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