia one of the agreed national goals of schooling states that when students leave school they should “have employment related skills and an understanding of the work environment, career options and pathways as a foundation for, and positive attitudes towards, vocational education and training, further education, employment and life-long learning” (Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, 1999). However, the reality of career guidance and counselling service provision in schools is less than ideal: government policy and reports have not as yet resulted in consistent national practice in education, training and employment services. Unlike other countries, there is no formalized government or statutory authority or system in Australia that oversees the provision of career guidance and counselling services to the population.

While there is no doubt of the importance of guidance and counselling, it is the nature of guidance and counselling and the role it can play in the development of positive work habits and attitudes that merits close consideration. Career counselling, for example, will increasingly move away from trying to fit individuals into a mainstream culture and towards promoting diversity and enabling individuals to plan their own lives by recognizing the place of work in a range of life roles.

One of the most fundamental challenges for guidance and counselling in a global economy, despite the rhetoric vaunting its worth, is to actually secure a place in the systems of influence of all individuals. Without a place in this system of influences, guidance and counselling will not be able to contribute to the building of positive work habits and attitudes. For many young people, guidance and counselling does not enter their system of influences until secondary school, and sometimes not even then. Traditionally, it has not been part of elementary or primary school, which are formative years in terms of values and attitudes. Nor has career guidance and counselling been traditionally easily accessible to adults. It has thus had little, if any, direct influence on their lives. Indirectly, guidance and counselling may have had an influence on government policy development, but such indirect influence is generally invisible to individuals.

Guidance and counselling also faces challenges in the global economy, even where it has secured a place in individuals’ systems of influence. It is only one of many influences contributing to the development of work habits and attitudes in the context of the global economy, so a broader initiative will probably be needed. Several authors, including Patton & McMahon (1999) and Savickas (2000), have expressed concern about the capacity of traditional approaches to guidance and counselling to meet the needs of individuals in a global economy. However, it could widen its influence by working systemically, for example with policy-makers, communities and organizations.

In order to have the broad influence needed to be effective, new approaches to the preparation of career counsellors will probably be necessary. Some writers, including Patton & McMahon (1999), have observed that graduate student counsellors and newly qualified counsellors tend to move out of career counselling as they find it too boring. Career counsellor training and coursework has been perceived as less than ideal by students, and has been called upon to become more holistic and creative (Patton & McMahon, 1999). Such challenges provided the impetus for the drafting of a position paper entitled “Preparing counsellors for career development in the new millennium” (ACES/NCDA, 2000), which essentially urges counsellor educators to rethink the preparation of career counsellors.


Attention has been focused throughout this chapter on the meaning of the concept of “building positive work habits and attitudes” in a global economy. While it may well be a global issue, it is not possible to suggest a global solution. Indeed, to do so would be to ignore its individual nature and the influence of “cultures, traditions, and institutional arrangements” (Sweet, 2000, p. 21) in different nations. What has been possible has been to raise questions that could stimulate debate amongst TVET and guidance and counselling practitioners, policy-makers, and other stakeholders. Issues and challenges for guidance and counselling in a global economy have also been identified. In particular, career guidance and counselling is being called upon to parallel the evolution of its clients and of the world of work by changing and adapting, rethinking its traditional processes and content, and defining its place in the community. If it does so it will maintain its relevance in the global economy and contributes to the development of work habits and attitudes in both individuals and the community.


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