CwS: Why you should stop “working hard”

[1 minute read] (ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! 🙂 )

What does CwS mean? It stands for Conversations with Students. This means this post is based on a thoughtful discussion I had with one of my incredible students as part of an English lesson with them.

“Forget about working hard!”

That’s what one of my students said during a Business English lesson when I asked him how companies could motivate their employees to work hard.

I was a little taken aback. In today’s culture, working hard is practically revered. It’s one of the best ways to earn somebody’s respect, and we practically compete against each other to see who can work the hardest, put in the most hours, achieve the best, and so on.

“What do you mean?” I asked, intrigued.

My student went on to explain that “working hard” is something of a misnomer, and we should throw it out of our vocabulary as soon as possible.

Because for example, we can say that not having food to eat is hard. But what is hard work? Sitting at the same desk for 8 hours?

As he said, “hard” implies that it takes sacrifice. Maybe it’s sacrificing your happiness, or your health, and almost always your time. But why should earning a living mean any of that? Why have we made becoming tired and unhealthy and unhappy and time-poor into a good thing?

Studies have shown a person cannot work for 8 hours straight and continue to focus. There are also plenty of people, like this student, who don’t need to work for 8 hours, or run themselves to the ground, to get work done. You can get it done in 2.

Don’t get him wrong here — he wasn’t touting being lazy or doing poor quality work. On the contrary. He pointed out that “working hard” is different from working with passion, discipline, and efficiency — perhaps we need a new expression to encapsulate that, and have a healthier concept to look up to.

Any ideas?

ESL Notes (9 words / expressions)

Definitions written with reference to Cambridge Dictionary

Be taken aback: to be surprised. (Back to the text)

Revered: very respected and admired. (Back to the text)

Intrigued: curious and interested. (Back to the text)

Go on to: do something immediately, without taking a break. For example, “He finished cleaning the kitchen and went right onto cleaning the bathroom.” This means he did one thing after the other with no break, and it highlights a connection between the two. (Back to the text)

Misnomer: a name that doesn’t fit what it refers to. For example, if you stay at a place called the “Beautiful Hotel,” but you feel it is super ugly, you can say that the hotel’s name is a misnomer. (Back to the text)

Time-poor: this is a way to say a person has no time, in other words, he is “poor” on time. (Back to the text)

Run yourself into the ground: to become very tired by working too much. (Back to the text)

Tout: to praise something, usually in order to encourage other people to like it or accept it. Most companies tout their products on social media. (Back to the text)

Encapsulate: to express. (Back to the text)


Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.

  • What news have you heard recently that took you aback?
  • What person do you revere? (an athlete, an inventor, etc.?)
  • Are you intrigued by the question of whether or not there is life on other planets? What other questions intrigue you?
  • Explain your career path until now — where did you start, was was the next step for you, and what happened after that? Use “go on to“.
  • Can you think of a restaurant, a hotel, or even a city whose name you think is a misnomer? (For example a “Bella Vista Hotel” which has a terrible view.)
  • Do you feel you are time-poor?
  • Was there a phase in your work or study life when you had to run yourself into the ground to get something done?
  • Is there any activity, food, or habit that you tout the health benefits of? For example, I know someone who touts the health benefits of taking cold baths.
  • Think of a movie you saw that was based on a book that you also read. Do you think the movie properly encapsulated the story?

Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.

Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply!

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