I came across this term some time back in a job listing for an IT job: "Flexible work ethics". Anyone know what it could mean when used in a job offer? I assume it's not as dodgy as it sounds.

  • 56
    I'm sure it is as dodgy as it sounds
    – Oded
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 12:45
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    It means run away now!
    – HLGEM
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 13:56
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    After Angelo's answer I read through a bunch of ads that say this, and I still have no earthly idea what they think the phrase means. Still, I now think your big danger isn't that they are shady, but that whoever posted the job is an idiot.
    – psr
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 16:30
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    If you have the time, it would be awesome if you would go on an interview with them for us and report back on what the job actually is--I'm quite curious now :)
    – Bill K
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 16:35
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    I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant "ethos", not "ethics".
    – Widor
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 11:24

12 Answers 12


Im sure its not as dodgy as it sounds

I'm sure it is.

It might be one of the following:

  • The sector is not mainstream or considered ethical (pornography, weapons sales etc...)
  • What you will be doing may be legal but not ethical (mining anonymous data in order to extract personal information and identify people)
  • May require you to pretend to be someone you are not, or expect you to lie as part of your job (say a penetration tester)

Or, possibly, it could just be a really bad translation

  • @pdr - He might be right. And it could be "flexible ethics" regarding ones work... As for "work ethics" - I certainly don't think they should be "flexible".
    – Oded
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 14:14
  • Hey, I think Michael's interpretation would make me run faster than yours. Just saying :).
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 14:24
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    @pdr - true enough... Fact is, Flexible work ethics, whatever it means, would put this job in my not interested bin.
    – Oded
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 14:26
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    even if it is not as bad as it sounds, the fact that it does sound bad and got published is reason to be hesitant. Perhaps asking the company for clarification would be prudent. Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 16:18
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    @suslik - However, either of them wouldn't hide behind such a term...
    – Oded
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 22:09

OK, my take on this is that they mean that they plan to work you at all sorts of odd hours, possibly on short notice, and that they expect you to work long hours to finish the job no matter what.

The phrase really says to me "willing to work long hours if needed, but also willing to cut and run with the job half done if a higher-priced client comes along". Not something I want in my IT people, frankly.

How the heck did they get to using this phrase? I'm gonna take a guess and say that I think this is an extension of the management-speak phrase 'work ethic'.

In the real world, your work-ethic is your desire to do the job properly to the best of your ability, even when it's a pain in the neck.

In management-speak, I think the phrase means more like 'willing to sacrifice personal life and change plans to accommodate the business'.

I think the people who wrote that ad then went one further and tried to make themselves sound smarter by adding the work 'flexible', not realizing for one moment just what the phrase they created really means.

Personally, I'd be leery of applying with such a place. They probably plan to abuse you (hours-wise), and/or they plan to abuse their customers. Either way, unless they have something really good on offer, I'd pass it by.

  • I don't think that would be "Flexible work ethics", I think you are thinking of a "Strong work ethic" that a company might want to take advantage of, but it would be really interesting to find out.--But looking at Angelo's answer you could just be right!
    – Bill K
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 16:34
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    @BillK - I think Michael is spot on here. I read it as "we want you to work the hours we say, when we say without complaining".
    – ChrisF
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 21:22

I think this is what they mean:

Flexible work ethic (normally used in the singular and rarely in the plural) is basically used to indicate that you should be ready to be a "team player" when it comes to working hours, sick leave, etc. If it's busy, you might have to work long hours. If somebody is sick, you might have to come in on your off-day to cover for them. If the office is short-handed, you might be expected to cope with additional duties beyond your assigned purview.

Probably more needed in Australia (where the OP is from) or at least outside the US as candidates may expect a fixed schedule, no overtime, etc. This kind of flexibility is taken for granted in IT in the US.

I should add that it appears (from the link and in general in Google) that this is an Australian term, certainly to pluralize it. A work ethic in American English can mean your showing up on time, etc., so in Australia it seems to be around being flexible around your time.

  • 1
    That not what Ethic means - the next question to the employer so which laws have your broken most recently.
    – Neuro
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 18:25
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    @Neuro, are you sure in Australia you understand the nuance of the word ethics?
    – Yishai
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 18:56
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    yes I may be dyslexic but ethics means the same in Australia as it does any where else - and as an "approved person" as defined by the master and servants act (as amended ) this rings huge alarm bells. Using this term gives the perception that the company is corrupt and breaks one or more laws.
    – Neuro
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 18:58
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    @Neuro, language idioms vary greatly across the former British Empire. Anyway, its pure commonality should suggest it just doesn't mean the willingness to be unethical.
    – Yishai
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 19:05
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    "Pure commonality" is how often it appears in job ads. So many unethical employers out there? Especially in Australia?
    – Yishai
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 19:11

Thinking further about the phrase, I figured there is an issue with understanding, as its meaning depends on which word one emphasizes. The phrase can be seen as one of the following three options:

  • "Flexible Ethics" work. Pretty much the bullet points in this answer, meaning work that is for people whose ethics are flexible.

  • Flexible "work ethics" - This one doesn't make much sense to me, as work ethics of a person are part of their values (hard working / leaves at 5:30 on the dot / whatever), and wanting flexibility on something like that just doesn't sound right (we sometimes want you to work hard but be really lazy on other times!).

  • "Flexible work" ethics - I now believe this is what the phrase is about - flexible work. Having the work ethic to work flexibly. Meaning someone who is able to work around time constraints or work in non standard hours. To me this sounds like a spin of "no overtime and you are expected to work weekends and shift as needed".

All of the above, whichever is correct, do not sound very inviting.

Posting as new answer as this is a completely different view of what I originally answered.

  • It seems to me there's a big difference between "work ethic" (singular, the personal drive to get things done) and "work ethics" (plural, the drive to do what's ethical at work). It's not clear if the ad meant to use one or another, making the possible interpretations even murkier. Commented Nov 8, 2018 at 14:38

One of my first jobs involved this exact phrase, it wasn't written down in the job ad, but it was asked of me in the first interview.

The result? Dealing with and digitally processing pornography for off-shore sale, which is "ethically challenging" for some. I had no qualms and it was one of the best jobs I've ever had, but they needed to let me know from the get-go that I would be dealing with, as quite a few people who don't sit through that part of the interview (because they won't be working in that division of the business) later find out what "those guys in that other office did" and would quit.

I would advocate going to the interview and asking them straight out what they meant by it and decide on the spot if it's something you're "ethically" comfortable with.

Good luck.


I'd like to think it is a horrible amalgamation of something like "flexible work HOURS" and "good ethics" - that has somehow gone into the job-description-omatic and come out rather awful-sounding. Or that they meant it was an environment that is supportive of diversity, including diverse opinions on what is ethical -- not that different cultures are more less ethical, but that different groups may prioritize values differently.

But I have to say that as-is, it sounds rather awful.

  • Google shows only a few hundred hits, so you're probably right -- hopefully it dies out and crawls back to whatever hole it came from...
    – jmoreno
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 7:51

"Flexible work ethics" appears to be a particularly insipid phrase that has been sprouting up in HR/management speak. A Google search shows that it is popping up all over the place in job descriptions.

Obviously, the intent of the phrase is not something that is unethical. In my opinion, this is just a case of really bad wordsmithing by some HR/management person. Somehow this has become a meme and now other orgs are using the phrase.

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    I like how there is a result that says "High integrity - Flexible work ethics - Honest & ..."
    – yoozer8
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 16:51
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    Seeing "High integrity - Flexible work ethics" right next to each other in a job offer makes me wonder A) if this is some terribly termed jargon I'm missing B) What they were imbibing when they wrote the description. But it would seem the intent isn't "crooked"...maybe
    – Zelda
    Commented Sep 12, 2012 at 18:43

This seems to me to be fairly clear to me.
We have an ethic, of flexible working.

Meaning - we believe in flexible hours: You come in early or late - your call.


People seem to assume that this is about ethics, with the implication that the employer is looking for people who are willing to do bad things. I suppose there are employers with priorities like that (Soprano Waste Management comes to mind) but it's not the sort of thing you put in a job listing — not if you want to avoid legal issues!

Sloppy English is more plausible. Recall that an employee who has "a good work ethic" is the opposite of a slacker, somebody who takes their job seriously. I think that what the writer is trying to say (in a very muddled fashion) is that they want somebody who doesn't shirk.


I think that perhaps the company is mis-using the word 'ethic'. I am in Canada, just finished reading an ad for a call centre position wherein they used the term 'flexible work ethic' in the same sentence with 'can-do' and 'get the job done no matter what attitude'.

Start with a definition of Ethics: Ethics are your moral principles, your internal compass, your philosophy that guides your behaviour so that you do what is right, fair, and appropriate no matter the stress or terms of the situation. They are rules of conduct, and in order to be responsible, rules don't change on a whim.

Ethics are NOT flexible, if they are good ones, and NO employer should want employees whose ethics are flexible, or change with the time and circumstance.

Perhaps the term should be 'flexible work attitude' in that many call centres want you to be able to stay on a call past your normal quitting time if required (sometimes 2-3 hours if that's what it takes), work on days you might not be scheduled for, basically be at the mercy of the company and the job. If you have respect for yourself, and value family or your own peace of mind beyond the minimum or near-minimum wage you are going to get at this sort of job, just say NO. If you are young and single, or starving, or have no other choice in order to pay the rent, go for it...


To me, "flexible work ethic" would be very different to "flexible work ethics".

"Work ethic" is a single phrase with a specific meaning, very much like the one @DefenestrationDay describes. You turn up for work, you do your work, you go home, and we're flexible about that. Sometimes it will be to your benefit, sometimes to ours...

"Work ethics" though has no such compound meaning, referring instead to the ethics that you apply while you are at work, and we're flexible about those. There is no restriction here to the single ethic that has to do with how you apply yourself to your working day. Instead, the whole suite of ethical behaviour is up for grabs. Expect to be unethical if you work here.

So what does the advert really say? Is it your entire suite of ethics that will need to be up for negotiation while you are working? Or is it your "work ethic" that has some flexibility?

I'd strongly expect that the plural 's' is a typo, either in the ad, or in your question – or else that there is something specific they have in mind, and you need to ask about it.


It means that someone wrote an ad using words they don't understand and didn't check with a dictionary. "Flexible ethics" is not a good thing. What this phrase suggests is the practice of adjusting your moral reasoning in every situation such that you rationalize doing what is convenient rather than what is right, and look the other way in regard to others doing the same thing.

Even if the intended meaning is to refer to work ethic, a "flexible work ethic" simply denotes slacking off whenever you feel like it. For example, work hard when the weather is bad, and use a sick day when the sun is shining to enjoy a day off.

"Work hours" are not "work ethic". Doing the same work from 9 to 5, versus from 10 to 6, does not constitute a difference in work ethic.

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