Are We Responsible for Our Motivation at Work?

Over on, where I've been writing, I raised the question, "Who is responsible for your motivation?"

I found myself asking this question while reading research about motivation at work. As recently as the 1960s, people believed that if you wanted to change worker motivation, you had to change the job. If workers aren't motivated, it's because the work is tedious or boring, and if it's boring then  workers don't have a strong psychological connection to it. They don't feel responsible for it. They aren't experiencing any personal growth doing it. They don't get much recognition for it.

That sentiment started to shift in the 1970s. Researchers started thinking more about the relationship between the work and the worker. They asked questions about the meaningfulness of work, not just in the work itself but as experienced by the worker.

Today, the general attitude (as opposed to the stance in academic research) as I see it puts all the emphasis on the worker. I suspect this change is in part due to the increase of knowledge work, particularly in the developed world. In any event, the feeling today is that you are responsible for your motivation. It never seems to be the job's fault that you don't feel motivated. Even when a knowledge worker feels disconnected from and bored by her work, the prevailing attitude is that she needs to buck up and motivate herself to care more about the work.

In the knowledge work arena, we may be overdue for a reexamination of when we need to change the work rather than the worker, to increase motivation on the job.