Motivation in the Workplace: How to Get It Right

Leaders all over the world stand constantly challenged on how to motivate people in the workplace

Why do people show up for work in the morning? What drives us to set the alarm, wake up early, commute by car, train, shuttle, by foot, bicycle, self-driving cars or planes?

Many creative knowledge workers (and that’s who this article is mainly directed at) have all the basics covered economically and could, if we wanted, live our lives differently. Maybe work less. Get up later. Consume less. Travel more privately — travel less workwise. Go to fewer meetings. Read more books. Take a swim at noon. Or whatever drives and motivates us in the workplace and in our private lives.

Today the borders between work-life and private life have become more fluent. We mix private life and work-life and live more and more boundlessly. Facebook, Slack, Microsoft Teams, HipChat, Google Hangouts, Messenger for Business, Skype, e-mails, etc. All apps that are seldomly turned off and work across the two spheres of life. We seem to find more and more motivation in the workplace and hence the willingness to take on more projects, tasks, and responsibilities also increased.

The Creative Knowledge Worker and the Right Brainers

Why is work so important to us and what is it that drives our motivation in the workplace? This article will gaze closely into what motivates and drives the creative knowledge worker. (1) Many of the traits may also be useful to other types of workers with of more routine based work (2) but our knowledge in this research field suggests a division between the creative knowledge worker and more routine based worker. (3)

The New York Times top 10 Bestseller, Daniel Pink, described in his book from 2006; A Whole New Mind, how the future workforce demand is changing from the more routine based skills (left brain) to more and more creative skills (right brain):

“The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of “left brain” dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which “right brain” qualities — inventiveness, empathy, meaning — predominate.”

We may call it right brain activities or creative knowledge work but the point is, that this type of work and its workers are highly valued and are representing a larger and larger percentage of today’s workforce. Especially in countries like The US, UK, Western European countries, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia & New Zealand, etc. And also in countries with a huge workforce such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, often referred to as the BRIC countries.

The demand for ‘right brainers’ is constantly increasing and these are the three main traits that they possess:

  • ‍think in macro perspectives,
  • ‍the ability to work in larger connectivity with people and systems, and
  • ‍think creatively as idea makers and problem solvers.
The left vs. the right brain

So the question remains, what drives Motivation in the Workplace for Creative Knowledge Workers — the right brainers?

Before we go deeper into the mechanisms of motivation, let me shortly introduce three overall types of motivation.

Three Main Drivers of Motivation

  1. Biological drive: Reproduction (and carnal urges), hunger, thirst.
  2. Extrinsic Rewards (and punishments): Monetary compensation, wages, pay, job titles, awards, benefits, perks, and verbal praise.
  3. Intrinsic Rewards: Mastery, autonomy and purpose (Pink 2007)

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