MIDWAY: What’s your motivation?

Matt Keating

What made you get up this morning and trundle into the office with the sweating masses 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.

It’s unlikely that those who over-value material success 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 in general. So says Maarten Vansteenkiste of the Centrum voorMotivatiepsychologie, University of Leuven, Belgium. In fact, his study of 885 workers goes even 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,” says Vansteenkiste. “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. To become more satisfied workers, we need to focus on fulfilling these often-overlooked human needs. But no one is motivated by intrinsic goals only. Those who claim to denounce materialism completely tend to be self-righteous in other ways. To be a contented worker you need extrinsic goals, such as material gain in combination with your desire to interact and grow as a person: a happy workplace needs both camps.

To suggest the office “do-goods” play swap-shop with the office “do-bads” would result in a variant-free environment that would be a hell on earth. 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?