Work and the Ability to Change

I’m packing and getting ready to rush to the airport to return home after a business trip that has taken up the majority of the week. I find myself asking “why I work” a lot these days. And more so, why do I work in the same profession I have been in for many years. While clear answers are difficult to come by, I do find guides along the way like the article just below titled “Why Do We Work” from the Washington Post by Michael Maccoby.

Many people would be happier with jobs that make better use of their abilities. Even so, people do not work for money or survival alone. Even when necessity forces us to take a job, financial need is not the only reason we work.

Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.

In this still fragile economy, many people will be motivated at work they do not like mainly to keep their jobs for the sake of income and mental health. But a leader who wants enthusiastic collaborators needs to engage them in work that is meaningful to them. This can be done by focusing on four Rs: responsibilities, relationships, rewards and reasons.

We are motivated when our responsibilities are meaningful and engage our abilities and values. The most meaningful responsibilities stretch and develop us. Caring people are motivated by work that helps others. Craftsmen are motivated by producing high quality products.

We are motivated by good relationships with bosses, collaborators, and customers. Fun at work is motivating. So is appreciation for helping others.

Rewards can be motivating, but they can be overvalued. Of course, investment bankers will exhaust themselves for huge pay offs. And piece workers, sewing garments or assembling gadgets, will work harder producing more finished products for the extra dollars. But there is no evidence that teachers will teach better to make more money. Incentive pay focuses a person on particular tasks, like teaching to the tests. It can stimulate a doctor to see more patients, but not treat them any better. Or it can strengthen a boss’s authority by rewarding a subordinate for following orders. But if someone does not feel fairly rewarded compared to peers, incentive pay becomes de-motivating. People may be more motivated by public recognition and appreciation for their work than by money.

Reasons can be the most powerful motivators. Workers doing repetitive work on an assembly line during World War II were highly motivated because they were helping to win the war. The same work in peace time would be boring. People take pride in work that contributes to the well-being of others and the common good. Leaders who articulate a meaningful purpose, support good relationships, give people responsibilities that engage and develop them, and recognize exceptional work will most certainly gain enthusiastic collaborators.

For the moment I am content to do the work at the job I have, yet I know big changes are ahead for me. For so long change was unnerving, but today I am grateful to say I am excited about the possibilities and open to where the future takes me!

What people have the capacity to choose,
they have the ability to change.
Madeleine Albright