The Heart of Motivating Workers


Last week, my class startled me with questions that required my introspection. “Dr. Green, what motivates you to do the things that you do?” Of course, it wasn’t out of order since we were discussing how managers can motivate followers. It made me ponder for a moment.  What does any high performing person want from a career?

Each person has their own motivation. Joan Liebler and Charles McConnell, authors of Management Principles for Health Professionals, argue that managers must motivate workers in order to get work done efficiently and effectively. The authors further insist it is critical for ‘adaptation to organizational demands.’ It is clearly most organizations cannot handle disruptive change.

Yet, the issue is…most managers don’t know how to accomplish motivating workers. In the book Contemporary Management, Gareth Jones and Jennifer George make the case that understanding motivation is important for managers because it ‘explains why people behave the way they do in organizations.’

I argue that individuals are motivated from within. At the heart of the matter, workers must see the need for an action in order to wholeheartedly accept it in organizations. Yes, yes, people love a handsome salary. However, is it enough to create extraordinary and sustainable performance over the long-term?  I think not! 

According to the Conference Board research group, only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work. This situation fosters an environment of emotionally drained folks. With spirituality on the forefront, most high performers are motivated by more than extrinsic rewards.

Knowledge workers want more. In fact, this new attitude may result in more people taking control of their careers and becoming entrepreneurs in the future. Mari Alboher, author of One Person, Multiple Careers, maintains it is possible to work one’s daily routine while engaged in his or her dream job. She calls this process slashing. Slashing involves pursuing multiple vocations instead of just one.

Individuals, like Leonardo da Vinci excelled in a variety of areas without sacrificing anything.  Alboher notes, “Pursuing multiple vocations is by no means new…What’s new is that huge swaths of the population are being swept up in ‘The Slash Effect’ – creating personalized careers that can only be described with the use of slashes.”

Pop culture promotes this hunger in the workplace. In the past, workers were content to have a good job. But today—what individual is motivated by an uninspiring boss and a boring job? Postmodernism speaks to this culture shift. While modernists place man at the center of reality through utilizing science, postmodernists, who place no one at the center of reality, has no core explanation of life. Some experts characterize by several attributes: (a) there is the denial of absolute truth, (b) all facts are not hard facts, (c) meanings are through the interpreter rather than the text, (d) climate of cynicism/pessimism, and (e) advocacy of understanding through a local community setting. Therefore, it is clear that postmodernism provides an opportunity for value conflicts in traditional organizations.

Unfortunately, many managers do not want to understand how to inspire their workforce unless it is a simple solution. Therefore, some workers who are unhappy with their situation try to conceal their discontent and provide mediocre performance.

What can managers do to inspire postmodern workers to greater performance? 

© 2010 by Daryl D. Green

10 thoughts on “The Heart of Motivating Workers

  1. Some would argue it’s not even possible to motivate employees-that all motivation is intrinsic and management’s job is to build a system that allows them to tap their intrinsic motivation.

  2. There is not one single answer to the question when dealing with several individuals. In order for managers to motivate the “postmodern” workforce, the key is to be flexible. More and more, the employee’s focus is on individuality and self-expression. Managers should employ a variety of techniques and should be willing to accept that there will be some people that are purposely distant and/or unmotivated. Given the current rate of unemployment, workers are much more concerned about keeping their jobs. Even in entry-level jobs, we have seen customer service improve greatly compared to 5-years ago when employment was much high and jobs were plentiful. David Sirota believes that “Most companies have it all wrong. They do not have to motivate their employees. They have to stop de-motivating them. The great majority of employees are quite enthusiastic when they start a new job. But in about 85 percent of companies, employees’ morale sharply declines after their first six months. The fault lies squarely at the feet of management—both the policies and procedures companies employ in managing their workforces and in the relationships that individual managers establish with their direct reports.”
    David Sirota, Louis A. Mischkind, and Michael Irwin Meltzer. “How Management Demotivates.” Harvard Business School Archives. Accessed June 17, 2010.

  3. David & Kathryn, great points!

    In motivation is driven from within, then—why have corporations been spending millions to get others—-motivational speakers, trainers, consultants…to motivate workers?

  4. Motivating Workers
    Michelle Schmitz
    Asking what motivates workers reminds me of the nature vs. nurture argument. People will never agree which one is more important but I will argue that it is both. Some people give even the most minuscule of tasks their best effort other people will always do the minimum needed to get by. It seems that some people are just driven we call them “Type A personalities”. When a manager wants to motivate workers they should work with the different personalities of their employees. Giving worker what they want can be a great way to increase productivity. Employees want minimum commuting, the ability to work from home, flexible work hours, new challenges, recognition for their accomplishments communication between management and employees is key to motivation. A manager who treats their employees well and is respectful would be able to keep their employees motivated and increase their productivity. It is important that employees have a sense of belonging and are proud of their work. If a manager does these things they will keep workers motivated.
    Works Cited
    Hartley, S. (2007). Motivating Workers. Buisness Date , 1-3.

  5. “Motivation is the inner force that drives employee behavior. The intensity of
    one’s inner force to do a task or accomplish a goal describes the level of motivation.
    Two people may both say and believe they want to be excellent employees. The intensity
    of their desire to be excellent measures their motivation,” (Erven and Milligan). I found this quote to be identical to my own views on motivation and it relates to Dr. Green’s view of inner motivation discussed in his original post. I believe the desire comes from within but it is the inspiring or dulling factors that surround us that influence our decisions. We may be passionate and motivated in many areas but the influential and promoting forces within a topic have great impact on the level of achievement put forth by an individual. My experiences this past week as a delegate in the AOA House of Delegates has sparked an inner motivation to lead and serve the medical community. I believe that allowing students to serve as state delegates has an ulterior purpose of igniting motivation in student leaders to continue students’ commitment and involvement in the organization, which is an intelligent move in my opinion.

    Erven, Bernard and Milligan, Robert. “Making Employee Motivation a Partnership”, 2001.

  6. How to motivate one’s workers is an age old question asked by managers. The postmodern workplace has changed the answer searched for by many managers. In a study by the Harvard Business Review, a survey of managers assumed that “recognition for good work” was the top priority for workers satisfaction. However, the survey of works determined that “support for making progress” was the top priority for worker satisfaction. While the managers were wrong, each of them is aware that a satisfied worker means a motivated and thus productive worker. While the issue of motivating workers has been in question for years, it really has become a simple answer in the postmodern workplace. Managers need to support the efforts of their workers to reduce the roadblocks they may encounter. Workers that make progress in their work have a sense of accomplishment and thus have a desire to move forward in that progress. However, roadblock and bureaucracy frustrate workers and hinder their motivation and productivity.

    Kamensky, John M. “Motivating workers is easier than you think.” Federal Computer Week, January 21, 2010.

  7. Motivating today’s workers is a difficult tasks. There is a high turnover rate as a result of dissatisfied workers. If one could figure out a way to properly motivate today’s workers, maybe we would have a less of a turnover in today’s workforce. I believe the best way to motivate workers is by rewarding them. Managers could incorporate some type of rating system for employees and they can receive bonuses for their good work. The more incentive workers have to make money, the more motivated they will be to work harder for more money. Another way managers can motivate today’s workers is by investing in the workplace itself. Google is the perfect example. Employees at Google do not have to pay for food or soda, the working times are liberal, and they have a workplace that doesn’t feel like they are sitting inside a jail cell. Of course, it will be impossible to motivate a worker who has no desire to be in that field. Therefore, you have to be careful to choose your employees and make sure they really are doing what they enjoy. With all of these ideas, hopefully managers can help inspire employees to achieve higher productivity. (Tech Productivity, 2008)

    Works Cited

    Tech Productivity. (2008, September 8). Retrieved July 15, 2010, from Tech Productivity:

  8. Some factors I believe manager could take into an account to inspiring postmodern workers are: respect, culture, flexibility, honesty, to name a few.

    Postmodern workers are of course different from the previous generation of workers. What worries many managers is that postmodern workers are soon going to make up the majority of the employee pool as the baby boomers retire states Daryl Green in the article titled Knowledge Management for a Postmodern Workforce: Rethinking Leadership Styles in the Public Sector.
    Mangers, if their goals are to motivate and retain gen-Y workers should be honest and never over-sell the position. Employees will be quick to leave when the position turns out to be something else than promised. Manages should also respect the young employees and not relate young with inexperience. Understanding the culture of postmodern workers is also important for it will allow mangers to communicate with the same lingo with their new age employees.

    Daryl Green. “Knowledge Management for a Postmodern Workforce: Rethinking Leadership Styles in the Public Sector” Journal of Strategic Leadership. 2008

  9. All the latest research of human motivation proves it beyond the shadow of doubt that self-interest is the greatest motivator of all. To bring the best out of postmodern workers is to provide them a stake in the business. These members should have a definitive assurance that they stand to benefit and reap rewards from the success of the enterprise.

    In regards to company’s spending millions in bringing outside help to motivate, that is an out-dated practice which has proven not to work efficiently. Motivating speakers come and make lots of noise and after a day or two, all is forgotten. This creates temporary excitement but does not create long-term improvement in performance. Inner motivation based on self-interest is the only thing that has been proven to work. Google is a perfect example of a company using the method of self-interest or a stake in the business to motivate its employees. Google provides their workers rewards and incentives which seem to work.


    David Schultz, “Professional Ethics in a Postmodern Society,” Public Integrity, 6:4, (Fall 2004), 285-90, American Society for Public Administration.

  10. This article is an eye opener to look at my workplace from a different angle. Out of fifteen workers including a manager, five are the Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1964) while the remaining ten are the Generation X (1965-1980). Two thirds of workforce is the Generation X being managed by Baby Boomer. Wow, what a gap! I never even thought of the gap may be creating uneasy tasks to motivate the young workforce. Zig Ziglar stresses that the healthiest of all human emotions is gratitude. I’m not sure what and how much Generation X of the Millennial Generation would appreciate at workplace. Is it pay, vacation, promotion, benefit, and more? Another Ziglar’s quote is that we will get all we want in life if we help enough other people get what they want. Also, one of five keys to supporting employees’ motivation is by understanding what motivates each of them. We can find this out by asking them, listening to them and observing them. (2) So I agree with Dr. Green saying that an organization comprised of a multigenerational workforce, motivating employees at every level is important. (1) What kind of characteristics the postmodern leader should have? Schmidt suggests the leaders should be (a) adaptable, (b) spiritual-focus, (c) tolerance for ambiguity in life, (d) entrepreneurial approach, (e) service-oriented, (f) accountable for action, (g) lifelong learners, (h) upgrading performance, and (i) participatory. Let’s discover what each generation wants and be a generation effective leader!

    (1) Green, D. (2008). Knowledge Management for a Postmodern Workforce: Rethinking Leadership Styles in the Public Sector. Journal of Strategic Leadership, Vol. 1 Iss. 1, 16-24.
    (3) Schmidt, H. (2006). Leadership in a postmodern world. Retrieved March 7, 2006, from

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