Why “work hard, play hard” is a terrible company motto

A few weeks ago we sat down as a leadership team and looked at the values of our company.  We had put them together roughly 15 years ago and we were interested in the extent to which they needed to be updated.  I was surprised by how little we needed to update the values and how much they continue to govern our work together today.  I went into our monthly meeting and was very reassured that I could convey how consistent our values have been and how those values have powered the company we enjoy today.  It’s a great blessing to be able to say that your culture and values are built to encourage the best in people, to engage careers, and make a difference for our customers”.


I frequently hear other companies, often competitors, describe themselves as “work hard, play hard”, intending to describe a “hard working” and “dedicated” culture.  This phrase was coined largely in the “dot com” revolution and after, where start-ups had a hard working, entrepreneurial ethics.  The unfortunate side effect is that rather than being value-based companies, many of these companies were built around an idea, with employees being casualties to the idea rather than participants in it.  These types of companies cause damage to their employees and leaders rather than building them.


A value-based culture looks like this:


  • People are an “end” in themselves
  • Customers are made better in a virtuous way
  • Encouragement of a complete employee life vs. short-term goals


The goal of being a value-based company is that you are building it around the masterpiece of creation, the person, which is the subject of God’s handiwork.  The result when you focus on making “better people” is that you create an organization that drives success in virtue and makes the best out of its customers.  You gain loyalty from customers and employees because you are invested in them, not just in profits.


The unique value of people is described in Pope John Paull II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens, where he describes in his entry paragraph how people are intended for work and work makes us special.


THROUGH WORK man must earn his daily bread1 and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family. And work means any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself. Man is made to be in the visible universe an image and likeness of God himself2, and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth3. From the beginning therefore he is called to work. Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work. Only man is capable of work, and only man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense it constitutes its very nature.


How do I become a value-based company?


The best way to become a value-based company is to look at the sort of company you want to be, take a step back as a management team, and define what is important to you.  The values need to be real, tangible, and meaningful.  You need to have the organization on-board with the values and have everyone believe in what they are committing to.  I’ve seen substantial change come from a business rallying around values as a company-wide movement.


Here is an example of company values:


  • We make our customers objectives our objectives
  • We do onto others as we would have them do onto ourselves
  • We take a charitable approach
  • We invent new and better ways to solve problems


These types of values are timeless and contribute to a culture of continuous personal improvement.  The investment in that virtuous, people-centric leadership is a more loyal, more impactful, more meaningful organization.  You will be proud to call that organization your own and can look back on your career with joy.



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