Why do you work?

Stephen Overall has written an interesting article in the Financial Times on the motivation of workers, titled On the scent of the light reward (subscription required), in which he gets straight to the point:

Why does the worker work? Friedrich Engels asked the question in 1844. “For love of work? From a natural impulse? Not at all! He works for money, for a thing which has nothing to do with the work itself.”

Few have ever thought otherwise. In the Affluent Worker studies of the 1960s, sociologists investigated car workers in Luton and confirmed that work was a means to an end, a temporary surrender of liberty for the sake of material reward. This remains true today.

According to the article more recent research suggests that the keys to motivation lie in five different “dimensions”. Apparently, motivation flows from:

  • building an “internal brand” with which employees can identify.
  • communicating the organisation’s values.
  • demonstrating better leadership.
  • offering a challenging and interesting work environment
  • good performance management and continuous improvement.

According to one academic working on this topic, any serious attempt to investigate the nature of motivation “…needs to begin from an examination of policies and practices that operate in an organisation. Unfairness is the greatest demotivator.”

That’s all interesting food for thought; particularly the comment about unfairness. Who decides what’s fair and what’s not? Since we’re talking about the employee’s motivation, it would seem to me that the employee’s perception of fairness is of paramount importance. However, I wonder how often employees and management would share the same definition? Not often, I’d bet.