The Reward of Work

Posted on November 29, 2022

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I wrote recently how we as humans are drawn toward reward and pleasure and tend to move away from punishment and pain. One reader insightfully asked: "At what point is it about the …pride, passion, satisfaction of doing a good job…?” Great question.

Part of my research for a new book has been the topic of motivation which can be roughly divided into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation relates to external outcomes, separate or distinct from the task itself. This might take the form of monetary rewards, prestige, goal achievement, keeping our job and so forth. We are motivated by something outside of the task itself.

Intrinsic motivation is where our experience of the task is the reward. We get so engaged that we can lose all sense of time. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed this as flow, and because here, the reward of work is the work, “people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it…”*

There are always those tasks that have to be done that are extrinsic in nature, even when we complete them with some degree of commitment. There are other activities however, that we engage in that engage us: we don’t want to stop.

Ensuring our own workdays, and those of our team, contain intrinsically rewarding tasks increases motivation, a sense of personal satisfaction and can also play a big part in employee well-being and longevity.

*Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience,
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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