Motivation and the public sector in Hungary

Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive, argues that societies and businesses need to rethink the way they motivate their students, citizens, employees etc. Drawing on scientific research, the author highlights the weaknesses of how people are mostly externally motivated by their superiors. The focus on external rewards is misguided. When the baseline compensation is adequate and reasonable, intrinsic stimuli — which translates into three main needs, autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose — will benefit both the motivator and motivatee.

The healthcare system, as well as other public work in Hungary, including working in education, are seriously flawed on these fronts. For many, though not all, high-skilled graduates in Hungary there are generally three ways to go:

1. After having finished your studies, and in case you are highly motivated to work in the public sector, or at a college, university, NGO or think tank, and pursue your dreams of becoming what you studied for, your way to a good job and fair pay are slim. You scan the market to find that, if there are jobs available, the competition is extreme (dozens/hundreds of people applying for one position), and/or the pay is unreasonably low. Demotivated and disillusioned, you look at the job market in the private sector, in particular at multinationals. There, the number of positions is abundant and the pay is good. It is not uncommon to earn 2 to 3 times more with a entry-level position at a multinational than you would in the public sector. You start a job at a company that has nothing to do with what you have been studying for in the last decade. You admit defeat, but focus mainly on the free time you have after work or in the weekends. There is a dread of going to work on Monday.

Imagine the motivation of a sizeable portion of the people that fall into that category to be something like this:


2. You decide (beforehand) to pursue your dreams elsewhere, and go abroad. You feel you don’t have a choice. You don’t want to do something you don’t like, and feel the need to satisfy those intellectual needs. Plus the pay in Western Europe, and other highly developed countries is much higher. Going to cities like London seems like a good idea — I tried my luck there as well — but the competition can be killing. Success abroad is not guaranteed either.

3. You have a very strong internal drive to make a difference and do good, and take on that painfully underpaid job. The job comes with a lot of a stress, since you struggle to make ends meet and know that you should work in the private sector too. Given the overburden of students/patients/cases, you fail to allocate the necessary about of time that would be needed to do the job according to your own standards, which further pushes the limits of what you might tolerate.

If healthcare and education were made more market-driven, then perhaps pay could be according to the skill level and prevent massive brain drain.

This brings me to another issue, namely the over-abundance of university students. Note that I refer not to the need for equal chances to enjoy the highest level of education for all, but rather to the very mistaken perception, and subsequent requirement by businesses and society at large, that obtaining a university degree necessarily means better career prospects and a happier life.

Two parallel processes are at play. More and more people enter university, initially designed for the most technical and abstract-minded people, though would be much better off, and feel more at ease, doing a more practical form of education. If these educational forms were equally appreciated, both future employees and employers would be more satisfied, because for both the skill set and job description are a better match.

Secondly, the consequence of so many people having a university degree compromises the quality of higher education. When the expectation for most companies is that (entry-level) applicants have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, all the applicants and prospective employees will need such a degree accordingly. Yet in so many entry-level positions applicants are not tested on the basis of their degree, but company-specific tests. Then why have a Master in International Relations or Business Administration when the basic requirement is that you speak English and a second foreign language, and are able to do logic tests in a reasonable amount of time?

Parents also play a role in the process. In a time where things move very quickly, and where it is actually no longer obvious that younger generations will be better off than their parents, the belief parents have is that, as long as their kids have a university degree, they will be fine. That pressure of youngsters to have to go to a university of college, rather than start a job and find their way a bit later, leads to an unnecessary and perpetual feeling of anxiety. Also societal pressures — “because that is what you’re supposed to do”, create a mismatch between the interests of youngsters and what they are good at, on the one hand, and what they study, on the other.

Let younger generations struggle in life, let them fail, let them travel and see other places, let them quit their studies to try their luck in the arts or work at Starbucks. It’s their life and they will figure it out, somehow. I would argue that parents should provide their kids with the opportunity to go to the university, just as much they should have the opportunity to do the things which they love.

Also check Daniel’s Pink TEDtalk on the topic of motivation, it’s worth 18 minutes of your life.

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