What motivates us?

Can you imagine yourself contributing to the defense of peace in an unknown land, spending your whole life transmitting the same knowledge year after year, or covering the news of a country night and day?
Most of you will answer “no” to this question, but ironically, the positions of soldier, teacher and journalist make up a large percent of vocations every year. We cannot account for this popularity by looking at salaries alone, because it is clear these are not professions chosen simply to get rich. So, how do we explain the high number of people interested in them? In other words, what motivates us?



Need for Motivation and Motivation by Need
If you had to choose between satisfying a physiological need, leaving a precarious job for a stable job, meeting new colleagues, being recognized for your expertise, or progressing in your career, what would you choose and in what order?
According to the work of the American psychologist Abraham Maslow, you would be motivated by each of these five needs and in the suggested order (i.e. prioritizing your physiological need first). Motivation would then come from the successive satisfaction of these different types of needs.



Pay More to Motivate More?
The psychologists Edward Deci and Ryan demonstrated that money should not be used as a motivational technique. Indeed, according to their studies, a bonus causes an increase in motivation for only a short period of time; moreover, the withdrawal of this same bonus has the effect of reducing the original motivation. To be sustainable, motivation must therefore come from the activity itself.
The psychologist Richard Hackman and the economist Greg Oldham go further by defining the criteria for a motivating activity, which should be: interesting, diversified, meaningful, but also consistent with one’s skills and be followed by constructive feedback to improve performance.



Equity and Motivation
The American psychologist John Stacey Adams developed the theory that we tend to compare what we bring to the company (results, skills, etc.) with the benefits derived from this contribution (salary, working conditions, recognition, etc.) while also comparing our situation with that of other people within our company or on the market.
When we perceive equality between these different ratios, we feel a sense of fairness and we have a high level of motivation. On the other hand, when we notice an imbalance, we perceive unfairness and seek to obtain more compensation (promotion or salary increase), reduce our level of contribution, or leave the company to join another that seems more fair.



Theories of Self-Regulation
Sun Tzu taught us: “He who has no goals, is not likely to achieve them.” Edwin A. Locke, a university professor in Maryland, goes further by defending the idea that, to be motivating, an objective must be clear and precise, in line with one’s skills and followed with encouragement. Kindness therefore rhymes with performance. Indeed, there are as many sources of motivation as there are expectations.
A distance from preconceived ideas, a better knowledge of oneself, and a better knowledge of motivational tools are the three key elements to generate motivation and make it last.

First published in Focus RH