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What Motivates People in the Workplace?

June 26, 2009

In running a business, I frequently ponder the complex questions related to working with people.  What motivates people?  What is the best way to organize a team?  Many books are written on the subject.  The world has great examples of success stories – companies and movements that have grown and experienced rampant success.

Here is what it comes down to, in my experience, regarding the question of what motivates people to work effectively:

    1. (The Obvious) Desire to make money
    2. Fear/survival (keeping your job by satisfying your boss)
    3. Inspired by a leader or group of leaders
    4. Desire to do good for a noble or worthy cause (non-profit and public sector employees generally fit this mold)
    5. Desire to earn and save, to eventually get out and do something else
    6. Fascination to learn whatever the current position offers
    7. Self-driven personality that takes pride in being committed and doing good work – the ideal team player

      On the flip side, maybe you are simply not motivated by your current job, or in fact hate it.  So then the question becomes, why are you still in it?  Is it about the job, or do your own personality traits have something to do with your dissatisfaction?  Here are some possible answers:

        1. Inertia, staying in the job out of pure laziness and habit – you know it but put up a good face and do the minimal possible work to get by
        2. Cynical acceptance – ‘this is life, this is work’ – and never strive for anything meaningful (similar to above but with more of a negative edge)
        3. Unmotivated and apathetic – on track for getting fired
        4. Unhappy and proactively seeking other opportunities

          So which are you, if any, in your current job?  It can be a combination of course, or a case where you started out one way, and have transitioned into another, or simply lost all motivation.

          When I recruit someone, I try to think along the lines of what their motivations are.  “What are your ultimate life goals and dreams?” I ask them.  I want to make sure that they are aligned with the values of the company and myself, to the greatest degree possible.  It’s not “just a job” in my eyes, and I do not want to work with anyone that has that attitude.

          In terms of current staff, obviously I do not want to have anyone on board that is on the “flip side” and wants out, or is motivated by (#2: Fear) or (#5 Desire to save and get out).  I am coming to learn not to type cast people either; rather, I am a believer that most qualified people have it in them to be inspired and highly motivated in their work – as long as you treat them well and match their professional interests and skills to suitable projects.

          I’d love to hear from other managers and executives on this topic.

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