What do you work for?

What do you work for?

A few weeks ago I wrote an article that outlined the various motivators for people at work. I love the world of motivation, because there can be such a huge gap between what we do and what we want to do. That missing link is motivation and understanding it provides a great starting point for lasting behaviour change.

As part of the previous article, SmartCompany ran a poll asking readers to indicate what their motivators for work were. Readers could select multiple entries. The motivators, and results are listed below:

Achievement: 70.8%
Money: 64.7%
Creative output: 41.2%
Great team: 29.4%
Retirement: 23.5%
Status: 11.8%

Most of the respondents selected two or three responses, and the spread is quite interesting. It is very pleasing to see achievement ranking higher than money as a motivator of work. It seems that there is an overall shift towards doing work that is fulfilling and valuable, rather than just a means to make money.

‘Achievement’ is such an interesting response, and a very honest one. Many people in higher profile, higher paying jobs work long hours that eclipse their family and social life. Whatever is motivating this dedication must be very powerful indeed. The drive to achieve: to do more, to have a bigger impact on more people is a huge part of what keeps us looking at the laptop late into the night. Success, in all its varying forms is so powerful.

What we think versus what is actually the case

It isn’t all that surprising that only 11% of respondents indicated that status is a motivator of their work. Status, as a driver of behaviour has a very strong negative connotation and it is difficult to wilfully admit that part of the reason that we work so hard is that we enjoy the social reward of people admiring us.

We are highly social creatures, and social motivators are in many cases more potent and powerful than external ones. There are massive bodies of research in social psychology that examine the effects of the group on the individual, and status goes a long way to defining our place in the world. Whether you have a perceived high or low status by way of the work you do, it provides a certain stability that can have as much emotional impact on us as financial security.

We seem to avoid acknowledging that being promoted to a position of senior management or even CEO carries with it a nice warm feeling in a social context. When examining the full spectrum of motivation we need to be mindful that social benefit is certainly part of the makeup – and it probably affects the working habits of much more than 11% of our reader-respondents.

How does this relate to how you approach work today?

As a psychologist I love thinking about what causes people to act in the way they do, but as individuals we are always on a journey of self-discovery that includes questioning our own beliefs and motivations.

By examining the drivers of your working habits you can start to question whether you are working in the style that you want. Do you want to increase your productivity? Then consider ways of being more cognisant of what drives your behaviour. Instead of working to get through the day you can remind yourself that you are working to achieve great things, to solve new challenges, etc. It can really help to set up mental triggers by way of post-it notes or smartphone alerts.

I also enjoy exploring this side of psychology because it occasionally snaps people out of an auto-pilot mode that has them grinding their knuckles to the bone and forgetting what it’s all for. In this case you would be considering the priorities in your life that sit outside of work, and examining the bigger picture of where it all fits together.

For every new wave of focus that looks at one of these factors over all others, it pays to remember that we are complicated individuals that all have our own web of drivers and inhibitors of action. The best thing any of us can do is to be aware of what we do, and why we do it. Knowing this gives us the opportunity to live the most fulfilling working lives that we can.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.



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