Understanding Motivation Concepts
How to Understand the Motivation for Work
Most people have to work for a living. Earning the money to maintain a comfortable and secure life-style would be on most peoples' list of reasons for working. Unless you have a generous family inheritance or have won the lottery, you will trade the value of your thought and/or your muscle for the symbolic value of pieces of green paper bearing pictures of dead presidents. This money will then be traded for other things of value that sustain and enrich your life.
Explore the many reasons experts say we want to work.One approach to understanding the motivation to work is to examine it in terms of psychological theory. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who did some pioneering work that sheds some light on this subject. Maslow's work is significant because he chose to study healthy people. He made this choice at a time when most psychological research was focused on neurosis and psychosis–a legacy derived from Sigmund Freud and a medical model of mental health. As a result of his research, Maslow developed a theory of motivation based on a hierarchy of five primary human needs, each level of which must be satisfied before the next level is fully operational:
- Physiological needs. These are the most basic. The need for adequate food, clothing, and shelter are survival requirements that, until they are satisfied, take precedence over other needs. If you are worrying about where you next meal is coming from, you probably aren't spending much time contemplating the more abstract aspects of life.
- Safety needs. These become important once survival needs are met. If personal safety is seriously at risk, this becomes a dominant focus of one's energy and effort. Safety needs are often emergent when you face the challenges of an unfamiliar environment, as when you first start college or when you begin a new job. As you become more familiar with the environment and feel safer, these needs recede in importance.
- Belonging needs. These are motivational factors once physiological and safety needs are satisfied. This level represents the more social elements of human life. Belonging can be realized in many different ways. Some people meet this need by joining clubs, teams, churches, fraternities and sororities. Others get a sense of community from the interaction with fellow students in their classes, association with roommates, or continued contact with family.
- Self-esteem needs become dominant once a sense of belonging is established. A feeling of self-worth, and confidence in one's abilities and capacities, are important at this level of motivation.
- Self-actualization needs are at the pinnacle of Maslow's hierarchy. The realization and fulfillment of one's potential, of one's calling, can only be accomplished at this level of functioning.
Consider why you are pursuing a certain career.Your decision to pursue a given career direction is likely to be a combination of many of these factors. As you can see, working is more than just "bringing home the bacon." According to Maslow's theory, the kind of work you decide to do is a reflection of the level of satisfaction of your needs. Research done in 1983 by The Public Agenda Foundation resulted in a list of the top ten characteristics people seek in their work:
- Respect from their co-workers
- Work that is of some personal interest
- Recognition for work well done
- Opportunity to develop new skills
- Power to improve work methods and procedures
- Latitude to apply one's own thinking
- Ability to see tangible end results
- Efficient management
- Work that is challenging
- Information about what is going on at work.
Match these reasons to the motivations.As you can see, many of these reasons indicate motivation related to belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.
- Interestingly enough, high pay and job security didn't make the top ten, indicating a relative level of satisfaction with basic physiological and safety needs.
Realize that your motivations change during your lifetime.Because the level of need satisfaction is a dynamic and developmental process, your motivation to work is likely to change as you gain life experience. What is most important at one stage of motivation recedes in importance once satisfaction of the primary need at that level is achieved. When this occurs, a different source of motivation becomes dominant.
- In practical terms, this means that the lower your dominant motivation for occupational choice falls within Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the more likely your motivation will change as you grow and develop as a person.
Explore your options in reference to your values.As you conduct your own career planning, explore why work is important to you and clarify the values that you seek from an occupational choice.
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