If we were men in some great battle, our pain would be physical. The greatest warrior would be our leader; our general. He would wield a sword and you would respect his command for two reasons: 1) Because he is great and 2) because you fear him.
But these days the wrath of our general is delivered in a conference room rather than on the battlefield. The sword has been replaced by a Smartphone. Bows and arrows have been substituted by stern emails and carefully selected recipients in the CC and BCC fields (don’t you love it when someone CC’s your boss for no reason?) Our armor is who we know and how well they like us. Motivation in the workplace has gone from the desire to do your best into a simple will of survival. And worst of all: We let ourselves be hypnotized into this form of mind control.
Serving the Hand that Feeds You?
One of my customers made a comment that if his boss were to leave the company they work for, he would likely follow him to wherever he goes. Perhaps maybe they have a great working relationship. Or perhaps maybe this boss is such a mentor that the only way this individual gets motivated is to work solely for him.
Or maybe this person is just scared ….
Are our careers really so dependent upon the opinion of one man or woman? Will you let them be?
The Unfortunate Truth About Motivation in the Workplace:
Unfortunately, there are many indicators that seem to suggest that this form of mind control can and does exist.
What motivates us at work is no longer the satisfaction we feel from a job well done or an increase in pay. Rather it’s the manipulation of the opinions of others and how they affect effect our working (and ultimately our personal) lives. Inspiration comes less from the common good and more from an innate desire to “not be next” on the workplace chopping-block.
Make no mistake: If there is something they don’t really teach you in college as you’re preparing for your first big professional job, it’s the fact that so much of your career, future, and relative income will be dependent upon your ability to please the right people. You don’t have to make everyone happy; just the ones that can could potentially stunt your occupational growth and severely limit your opportunities.
This is an unfortunate but very true danger that many people don’t even realize until it’s too late. And you can’t ignore it. Once the damage is done, it’s very difficult to undo.
Not long ago I wrote a commentary on workplace gender inequality that was based on an article I read about a billionaire who openly admitted he felt women couldn’t be as good of stock traders as men. You can think anything you want about the man who said that or the way things “should be”. But at the end of the day, make no mistake: This billionaire was in charge and likely going to get away with being biased towards his employees. More sickening is the fact that without a doubt his bias has most certainly infected the entire culture of his employees and the way they look, act, and think about each other.
The Cycle Has Always Been a Part of Our Lives:
It’s a very strange paradigm of beliefs we instill within ourselves. We start by raising our children not to judge or hold prejudice. We tell them that all people are created equal and that all opportunities are out there for the taking if you can just set your mind to it. Some people grow up to proudly defy all odds and conquer the world. But that is only a small percentage. For the rest of us working class folks, we find ourselves at the mercy of other people’s opinions right from the very start of our workplace entry:
- The interview process is based just as much (if not more) on the opinion of those interviewing as it does your actual talents and skills
- The success of your first assignment with the company is based on the opinion of whoever you work for. If they are fair, they may say you did well. If they are a tyrant, they may only point out your faults and tell other people of your criticisms.
- Unless your raise or performance bonus is written into your contract or company policy, this is certainly an area that is based on the whims and attitudes of others. Please the Masters and you will be rewarded handsomely. However, if you do good work and DO NOT win their affections, you still stand to see your income opportunities severely reduced.
- Managers will only give those whom they trust a shot at the next big promotion or on the ladder to senior level. Piss off the wrong people and you’ll be stuck in workplace purgatory for forever.
Motivate Yourself into Action:
While I wish there was some great solution or escape route to offer you, I fear that my efforts would be in vain. Even the late, great authority on management and workplace motivation Peter Drucker with all his authorship and books on the subject could not offer any perfect resolution. But then again few things in life ever do have one solution.
What matters is not so much what happens to us but rather how we react to them. And there are certainly lots of reactions that can happen at the workplace that are within your control:
- Fight it.
- Change positions.
- Work with other people.
- Change jobs.
- Start your own business.
No matter how you decide to react or find the right motivation, you should know: The equation will always stay in equilibrium until someone changes the inputs and throws off the balance. If you want things to change, you have to introduce something new into the system. Otherwise nothing will ever change.
And while you yourself may not have much impact in the area of mind control over the thoughts and actions of others, there is simply one thing you can do to combat this phenomenon: Not buy into it.
When you become the boss, when you become in charge of the lives of others, remember how you felt and don’t let the cycle continue. Just because you excel doesn’t mean that you can’t still hold your ideals.
Always remember that the whole thing is a game – a game to be won. There will be winners and there will be losers. The question is how do you survive your workplace long enough to be a winner?
I tend to write a lot of reflective posts on My Money Design. But if I had to choose a favorite, it would be a piece I wrote a few months back called Believing In Yourself After Finding Out That You Suck. It was simply something that I felt and wanted to serve as a reminder to myself that no matter what people think of your work you can still drive yourself to success. I still believe that to be true. Remember that you are both your only cheerleader and your only judge of your performance. If you want real motivation in the workplace, look for it within yourself. If you want to be critical, be open and honest with yourself and you will find it in the same place. But don’t fall under the spell of others. Be your own person with a good set of priorities. They will take you further than anything else ever will.
1) Practicing Entrepreneurship the Fraidy-Cat Way – Using Your Job
2) Embrace That You ARE in Sales
3) The Management Skills List – Do You Have What it Takes to Earn More This Year?
4) Resume Screening Tips and Confessions from Someone Who Interviews
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says
I go through phases where I am really keen on work and then other phases where I am like – “I need to quite this sh*t hole!”.
I used to be really motivated by money and was always looking for the next pay rise. Now I am less interested in that and more interested in job satisfaction. Although I am sure it will swing around again.
I feel exactly the same way. Money used to be my main motivator. Now I just want to “feel good” about what I do; like I made a difference. Do you think the money part has anything to do with the self-liberation of needing it through making websites, investing, etc?
Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says
I think it might be the whole online income thing that has changed my perception. Working 9-5 just seems like such a frivolous waste of my time when I could be adding to my online income.
John S @ Frugal Rules says
Nice post MMD! These are some of the very reasons I left my job to run our business. I realize not everyone has that opportunity, but I just got so tired of trying to please those around me that I felt like I was banging my head against a wall constantly. Life, in general, can revolve around making others happy, but it can be freeing not to have to do that at work on a regular basis.
I can completely identify with why you and probably a lot of other people go to work for yourself. I’m sure it is a feeling like no other to work and operate the way you feel you should without the BS politics or games getting involved.
[email protected] says
Love this post! I agree that you can get really far just by making the right people happy. Still, there was really nowhere to “go” at my old job and my boss just sat in his office and looked at fishing poles on ebay all day. That was definitely some motivation to get out on my own and quit working for others.
Some people can’t keep their ambition bottled up for forever. You’ll probably go leaps and bounds on your own with just your enthusiasm as the fuel.
Thomas | Your Daily Finance says
I got tired of trying to please everyone and for the most part you will just never keep up. I had some places where they don’t want you to learn and others where they expect the world on limited time. It used to be do a great job get promoted make more money. Now I say I can do this ish on my own so I got out of the rat race. Its not easier but I am more as ease with myself and desires for life and enjoyment. I have had jobs where I left when my boss left. It was because the only reason i could put up with the job was because I knew he/she had my back. Once they left it would be hell and then some.
Unrealistic expectations are one of the most frustrating things about any work environment.
A good boss and one with enough integrity to have your back in times of trouble is rare to come by. Sometimes if your employer stinks, they can be a great shield. And without that shield, I’d consider leaving as well.
Sam Gill @ Digital Spikes says
Good post MMD, You can’t please everyone and anyone, even if you try to do so there would be people still complaining, therefore it is better you do what you enjoy to do and more than money it is all about satisfaction of doing and achieving. I would say more than money or anything else, I am self motivated, I take up only those things which I love to do and that keeps me motivated
I followed my boss once to a new company. It was a student job and those are generally tedious but he managed to make it bearable, fun even. It was not intended as a career move, just a way to ensure working and studying would still be possible.
Matt Becker says
Great stuff here. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of relying on other people’s judgments to determine our self-worth. A lot of our school system is set up that way, as is the standard employer-employee relationship. I know it’s something I’ve struggled with, but striving to find your own motivation and own self-evaluation process is so critical to making any real positive strides in this world. I would say that it’s pretty tough to be truly happy if you can’t do that, because you’re always going to be looking for someone else to approve.
Good point Matt. Since Kindergarten we’re trained like dogs to seek the approval of our master. Do well and you can be in the front of the line. Do poorly and you will sit in the corner. But what is right and wrong is subjective to the person making the judgement. And as long as they own the company or are held in high regard, their opinion is the judge and jury. It seems wrong, but it is an unfortunate reality.
Monica @MonicaOnMoney says
Great post! I agree that its nearly impossible to make everyone happy. Your article makes me think about what’s really important. Thanks!
Thanks and welcome to the site.
Debt and the Girl says
Having that confidence in yourself is so important. I agree you need to be your own cheerleader. I am still working on that. Sometimes its harder than other times but thats just life. Great article!
At some point you just have to say “I know I’m pretty darn good at what I do”. If you believe it, you’ll be able to make other people believe it too.
Financial Samurai says
The game is a tough one. I only lasted 13 years before I had to get out. I reached my limit and wanted to be my own boss.
Perhaps you give me hope then that I’ve only got 3 more years …
[email protected] says
You certainly have to learn how to jump through the hoops if you want to get ahead. Either that or find a way to be your own boss. That is challenging in itself, but at least you only have yourself and your performance to blame or thank.
I’m sure you can testify that becoming your own boss creates a totally new set of challenges. Unfortunately for as long as we need money and income there will always be some kind of price to pay. Perhaps its just a game of playing the lesser of two evils.
My legs are in great shape from dodging so many bullets of the last few years… and the I got hit (laid off). It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I suddenly had the time to truly take a step back and evaluate my path and goals, and now I have a perspective I am comfortable with in my new job. I have done a lot less dodging over the last 10 months, as a result.
That is great to hear that it all worked out for you in the end. Sometimes things happen that seem bad, but really they open the door to something better.
Your comment about leaving to follow a boss or individual is very applicable in my case. My current boss actually brought me over to my current role, and in fact my prior role, each time getting me a substantial rise in the process. He has just moved to join a new company and is interested in getting me to follow there. I may well end up doing so, as the role is pretty promising, and the pay bump will help accelerate my path to financial independence, but I sort of feel like I need to prove my own worth by building up something on my own.
It is easy to get into the habit of moving around with the same boss as you get familiar with working style and if the work is meaningful. Of course, it only works if you get along with the guy and he’s a nice person, not an a’hole.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with following a boss you truly believe in and who will accelerate your career. We should all be so lucky! What bothers me are the people with bosses that suck, and so they do crappy work knowing that their boss will let them get away with it. Quite a big difference. I’m sure that if your boss is a decent guy and respected in your field, then other people will view you with respect as well. Proving yourself should be no problem.
Financial Independence says
One of the greatest motivators we have are : number of jobless people on the street, fear of having no job and being a looser.
I think motivation is always there, it depends how clear are the goals and desires.
Anyone who has ever been on hard times or worked in a terrible job can use that bad experience as motivation to never return to that sorry state ever again.
I’ve researched motivation in the workplace quite extensively. It’s such an interesting topic. I think it’s so important to be motivated to make things better if you are unhappy with your job. Too bad so many people don’t improve their situations.
I couldn’t imagine not doing “something about it” if I was truly unhappy and wanted to improve my overall situation. I can see how a lot of people get stuck or just simply don’t know what to do. Nothing kills your potential quite like having a low self worth at work.
Such a wonderful article and extremely enlightening. I’m 9 months removed from one job I disliked (they’ve lost 60% of their staff in the past 2 years) and 4 months into a new job that I hate (working for a university with a professor who has a long history of not being able to keep anyone because of his behavior).
I’m at a crossroads of wanting to work for myself and being too wimpy to take the risk of jumping into freelance/project work. I’m hoping that little by little I can build up my personal portfolio over the next few years to be able to work full-time on my own.
Thanks Ben and welcome to the site. I’m sorry to hear about the dissatisfaction with the new job. Perhaps it is some kind of awakening or encouragement to find the courage to seek out your own way. Good luck if you decide to finally make that leap.