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The Shifting Work Ethics of Egyptians Across Generations

June 8, 2024

In Egyptian culture, traditional values of loyalty and dedication to one’s career still hold strong, particularly among older generations. However, younger Egyptians, like their global counterparts, may prioritize work-life balance and personal fulfillment. 

Economic conditions, job availability, unemployment rates, and job market dynamics significantly influence people’s perspectives on work and careers. Consequently, workers in the 80s or the 90s had a different experience from workers in 2020.

“Generations born between 1946 and 1980 have the mentality of: If you work really hard, you’ll get a great lifestyle in return,” according to Harriet Minter, journalist, and author of the book, ‘WFH (Work from Home): How to Build a Career You Love When You’re Not in the Office’ (2021).

Minter explains that older generations “could pay for foreign holidays and buy their own homes,” but with the increasing cost of living and rising house prices, the younger generation of workers realizes that work cannot provide that lifestyle anymore.

Egyptians in their fifties, or older, were raised at a time when long-term employment with a single company was the norm, thus they prioritized job stability for security. For them, going the extra mile is not about achieving immediate goals; it is a strategy to ensure long-term job security and loyalty, which were crucial factors in their career development.

“Yes, I don’t mind putting in extra effort for my job,” Ahmed Taher, a 59-year-old  banker, told Egyptian Streets. “The more and harder you work, the more you become experienced and grow, which ultimately could lead to career advancement with a promotion or a raise.”

The younger generation, in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties approach work with different motivations. Rapid career growth and advancement are often top priorities for this younger demographic. Young professionals believe that going the extra mile is essential for standing out in a competitive job market and advancing quickly within their chosen career path.

“I don’t like having a typical job with fixed working hours, but I do like learning and going through challenges,” Lana Mahmoud, a 32-year-old web developer, told Egyptian Streets. “My previous jobs felt more like a paycheck than anything, simply because I hated the work environment.”

She emphasized that after working a job she enjoys, with like-minded people who love to learn and grow, she realized that she could put more into her career. Mahmoud stated, “ I would go the extra mile for my current job because it means I can enhance my abilities and learn, as opposed to working for the sole purpose of meeting deadlines.”

The older generation, in general, tends to be motivated by the desire to leave a lasting impact and a strong legacy. They see putting in extra effort as a means to solidify their career achievements and reputation, aiming to create a lasting impression that extends beyond their years of active work.

“I love my job, and I would absolutely give it my all,” Hanan Hashem, a 61-year-old English teacher also shared. “I chose this career because it aligns with my values, which include giving and helping others.” 

Hashem expressed how fulfilling her job feels, as she influences young minds and makes a long-lasting impact through teaching. 

“I think knowledge is the best gift one can receive, and I love witnessing this in my work. Seeing the result of my work as my students go to their desired universities is an achievement that’s worth it for me,” she said.

On the other hand, the younger generation, with ages ranging from early 20s to late 30s, is more willing to take on additional tasks and responsibilities to gain diverse experiences and broaden their skill set. They value learning opportunities and view these challenges as stepping stones to future success. 

“The only job I am willing to go above and beyond for is a job that can offer me a chance to sharpen my skills and advance my career,” revealed Youssef Alaadin, a 25-year-old videographer and video editor. Aladdin’s first real employment opportunity paid less than the minimum wage, and he felt overworked and mentally drained. He expressed that because he learned a lot, gained extensive experience, and made connections that later helped him in his career, he believed it has been worthwhile. 

“My job is part of who I am,” Aladdin added. “If a job doesn’t add anything to me, and the company’s environment is hostile, I would probably do the bare minimum for a paycheck.”

Employee engagement

A company that fosters employee engagement can inspire a positive attitude among its employees, motivating them to exceed their job requirements for the benefit of the organization, according to Dilly Robinson,  Principal Associate at the Institute for Employment Studies.

Employee engagement research by Ipsos Mori, a market research company, in 2008, and a report by Blessing White, a consulting firm specializing in employee engagement, in 2006, revealed that engaged employees are those who are satisfied with their jobs, achieve a sense of self-fulfillment from their roles, feel dedicated to the company, speak positively about it, and contribute to the company’s success in reaching its goals.

Employee engagement is affected by the organization’s culture, its leaders, and the work environment.

“I used to do more than what was asked of me, only to feel underappreciated and disappointed,” Doha Refaat, a 27-year-old front-end developer, also told Egyptian Streets. “At some point, management does not see my being overworked as something to appreciate or reward, but more as a given.”

According to the State of the Global Workplace’ study conducted in 2017 by Gallup, an American multinational analytics and advisory company, 88 percent of Egyptian employees are either not fully engaged or fully disengaged, compared to 85 percent of employees worldwide.

The study revealed that only 12 percent of Egypt’s employees are “engaged” and committed to their jobs, and 65 percent are “not engaged,” lack motivation, and are less likely to invest extra effort in their company. Twenty four percent of workers in Egypt were found to be “actively disengaged,” meaning that they are unproductive, unhappy with their jobs, and prone to spreading negativity among coworkers. 

“In my work experience, the relationship between reward for my positive efforts and punishment for mistakes or slow learning curves is not proportionate,” Kareem Abdallah, a 28-year-old software engineer, shared. He explained that his effort and good performance are rarely, if ever, rewarded, while failures are highly reprimanded and criticized. 

“So, no, I don’t go the extra mile because I am not paid enough to,” Abdallah said.

Four in five employees, making up 81 percent worldwide, are more likely to work harder when their managers appreciate their work, according to research by Glassdoor, a website where employees get to review companies anonymously.

The same survey shows that 38 percent of employees are willing to work harder if their manager is demanding, and 37 percent of employees clarified that they work hard because they fear losing their jobs.

I always go the extra mile for my job out of guilt,” Esraa Radwan, 35-year-old senior operations manager, said. “If I am not doing my best or working the hardest I can, I will be anxious about my status at my job, feel guilty, and useless.” 

She explained that if she felt unappreciated, despite doing her best, she would likely leave her workplace.

On the other hand, professionals on the younger side, value their work and professional status so much that they can not help but do their best. 

Abdelsalam El Sawy, a 33-year-old general manager, shared with Egyptian Streets that he takes on extra tasks willingly to gain new skills and experience. While it could be overwhelming at times and unrewarding financially in the beginning, he can not have it any other way. 

El Sawy said, “I always work hard and go the extra mile for my job. I’ve done it before and it helps me get promoted and make more money.”

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