Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Does great performance depend on enjoying your work?

What fires you to get through today's pile of work? Does it intrinsically attract you, tugging your curiosity? Or do you feel a weight of obligation to do as you're supposed to? These two motivation sources, enjoying work versus being driven to work, have been well examined in the workaholism literature, with obligation leading to personal outcomes such as anxiety and rising guilt. However, despite popular accounts such as Daniel Pink's Drive, there is limited research contrasting how these approaches translate to workplace outcomes.

Laura Graves and her colleagues set out to remedy this, examining three areas that motivation could influence. The team approached managers on  a 5-day leadership program, 357 of whom consented to complete a questionnaire probing how much they enjoyed work, and were driven by it. They also rated two outcome measures: career satisfaction and current psychological strain. A third key measure was work performance, determined by ratings by those who knew the manager:  peers, superiors, direct reports, and others in the organisation.

Managers who reported more enjoyment of work were better performers, experienced less strain and were more satisfied with their careers; good news for them. But higher self-ratings of 'driven to work' were unrelated to these areas; it didn't help, but neither did it hinder. In fact, being driven to work actually helped maintain performance when the enjoyment motive was lacking. However, under that set of conditions psychological strain did increase, suggesting that the obligation motivation can be a blunt instrument of achieving performance when nothing else is available, but it comes at a cost.

This research is important in reinforcing the benefits of a workforce intrinsically stimulated by its daily activities. The effects of enjoying work can be interpreted in terms of positive mood that  increases cognitive capacity through a broaden-and-build effect, and by ensuring that goals achieved are personally meaningful and thereby satisfying. But these findings also suggest that a traditional, obligation-focused mindset isn't calamitous and can be productive – for the organisation, at least - when interesting work is lacking. Findings like this remind us that if we want to move to a world of more fulfilling, happier employment, we shouldn't allow our arguments to solely rely on the organisation's short-term self-interest.

ResearchBlogging.orgGraves, L., Ruderman, M., Ohlott, P., & Weber, T. (2012). Driven to Work and Enjoyment of Work: Effects on Managers' Outcomes Journal of Management, 38 (5), 1655-1680 DOI: 10.1177/0149206310363612


  1. I agree that the motive to work does affect work performance. If someone has a job that they hate or does not enjoy doing, they are not going to want to do the work well or feel motivated to do it. However, someone will be motivated to do the work if they enjoy what they are doing. I for one enjoy my job, and I have the motive to do well, get things done, and keep my manager happy. My advice for people looking for jobs, look for something that is interesting to you, the job will be more enjoyable, and there will be a higher motive to get things done.

  2. I do believe that great work performance can effect your working style and if you actually enjoy your job. This is not always necessarily true, but you if you do love your job then you will most likely have a great working performance and that you will keep doing what you love doing. This can have to do with operant conditioning. It is associating behaviors and consequences.

  3. just an "editorial hint", the article is from 2012, not 2010 ;-)

  4. Thanks monsieurstolli!


    That's an automatically populated field so I will have to find out why that happened...


  5. Nicole Solomon21 October 2012 23:54

    I personally believe that if you do not enjoy the work you do you will not succeed. Succeeding in a job is the base of becoming a better employee. The motivation to want to be at work or not be at work I feel like relates a lot to chapter 6 more towards no motiation only because hypothetically speaking, lets say you have a job that requires you to remember or retain a lot of information, if you have no motivation to be there, motivating forgetting can occur. Motivated forgetting is broken down into two different areas. Motivated forgetting refers to the idea that we forget things because of motivation levels. Normally we are motivated to forget things because something is unpleasent kind of like working if you have work that is unpleasent to you than suppression occurs. Suppression is forgetting consciously which sounds weird but it is literally the deliberate attempt to forget and not remember specific information. Relating back to my job examples where you would be required to remember heavy amounts of information, if you are motivated to forget because the job is unpleasent to you, suppression will occus because you have no motivation to be there, thereofor you will not restore the information. Another form of motivated forgetting is called repression. Repression is much more fundamentally different than suppression. Repression is motivated forgetting that happens unconsciously. This form or motivated forgetting is not as relatable to suppression and motivation to a job, but for example lets say you are studying information for your job that you have zero motivation to be at, if you go to bed with a head full of knowledge on this topic, the memory will be blocked and unavailable when consciousness reoccurs.

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