What Motivates People to Work?

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Motivation is a great driving factor in productivity. It takes a lot to slow down a motivated individual. It is therefore important to ask: what motivates people to work? Motivation to work is much more than the pay offered to do a job. Let’s delve into what gets people motivated.


Given the economic state of the world it could be easy to assume that motivation can be bought. This is not quite true. Whilst employees should be fairly compensated for their work, it’s not going to be the thing that keeps them going. Most of your motivation comes from your values and beliefs. Motivating others is key to keeping employees. Monetary and material rewards will get people to work, but it won’t keep them and it certainly won’t have them at their most productive. There are two ways in which motivation is categorised, push vs. pull and pleasure vs. pain.

Push and pull

Motivations that push you are obligations and responsibilities. You are pushed to earn a living, buy groceries and eat because you are hungry. Paying rent or meeting deadlines are the result of push motivation. Pull motivations are the things that compel and captivate us. These are the things you are passionate about. You are pulled towards picking up a hobby or supporting a loved one.


Pleasure and pain

Rewarding good work is a great motivator. Pleasure and reward are great motivators because there is a clear end goal. If the work gets done, there will be a reward. Unfortunately punishment and pain can also be used as a motivation. People are motivated to avoid pain, and threatening punishment can discourage unwanted behaviour. Luckily, people respond better to positive motivation, so punishment should be used sparingly.

Non-monetary motivations

There are a number of key needs that drive people. Outside of survival, and the monetary motivations that get us there, we need fulfilment. Fulfilment is achieved when you meet the requirements of your values and beliefs. These are the motivations that get you to enjoy and engage with your work:


People want to do things for themselves. You don’t want someone looking over your shoulder and dictating your every move. People are motivated when they are allowed to work autonomously. It shows that they are trusted and that they are capable.

Growth and mastery

It feels good to master a skill. Proving that you are at the top of your skill or profession is a great reward. The journey to that goal of mastery can be just as rewarding. Mastery requires growth. Offering the opportunity to not only grow, but to master something is an effective motivator.

Purpose and significance

Everyone wants to feel like they are contributing to a purpose. When you feel that you are necessary and that you’re contributing to something significant it gives you a sense of purpose. People want to know that they have an impact. Rewarding good work and showing people the results of their work re-affirms their significance. Establishing clear plans and goals for your business is a great way to show people their purpose.


Fear may seem like an inherently negative motivator, but it doesn’t have to be. Fear motivates us to work harder to avoid failure. So long as you are not paralysed by fear, it encourages you to focus, work hard and find courage.

Opposition and competition

Nobody wants to be beaten. Whether through friendly competition or a bitter struggle against an opponent, people work harder when facing opposition. Sometimes it is necessitated by a competitor threatening to take a reward or opportunity from us. Other times it may simply be to achieve bragging rights. Working against something can promote productivity and teamwork.


Certainty breeds confidence. When you are certain about achieving your goals you are motivated by your guaranteed reward. Inspire confidence in your team by offering them certainty of success. Be careful however as overconfidence can make people stop trying.


Passion is almost synonymous with motivation. It makes work exciting and rewarding. When you are truly passionate you are able to push past obstacles without them wearing you down. Find your passions and inspire those passions in others.


Knowing your destination makes it easier to prepare for your journey. Creating a clear vision of what you want is not always easy. However it will help you understand your desires and drive your passions.


Understanding what motivates people is key to inspiring motivation in others. Motivation makes work a pleasure rather than a chore. It drives productivity and keeps you going when things are tough. I am motivated to help you find your motivation. Contact me for business coaching to improve your business and yourself.


Christian Harbeck, ActionCOACH Business Coach
christianharbeck.actioncoach.com | christianharbeck@actioncoach.com