Finding your motivation


What is my motivation? It is the cliched question but one that few of us bother to ask when stuck in front of our computer screens. But we should consider what motivates us at work. What really made you get up this morning and trundle into the office to knuckle down until five or six in the evening? In theory, we work to clothe, feed and shelter ourselves. But we also toil for money, power, recognition and status.

Cupidity and narcissism are workplace drivers we all recognise, especially, it must be said, in management. Just look at the contestants who genuflect to Alan Sugar and Donald Trump on The Apprentice. But do they make for happy and dedicated workers? Unlikely.

Those who over-value material success, status and power are more likely to hate office life, and be less committed at work, than those for whom helping colleagues and developing talents is a must.

Materialistic workers are doomed to misery. They feel exhausted, want to quit, experience more work-family conflict and are more dissatisfied with life. So says Maarten Vansteenkiste of the Centrum voor Motivatiepsychologie, University of Leuven, Belgium.

His study of 885 workers published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology goes further, suggesting that seemingly covetable benefits, such as annual bonuses, are actually counterproductive.

“Although these benefits may appear to be great motivators, paradoxically they are not,” he says. “Material rewards divert employees from recognising and attaining other less tangible goals that are important for maintaining good mental health, such as good working relationships, autonomy and job satisfaction.”

These less tangible targets that Vansteenkiste identifies as important, are known as “intrinsic goals”. And according to Tim Kasser, an American psychologist, these intrinsic goals satisfy inherent psychological needs; examples include helping the wider community and friendship, things that go beyond material gain and personal power.

To become more satisfied workers, we need to focus on fulfiling these often-overlooked human needs. But no one is motivated by intrinsic goals only. To be a contented worker you need extrinsic goals, such as material gain or status, in combination with your desire to interact and grow as a person: a happy workplace needs both camps.

We need the money-makers and the community builders. Because, if nothing else, if we got rid of one lot, where would all the gossip come from?