19 Apr 2013

What motivates us to work?

What motivates us to work? A lot of people would argue that the answer to this is simple; its money.

But is this truly the key long-term factor that maximises motivation and yields the best results from ourselves and others around us?

Short answer; no, it isn't.

Imagine if we had all the money we could possibly have, what would make us work then? How we motivate people around us? "Throw them a big bonus if such-and-such targets are met" some would say, but does this really yield the best long-term results and ensures employee satisfaction and retention?

Contrary to common belief, money is not actually the key driver. Money is just the means, it's the short-term fix, in normal standard life practice it's a necessary 'reward', but it is certainly not the whole reward. Some may argue that 'joy' is the greatest motivator for work, (which is also very important), but that wouldn't be right either.


For most humans the key factors are:

  1. Progress
  2. Purpose
 "Most people thrive on making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose".

Understanding what truly motivates people in the workplace above and beyond the financial element is a key personal, managerial and leadership quality, the greater it is understood the better the results will be from us personally, and from the people we manage / work with.

Below is a great TED Talk by behavioural economist Dan Ariely on the subject of what truly motivates people to work. He describes a few simple experiments that demonstrate how progress and purpose are more effective motivational forces versus financial reward. As simple as the experiments are, I think the conclusions they reach really hit the nail on the head to basic human motivational drivers.

The conclusions Dan reaches are actually very simple and obvious really, but in this busy world, I think we all often lose sight of these basic human needs; which creates short-term band aid 'motivational fixes', and therefore unhappiness in the workplace.

Dan is an extremely interesting guy, to introduce Dans background and credibility on the topic, here is part of his bio on the TED website "Ariely has long been fascinated with how emotional states, moral codes and peer pressure affect our ability to make rational and often extremely important decisions in our daily lives -- across a spectrum of our interests, from economic choices (how should I invest?) to personal (who should I marry?). At Duke, he's aligned with three departments (business, economics and cognitive neuroscience); he's also a visiting professor in MIT's Program in Media Arts and Sciences and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His hope that studying and understanding the decision-making process can help people lead better, more sensible daily lives."

What do you think are the key motivators in the work place? Do you agree with Dans conclusions?



About the author
Si Muddell is a Digital Strategist who has worked extensively both agency and client side. Si is fascinated about marketing, psychology & what motivates people, and loves guitar, surfing and travelling.

Get connected with Si on TwitterLinkedIn &

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