Winston Churchill

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.

— Winston Churchill

Over the last two years, I’ve written numerous articles [1] for this newsletter about the importance of attitude in the workplace. Following the adage, “Hire for attitude, train for skills,” I have tried to stress how crucial it is to screen for work attitude before hiring employees.

In this article, I would like to take a closer look at the anatomy of work attitude.  The reader should understand the challenges of screening for work attitude and creating an environment that nurtures it.

In contrast to technical skills, attitude might be described as a deeper attribute of an employee’s repertoire. The development of attitude is years in the making.

At the risk of oversimplifying the concept, let’s look at the following diagram:

Diagram of work attitude arrows

There are many theories about how work attitude is acquired. They often include antecedents, such as personality, motivation, values and interests. Without a doubt, all of these are important influencers on the attitude we bring to work.

Researchers tend to agree on two things [2] :

1. Each of these antecedents is determined by a combination of what our parents pass on to us at birth (genetics) and the many experiences we have in life (environment).

2. These antecedents – as well as work attitude – evolve over time.

Work attitude is something we all have and it’s something that differs among each of us.  The desired common denominator is that exceptional employees have the “right” work attitude for the job – a quality of wanting to do whatever it takes and wanting to go that extra mile whenever needed.

A research study conducted by Mark Murphy, the author of Hiring for Attitude, tracked 20,000 new employees and found that nearly half – 46 percent – fail within 18 months. More surprising was that 89 percent failed for attitude-related reasons and only 11 percent for a lack of skills.

The benefits of a positive attitude in the workplace have also been documented in a U.S. Department of Labor report. The document noted that those employees with positive attitudes:

  • Provide good customer service
  • Solve interpersonal conflicts
  • Become a productive employee
  • Respond to constructive criticism

In a simple Google search of “work attitude and job success,” we found well over one million hits. And yes, a positive work attitude is cited over and over as key to job success.

However, most of the articles discuss how job satisfaction affects work attitude after hire, with little attention given to the often-ingrained attitude that new employees bring to the workplace.

Little focus has been put on screening out poor work attitude before hire. A few exceptions include Southwest Airline’s approach to hiring. In describing his airlines success with customers, former Southwest chairman Herb Kelleher coined the oft-quoted phrase, “Hire for attitude, train for skills.”

E.A.S.I-Consult® has been helping companies with this approach for more than 15 years, beginning with a request from the senior management at CPI Corporation (the former Sears Portrait Studios). The goal was to screen-in workers who would take initiative, provide great customer service, and do the simple task of just showing up to work as scheduled! Pre-screening candidates for work attitude [3] had significant positive results.

Over the years, we’ve helped organizations in health care, manufacturing, retail, banking and other industries. The results have been increases in productivity and customer service and reductions in turnover, absenteeism and onboarding/training costs.

Taking another look at the anatomy of work attitude, I reviewed authors who have studied this and can provide several “dimensions” of work attitude that prove important in the workplace.

Some define positive work attitude as broadly as:

  • Being an optimist and looking for the good in things, rather than being a pessimist and concentrating on the bad

Others provide a little more clarity by breaking things down to more specific behaviors:

  • The willingness to try new things
  • The belief that everything would turn out all right
  • It is an attitude that helps you see the good in people
  • A mindset that helps you see and recognize opportunities
  • It is a mindset that uses the words, “I can,” and “It is possible”

In our own research and application of work attitude screening, we at E.A.S.I-Consult have found the following dimensions to be very helpful for finding quality candidates and the keys to job success.

Table of attitudes

Work attitude is not a newly discovered ingredient to job success.  It’s something our readers have known for a long time. What I hope to have done is help you think more deeply about what makes up work attitude and the value of screening candidates for this in the hiring process.

David Smith, PhD, is the president and CEO of E.A.S.I-Consult®. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government   agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. E.A.S.I.’s specialties include leadership assessment, online pre-employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about E.A.S.I-Consult, visit, email or call 800.922.EASI.

[1]See previous articles: Want Exceptional Employees? Hire for Attitude!; Helping Companies Hire for Attitude; The Hidden Cost of a Bad Attitude; Hiring Solutions in a Labor Shortage

[2]Hogan, Hogan & Roberts, 1996; McClelland, 1987; Skinner, 1969; Strong, Campbell & Hansen, 1985.

[3]See Helping Companies Hire for Attitude