Work, for some it is a dire necessity, for others just pursuing a virtuous vocation. For all, however, a time-consuming event: forty hours a week for forty years. It is, therefore, no surprise that work is characterized as ‘very important’ by 70% of all Europeans. And, whereas in the Middle Ages work meant hard, physical labor on the land, today, many have the possibility to choose an occupation that suits them. This makes work a central domain in people’s lives.


Chart Work ethic, Source: Atlas of European Values

Work ethos or work ethic is a cultural norm that places a positive moral value on doing a good job. It is based on the belief that work has an intrinsic value. In the Western world job, ethos is a relatively new concept. It was not until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century that physical labor became culturally acceptable for all persons, even the Wealthy. One of the leading scholars in and founders of modern sociology, Max Weber (1864-1920) argued that Protestant societies had a special work ethos which played an important role in the development of Capitalism in western societies. He believed that the Protestant work ethic was one of the driving forces behind the economic prosperity of the USA and Europe. Analyses of the European Values Study show that today, work ethic is not (or no longer) associated with Protestantism.

Work ethos or work ethic represents the degree to which individuals place work at or near the center of their lives. Persons with a strong work ethic regard hard work as intrinsically good and as almost a moral duty. In contrast, they regard leisure somewhat suspiciously because of its potential to harm both persons and society as a whole. The level of work ethos for each European country can be calculated using the inhabitants’ opinions about the following five statements:

  1. To fully develop your talents, you need to have a job,
  2. It is humiliating to receive money without having to work for it,
  3. People who don’t work, turn lazy,
  4. Work is a duty towards society,
  5. Work should always come first, even if it means less spare time.


Chart Importance of work, Source: Atlas of European Values


Chart European thoughts on work ethos, Source: Atlas of European Values