Whenever I do this with my students, which is usually in groups of 25 to 30 people, we end up with a mixture of reasons. Depending on the age and work experience of the students, the reasons vary from the feeling of importance and responsibility to the need to interact socially and to belong somewhere, to a feeling of usefulness, an opportunity to learn, to advance up the company ladder; the feeling of security to the need to be surrounded by friendly people.
So far, I have never found two people in one group who would indicate the same reasons in the same order of importance. As simple as this exercise is, it suggests something very important about people's attitudes towards work. Despite similar needs and maybe similar backgrounds and values, people have different intrinsic reasons for getting up every morning and coming to work. These hidden reasons are often referred to as motivation. The tricky thing about motivation is that the more you study it the less you seem to know about it and the more complex it seems.
Several influential thinkers have wanted to find out why people work and why some people work harder than others. At the beginning of the 20th century, studies suggested that with a change of environment there was a positive change in effort. Later, that positive change was assigned to the fact that it was only people who were observed rather than the nature of the change in the environment.
In early studies of motivation, researchers thought that the reasons for motivation lay hidden in people's needs. In other words, people made an extra effort when certain needs were unfulfilled, e.g. when they were hungry they would work for food. Other scientists attributed motivation to factors in the work itself - there were factors that either made people happy and motivated or unhappy and frustrated. The only aspect of work that it was felt could cause both motivation and dissatisfaction was money.
According to some other theories, motivation was hidden in the people themselves - their effort was driven by the need for either power, affiliation or achievement.
Today, motivation is studied in connection with such criteria as job enrichment and job enlargement, compensation, performance appraisal, leadership styles, or decision-making. With such a complex theoretical arena of motivation, the question naturally arises as to whether it is possible to motivate people, and whether it matters at all. Obviously, it is important to pay attention to motivation, since the performance of a company depends on the performance of its people. A motivated workforce is a high-performing workforce. On the other hand, it is more difficult to define what it is that motivates people.
In a very simplistic way, there are two approaches to motivation - on the 'micro' and 'macro' levels. Focusing on what motivates every single individual (treating individuals as individuals) is the 'micro' approach, while designing human resource systems to address the needs of groups of individuals is the 'macro' approach. The micro focus is reflected in leadership and managerial styles, and it is most effective in close supervisor-subordinate relationships. It is the approach taken in the exercise at the beginning of this very article.
Stanislava Luptáková is a lecturer at Comenius University's Faculty of Management. Her column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to Stanislava.Luptakova@fm.uniba.sk.