What Motivates You To Do Your Best At Work?

We might not believe it, but we are always motivated. Whether we are motivated to do what we are supposed to be doing or being paid to do at the right time, now that is another story.

We might not believe it, but we are always motivated. Whether we are motivated to do what we are supposed to be doing or being paid to do at the right time, now that is another story.

Motivation is never a zero-sum game of gaining or losing motivation at the expense of someone else or even ourselves, for that matter. More often than not, it is a question of what kind of motivation fuels and energizes us at any specific time. Then, like a thermostat, we can check out the motivational “heat” and determine the qualitative degree of motivation we actually have. So what motivates you?

None of us ever lacks motivation. We are simply motivated in different ways by different things at different times.


Take writing this article, for example. There is a deadline by which I have to complete writing this article and submit it to the editor. The date on the calendar is an external cue or reminder of when the article is due. But that date has no motivational force in and of itself. However, if I had a drill sergeant for an editor (which I gratefully do not!), fear might propel me as the date draws closer.

Yes, I have my personal values and my sense of respect for people, my work ethic, and my reputation that motivate me to get the article done on time. I also am committed and loyal to my employer, which I represent with each article. And I am grateful for readers over the years who have written to acknowledge something I wrote that caused reflection, sharing, and possibly changed a belief or behavior.

No doubt some editorial topics are more interesting than others. Curiosity and research can lead to a divergent outcome from what I first expected. One article may be easier or more meaningful than another. A more difficult topic sometimes can open up one’s mind and produce a more fulfilling result.

Personally, it is also rewarding filling in the white space on my computer screen. Creating a written article is a work of artistic expression, melding words to express my thoughts about any given topic.

All this is what motivates me to do my best work beyond meeting any formal obligation I have to Training magazine.


People sod our own lives.

Our drive to fulfill physiological needs, however, is a completely different matter. Take, for example, when you are hungry or thirsty. Once you have met these physical needs or drives, they immediately are satiated and no longer “drive” or motivate you to seek out food and drink.

The motivation we are talking about in our everyday work lives is made up of psychological needs that are the energy source of our internal battery. They are not something that can be satiated and that’s the end of it. Psychological needs constantly need to be met around the clock.

Authors Daniel Pink (“Drive”) and Susan Fowler (“Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work …and What Does”) highlight our human need for autonomy, the ability to choose what you do and have control over, as being essential for all of us to feel motivated. Take this element away from people and we lose the inner fuel to do our very best.

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.” —Jim Rohn

Similarly, in Fowler’s “ARC” motivation model, the second element, relatedness—the need to care for others and be cared about—is probably a factor in my desire to please others and help them whenever possible through my article writing. It is our inherent need to want to make a contribution, to make a difference at work and in society. Pink differs with the relatedness variable by espousing the concept of having a purpose, a reason for doing things for the greater good and a higher purpose beyond the business focus of profits.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” —Margaret Mead

Competence is the last factor in Fowler’s model. It is the need to be effective in the skills we do best at and to have ongoing opportunities for growth and development. Meanwhile, Pink’s review of the motivational research would replace Fowler’s competence need with the element label of mastery. This is the constant desire to learn and grow and hopefully master the different skill sets we either possess or need to develop.

“No human being will work hard at anything unless they believe they are working for competence.” —William Glasser


In a world that is lacking in engaged employees, it might be worthwhile to take an inventory of what is motivating us at work.

Perhaps we can do some self-reflection by asking ourselves questions such as:

  • Do I have real control over the work I do or am I being “done to”?
  • Is my work sufficiently balanced with easy-to-do tasks and opportunities for stretch-and-grow challenges?
  • Can I take time out to reflect and be mindful of my personal “why” or purpose of my work?
  • Am I working to make a positive contribution or am I just going through the motions each day?
  • Have I developed my own skills and abilities with “turning on” my motivation to do the best work possible?

Motivation is a skill set that requires our continual attention and hard work.

And now, I have finished this article!

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit www.Rideau.com.

Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP
Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP, is author of “Practicing Recognition” and Chief Learning Officer at Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, visit: http://AuthenticRecognition.com. For more information, e-mail him at: RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit: www.Rideau.com