Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose: What We Really Want From Our Work

The basic ideas of Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us have entered the intellectual mainstream, but they haven’t had much impact upon the world of work. This is a shame.

The key insight of Pink’s research is that money only motivates employees up to a certain point, beyond which it no longer works as a motivator. This does not mean that employees do best when paid low wages—everyone needs enough to live a decent human life—but it does mean that beyond a certain point people aren’t motivated by more money. After a certain point, intrinsic motivation, which comes from within yourself is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation, which comes from outside sources like money.

What people really want from work is: 1) autonomy: self-directed control over their work; 2) mastery: the chance to get better at our work; and 3) purpose: a reason to be motivated to do our work. The key is to pay people enough so that they aren’t thinking about money but thinking about work. And once you do that, the science shows that giving workers the autonomy to master and find purpose in their work will lead them to being happier and more productive. Here are links to all of Pink’s books about work:

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