Work ethic deemed more important than ambition in the 'Race for a promotion'

The majority (56%) of HR directors favour work ethic in employees across the company

  • The majority (56%) of HR directors favour work ethic in employees across the company
  • Soft skills considered more important than technical skills by HR directors
  • Only 9% of HR directors believe technical skills are among the most important factors in the promotion process

London, 10 October 2012 – The majority (56%) of UK HR directors - when asked for their top three traits for gaining a promotion - believe that work ethic is the single most important attribute for employees to display, with nearly half (49%) of those questioned saying that demonstrating leadership was the second most sought after quality, according to new research from Robert Half UK.  

Surprisingly, ambition wasn’t the top choice for HR directors, with just over one in three choosing this trait after work ethic and leadership skills.  In terms of gender, male HR directors felt stronger about work ethic (61%) then their female counterparts (51%).  However, more than four in 10 (43%) female HR directors believe communication skills are important for gaining that promotion, compared to only 38% of males. 

Looking at the least valuable trait that employees should recognise when pushing for promotion, HR directors felt that internal networks (10%) and a sense of humour (13%) were important in deciding whether an employee deserved to move up the ladder.

Phil Sheridan, Managing Director, Robert Half UK said “Technical skills are always considered important by an organisation, however, in today’s economic environment candidates need to demonstrate their value to the company, with soft skills becoming a more critical differentiator between employees.

“Departments are increasingly being asked to do more with less, requiring individuals to take on more tasks.  Work ethic has become critical for individuals to demonstrate that they are committed to the company’s overall success and are able to demonstrate a flexible attitude while being accommodating to change.”

200 UK HR directors were asked, ‘what traits are most important for employees looking to earn a promotion?’ Their responses:


Work ethic 56%
Leadership skills 49%
Communication skills 39%
Ambition 31%
Team player 26%
Adaptability 22%
Results-driven 19%
Sense of humour 13%
Internal networks 10%

Multiple responses permitted

Phil Sheridan continues “Employees holding strong technical skills are no longer viewed as a driving factor for promotion, with only 9% of HR directors citing this as an important trait to have.  The ability to communicate, negotiate and offer personal effectiveness is considered more important than some of the more technical occupational skills, which many employers believe can be ‘learned on the job'.”  

About the Survey

The survey was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 200 UK HR directors stratified by region, company size and company type. The survey was conducted in June 2012.

About Robert Half

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialised recruitment consultancy and member of the S&P 500. We have once again been named to FORTUNE’s “World’s Most Admired Companies®” list and remains the top-ranked staffing firm (February 2020). Founded in 1948, the company has over 300 offices worldwide providing temporary, interim and permanent recruitment solutions for accounting and finance, financial services, technology, legal and administrative professionals. Robert Half offers workplace and jobseeker resources at and