Until the industrial revolution, humans were preoccupied mostly with survival as they fought for space, food, against illness and died young. The motivation in life was pretty clear — do what it takes to keep me alive/fed/clothed another day, week, and month.
The rise of productionised work swapped the fear of dying with the fear of losing one’s job. This job provided a stable income and free time to do other stuff than just survive. This version 2 of motivation which is still mostly in place today involves the carrot and stick approach seen in most workplaces; folks carry out predetermined tasks in a correct manner in exchange for convertible currency. Failure to complete the tasks involves punishment or even removal from the workforce.
Motivation version 1 and 2 are both driven by external factors, from the harsh living environment centuries years ago to the modern-day employers who berate and reward their teams in the drive for profitability. Obviously, there has always been some form of internal motivation, that of doing something because it is worthwhile and satisfying – but those kinds of activities often don’t need any other form of motivation than raw survival in a hostile environment.
Say Hello to Motivation 3.0
Folks in this space, or employers hoping to tap into this rich vein, need to understand that participants strive to exercise control over their environment and there requires few external motivators, no carrot-and-stick here. By way of example, it’s almost impossible for intrinsic motivation to occur in a 9-5 workplace setting as the fixed pre-existing structure is it’s own controlled environment where the stick is applied in such a public manner.
Artists and bohemians of the 60s and 70s are the most celebrated practitioners but also much-derided, particularly by our consumer-sheep culture where the work “carrot” is converted into the latest german hatchback parked on the drive of a heavily indebted household.
And this is the catch, external motivation requires frequent reinforcing and evolution, once you own the latest thing from VW your motivation drops until a new desire can be created for the latest shiny thing. Or perhaps when society is set against one another in a runaway insecurity game of “keeping up with the Jones’”.
It’s maybe then not surprising that the majority of the UK workforce is unhappy at work, yet still grind away doing unfulfilling work in depressing workspaces, cheaply constructed and designed to constrain behaviour to employer-centric ideals. It goes further and a link has been shown between poor corporate governance (tax avoidance, low social responsibility, high-debt, shareholder value over people) and toxicity in the workspace.
Self-determination linked to self-actualisation has always been the key to peak output and happiness and that requires breaking the constraints of carrot-and-stick and creating a more fluid, positive environment that intrinsically rewards good work through satisfaction, praise and mutual respect. And mostly comes from working on yourself.