Kick-Starting Your Motivation: What Do You Need to Get Excited About Work Again?

Money is not the best motivator at work.

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When it comes to motivation, people usually talk about money. If only you could get a raise, or a bigger bonus, or some stock options, you would be a lot more excited to go to work. Right?

Well, actually, while many people think of money when they think of motivation, increasing your salary only works to a point. In fact, being paid more for a task might even become demotivating in the long run. Why? When you keep getting paid increasing amounts of money to do a particular task, your brain actually tricks you into believing that the only reason you are doing the task is for the money. In other words, the more you focus on money, the less likely you’ll be to realize the parts of the job that might be motivating to you on their own.  Basically, the research shows that focusing on the monetary reasons for doing your job will always result in disappointment – unless your company can continuously increase your pay in meaningful ways, you will end up feeling unfulfilled.


Unless, of course, you find other things about your job that you enjoy and focus on those. In fact, if you negotiated for more of what motivates you as a person, you might be able to find a more sustainable strategy for reaching your work goals. Even those with jobs that might seem less motivating on the surface, like janitorial work, have increased their engagement with their work by focusing on the importance of the service they’re providing. But, how do you figure out what motivates you? The research on this topic shows that much of what motivates us was actually discovered almost 50 years ago.

First, most people like to be able to do work that involves some variety. If you are doing the same thing, day in and day out, you are likely to get bored and feel a lack of commitment to your workplace. Being able to mix things up a little bit on the job helps you to remain excited about your work and to feel like you are building new skills that make you more marketable in the future.

Second, almost everyone likes to understand how their work contributes to the “bigger picture”. For that reason, being able to have control over a whole project or process is really motivating. When you feel like you are able to see how you affect the start, middle and end of a project, you are more likely to feel connected to it and to find meaning in working on it.

Third, understanding the “why” of your work is really important. You don’t have to have a high-powered job to understand how your job impacts people. Thinking about how your work impacts others that you work with, customers/end users, the community in which you work, and the world at large, serves to remind you that you matter and that the work you do is key to achieving organizational and societal goals.

Fourth, being able to structure your work the way you want to is motivating. It allows you to have the freedom to work when and how you want, without having to compromise the way you work best. It’s human nature to want to be able to do things “your way” and, while you can’t always make this happen at work, finding ways to be able to take control over your work day can increase the feeling that your work truly belongs to you.

Finally, people thrive on feedback about how they are performing. If you think about the ways that we seek constant feedback through technology (i.e., I can tell exactly how many steps I’ve taken by using a fitness tracker), it’s no wonder that getting feedback at work also keeps people engaged. There is one caveat to this tip though – to be motivating, the feedback doesn’t always have to be positive but it does always have to be constructive.


So, the next time you are feeling like you’re dragging at work and you want to talk to your boss about making a change – don’t ask for money. Try to think about other ways to make yourself excited about your work that are more long-lasting. Are there new tasks that you might take on that will enrich your job and your skills? Can you try to help with the parts of a project that happen before and after your current piece of the pie takes place? Are you able to have more interaction with clients or customers to find out how your work is impacting their lives? Can you negotiate for flexible work hours or to be more “mobile” (e.g., not tied to your desk) while at work? Finally, can you get on the books with your manager for more frequent feedback meetings? Are you able to give your manager feedback during these meetings as well? By finding ways to motivate yourself by improving your work experience overall, you can increase your well-being in a sustainable and meaningful way.

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