Daniel Pink on What Motivates Workers to Work Well


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.

Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation was a provocative account of how the entrepreneur benefits from being an entrepreneur. I enjoyed the book, and reference it frequently.
I have not had a chance to read Pink’s recent Drive, but hope to do so soon.

(p. A17) Science, Mr. Pink says, has shown that we are motivated as much intrinsically, by the sheer joy and purpose of certain activities, as extrinsically, by rewards like pay raises and promotions.

The science that Mr. Pink is referring to rests largely on the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at Claremont Graduate University. These three researchers have found that we do our best work when motivated from within, when we have control over our time and decisions and when we feel a deep sense of purpose. Under such conditions, we can achieve real mastery over whatever it is that we do.
The modern workplace, Mr. Pink laments, is too often set up to deny us this opportunity. Firms that hope to optimize efficiency by making their employees clock in and out, attend compulsory meetings, and receive pay for performance are de-motivating through excessive control. What they should be doing, he argues, is giving workers the chance to do their best work by granting them more autonomy and helping them to achieve the mastery that may come with it.
Mr. Pink cites an Australian software firm, Atlassian, that allows its programmers 20% of their time to work on any software problem they like, provided it is not part of their regular job. The programmers turn out to be much more efficient with that 20% of their time than they are with their regular work hours. Atlassian credits the 20% with many of its innovations and its high staff retention. Companies as large as Google and 3M have similar programs that have produced everything from Google News to the Post-It note.
. . .
. . . : Beyond serving our basic needs, money doesn’t buy happiness. We need a greater purpose in our lives. Our most precious resource is time. We respond badly to conditions of servitude, whether the lash of the galley master or the more subtle enslavement of monthly paychecks, quarterly performance targets and the fear of losing health insurance. Work that allows us to feel in control of our lives is better than work that does not.     . . . , these lessons are worth repeating, and if more companies feel emboldened to follow Mr. Pink’s advice, then so much the better.

For the full review, see:
PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON. “More Than a Paycheck; Workers are more efficient, loyal and creative when they feel a sense of purpose–when work has meaning.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Feb. 2, 2010): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated Feb. 5, 2010.)

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