3 min read

The Six Reasons We Work

We all spend the majority of our days at some kind of work.

Why? Well, money. But a lot of other factors play into why we choose the work we do.

Perhaps some of these reasons resonate?

Wishing to develop a type of competency, a strong belief in what a company stands for, a great boss and honest leadership, or running your own business because freedom is your main value…

Thing is, we dedicate our precious time at work, for a lot of reasons.

And although we dedicate so much of our time to work, too many are disengaged, and worse, actually dislike their work.

If we better understand what drives us, we can better discuss what it means to do a great job and be fulfilled doing it.

So… why do you do the work you do?

When I first this question eight years ago, something in me shifted.

Why the shift?

Because I didn’t like the answer.

How We Unconsciously Choose Our Path

I realized that I had not consciously chosen my path; my job at the time was a result of an unconscious path I had walked.

Shaped by my background, my schooling and the society around me.

In a sense, I’d been sleep-walking into the work I found myself at.

The environment that you spend your time in is hugely important. And it is a deal breaker when you want to realize any type of change.

In the book Primed to perform, the authors Doshi and McGregor, discuss six main reasons people work.

The first three are obviously more desirable, while the bottom three ones are negative sources of motivations.

This is a framework created for larger companies. But I find it applicable no matter where you do your work. It reminds us to look at where we are and why we do the work we do.

Breaking Down The Reasons We Work

The Reason We wok

1. Play

Playing at work means being inspired by the work itself. Play is motivating in itself and closely related to experimentation and curiosity. It is about enjoying the core activities of the work that we do.

Imagine a surgeon loving the intellectual challenge and detailed finesse of surgery. A coffee shop owner loves meeting new people everyday and the art of brewing coffee. We learn from play and has a core tied to curiosity and experimentation.

2. Purpose

While play is the process, purpose is driven by achieving a goal. The work in itself might not have to be rewarding, but you are driven by the impact that your work has.

The reasons we do them is what drives us. The goal justifies the means. You feel purpose when your values and beliefs coincide with the work that you do, and the outcome that you get from it.

3. Potential

Potential serves the outcome of the actual work you are doing. You might be doing work as a sales rep, but your drive is motivation that one day, you can be the sales manager for your area. That’s the motivation of potential.

These three are identified as ‘direct motives’, because they so clearly drive individual performance and potential. The three last forms of motivation are primarily external, i.e. we are not intrinsically driven or motivated by the forms of motivation.

4. Emotional Pressure

The work you do because ‘some external force threatens your identity’. You do work because you don’t want to disappoint yourself or others. Fear, peer pressure, shame and living up to other people’s expectations fall into this type of motivation.

It is a drive that is separate from the work itself, but closely related to your identity.

5. Economic Pressure

This is – again – an external force at work. You might work primarily in order to gain a reward or to avoid some type of punishment. It is not related to your specific work per se.

6. Inertia

You cannot even remember why you work. You pretty much do it because you did it yesterday. It is far removed from your identity and work process, and you can’t answer the question why you are doing it.

Although designed for organisations, this also serves as a solid framework to look at your personal work situation.

Why do you do the work that you do?