Why People Enjoy Working

People work well because they enjoy working.

We work for fulfilment, to achieve a sense of accomplishment, to do something we are proud of.

This is best evidenced by the information technology industry’s free Open Source movement — this is software written by volunteers across the world for no reward.

Linux is a major computer operating system comprising some 15 million lines of code representing over a thousand person-years of development — and it’s free. Linux runs much of our corporate computing across the world and is also (partly) used in smartphones, such as the Google Android system.

Wikipedia is another example: a free online encyclopaedia, written by thousands of individuals for no reward other than esteem from their peers and perhaps some element of immortality.

So what is it that motivates people who work nine to five for a salary to go home and spend their free time applying their creativity for no material remuneration?

The answer lies in the upper levels of Maslow’s motivation pyramid (below). It’s our desire for autonomy, mastery and purpose [i].

Autonomy is the desire to be self-directing, to feel that we are not being controlled by someone else but that we are in control. It appeals to a fundamental longing for freedom that is a part of the human nature.

Mastery appeals to our need for self-esteem and achievement and is the reason that people have creative hobbies such as painting, making music, playing games, or writing for little or no financial reward.

Purpose gives us a reason for being, a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Purpose answers the fundamental ‘why’ question.

There are lessons for the agile organization in following Maslow ‘upside down’ — by encouraging an environment where people have autonomy over their work, enjoy realistic deadlines, can be good at what they do and have a purpose to believe in.

That’s what I think…what do you think?

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[i] Dan Pink gives an excellent talk with RSAnimate on YouTube here. His book on the subject is The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books.