First things first: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be paid – and paid well – for your work. The best things in life may well be free, but food, shelter, and all the other necessities of life certainly aren’t. Don’t hesitate to negotiate for the best salary you can command. (And if you haven’t already, take PayScale’s Salary Survey to get a free report that will tell you what, exactly, your best salary looks like.)
All that said, money is necessary to your professional and personal happiness, but it isn’t sufficient. If you really want to be happy at work, you need to know what motivates you to do your best. According to science, there is something that does that even better than a fat paycheck: being able to see the fruits of your labors.
(Photo Credit: By Zanchi, Antonio – Mauritshuis, The Hague, Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)
In his TED talk, What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?, behavioral economist Dan Ariely describes an experiment in which two groups of participants were asked to assemble LEGO Bionicles for money. After the first group completed their creations, the Bionicles were put in a box to be disassembled later. After the second group finished their task, the LEGOs were taken apart right before their eyes. Unsurprisingly, the participants in the second group built fewer Bionicles than those in the first group.
What does this mean? Well, if you don’t think your work is productive, it’s hard to feel motivated and invested in continuing. There’s a reason Ariely calls the second condition of the experiment “the Sisyphic condition,” after Sisyphus, the character in Greek mythology doomed to push the same rock up a hill for all eternity. No one wants to be Sisyphus at their job. When we feel like there’s no point to our work, we don’t want to continue.
What Does This Mean for You, the Working Professional?
Feeling that your work has purpose (or at least, a result that lasts longer than the time it takes to disassemble a Bionicle) probably isn’t the only thing that motivates you to do your best work. In fact, as other researchers have noted, motivation varies from person to person. You might feel motivated by challenge, while your co-worker is motivated by excelling at what she does, and your boss craves a sense of teamwork.
But, if you truly feel that your work isn’t productive, it probably doesn’t matter how much money you make or how much of your identity is wrapped up in being an employee of an impressive brand-name company. Eventually, you’ll make fewer Bionicles, so to speak.
The goal is to find work that fulfills as many of your needs as possible, including what motivates you personally, while also providing a sense that your showing up to work today had a purpose beyond ensuring that the checks keep coming.
Tell Us What You Think
What motivates you at work, besides the money – or is a paycheck all you really need out of your job? Tell us about it in the comments, or join the conversation on Twitter.