Work Ethics: The Role Our Parents Play in Shaping Ours

Our work ethic has been shaped by our parents in more ways than we know. Three Singaporeans tell how.

Your environment influences the employee you are. Maybe you adapt to the company culture, accommodate a colleague’s work style, or grow into the nature of your work that demands, for example, a greater attention to detail or uncompromising honesty.

But some things are more resistant to change. Like your work ethic. The way you perceive and, thus, behave at work rarely varies across environments. And that’s because those set of beliefs have been ingrained in you from young by your very first bosses: mum and dad.

Our parents play the single largest role in shaping our work ethic. A Harvard research has revealed that women raised by working mums tend to pursue successful careers because they had a model to follow after. Even our perception of the meaning of work—what researchers term “work orientation”—have been proven to be a reflection of our parents’ beliefs!

So, how you see work, whether just as a job, a performance ladder, or a calling, is likely how your parents saw it. And perhaps your perfectionism, views on work-life balance, or low tolerance for failure are all traits inherited from them!

We spoke to three Singaporeans to find out how this was true for them: History teacher Ms Siti Zakiah Bte Sidek, 32; stay-home mum Ms Kashmira (“Mira”) Shah, 35; and hotel club manager Mr Ken Foo, 35.

How have your parents influenced your approach to work and career? 

Zakiah: From young, my father emphasised the importance of roles and responsibilities. He would remind me that my role was to study well, just as it was his responsibility to bring home the money. So now as a mother, I see my job mainly as a necessity that enables me to care for my family.

Mira: My mum worked hard but she was very family-oriented. She would come home, do the housework, and look after everyone. I used to be career-minded but now after marriage and kids, work is mostly a means to an end. I look forward to returning to work to support my husband financially.

Ken: My dad, who was an engineer, believed in treating everyone well. I believe that’s why I’m more calling-oriented and why I ultimately entered hospitality. Of course, progress is still important. But if you treat people well, then I believe things will naturally get going for you!

What are some other valuable lessons you learnt from them? 

Zakiah: My parents never emphasised money, but the importance of liking what I do. So, at work, I do more of the things I’m interested in! If I don’t agree with something, I just do what is necessary. Image is not so important to me.

Mira: When I started job-searching, my dad advised me to start with whatever I could get and not worry about pay. Till today, I believe that it’s not necessary to start at the top. Take each opportunity as an experience and grow from there.

Ken: Both my parents are very people-oriented. My dad took good care of his workers. My mum, a manicurist, would buy things and cook extra food for her clients. So, even now, I look at my staff as family. Every decision I make, I consider how it helps them grow. Even for my clients, I make an effort to know them better so I can go above and beyond in my service.

What would you like your children to take with them when they enter the workforce? 

Zakiah: Do what you like. That’s a more sustainable way to work. And be ready to make your own decisions. I will share what I think is right and wrong, but ultimately, it’s your life.

Mira: Firstly, you can start anywhere! Next, communicate and build good relationships with your colleagues. You will never know when your network will pay off.

Ken: Do what you like. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t achieve because the process is more important. Treat people well, be humble, and always try to enjoy what you’re doing!


Sometimes, it’s nice to take a step back to assess our lives and our careers. After all, the better you understand why you are who you are, the more empowered you are in shaping yourself into the person you wish to be.

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