When the pioneers settled the Salt Lake Valley, they worked long hours gathering food, planting crops and building houses. They irrigated fields, constructed a temple and, as prophesied, "made the desert blossom as a rose."
Statues in Brigham Young Park in downtown Salt Lake City depict these early efforts — not only honoring the pioneers, but also the work ethic they personified and passed to their children and their children's children.
Success in life today, just as it was 150 years ago, depends on a strong work ethic, said David Jack Cherrington, a BYU professor of organizational leadership and strategy who has studied work and work ethics for the past 25 years.
"Success comes from doing the right things at the right time in life. . . . If you don't have the self-discipline to do hard things then you are not going to be successful."
Brother Cherrington, speaking with a Church News reporter a few days before Labor Day would be celebrated in the United States on Sept. 6, explained that many people have mistaken views about the meaning of work. "Work isn't just being busy," he said. "It is not just paid employment. When I talk about work I refer to any activity that provides a useful product or service for your family or your society. Women who do not work outside the home, certainly should not say they do not work."
He explained that the First Presidency's Proclamation on the Family is extremely valuable in defining the importance of work as it addresses the need for work and wholesome recreation — a companion to work.
"Both work and wholesome recreation are extremely valuable," he said. "They are similar in the sense that they require planning, they require effort, they require creativity, and they require cooperation."
Families, he said, can take a fishing trip, build a canoe, design and create a quilt, plant and maintain a garden or clean a garage. As a result of these and hundreds of other planned activities, "there is interaction, there is a sense of bonding. . . . There is also a sense of joy and satisfaction and fulfillment."
A strong work ethic, he explained, is not just a unique value that can be acquired independently of other personal values.
"The work ethic that young children, and even adults, acquire is part of a broader concept of self-discipline or self-control," said Brother Cherrington. "As parents teach children basic values of honor and integrity and chastity and diligence, they are also teaching them that what they do matters and that they should strive for excellence and acquire a feeling of work."
After visiting 53 companies and interviewing individuals who were described by others as outstanding workers, Brother Cherrington noted several similarities in people with strong work values. "I discovered they had a zest and enthusiasm for living that was really quite impressive. They had an incredible capacity to get things done. They worked hard and worked long hours. They were not, however, workaholics. These people were not addicted to work. When it was time to go watch their son's Little League game they took off. . . . They knew when to set [employment] aside and enjoy family activities and wholesome recreation."
Brother Cherrington commented that these were also individuals who had a strong belief in frugality and conservation. They had a strong internal sense of control. They were people who believed in right and wrong. Religion was an important part of their life. And almost all of them were reared by parents who required obedience.
Brother Cherrington ex-plained that his research indicates that the parents who are the most successful at teaching a good work ethic are "loving, yet fairly strict and demanding." They are "parents who have active involvement with children and who teach that there are universal principles of right and wrong. They spend time with their children and have their children work with them. They delegate responsibilities, follow up on them, have children participate in family chores and insist that they do them."
Brother Cherrington noted that parents should remind children that work is a commandment from their Heavenly Father.
"Idleness," said Brother Cherrington, "is condemned vehemently by the Lord in every book of scripture."
He added that, in a broad sense, a wholesome work ethic has always been maintained by a belief in God or the belief that God is served by a person's efforts: that "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." (Mosiah 2:17.)