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Career Satisfaction & Employee Motivation: Some Common Elements

The topic of employee motivation always draws attention, whether it’s the chosen topic of a speaker, a blog topic, or brainstorming at company headquarters.   Similarly, the topic of career satisfaction is front and center with many professionals that are looking to strike out from their current job.   These two topics are, in actuality, the same.    The common elements contributing to employee motivation are also the same elements that lead to career satisfaction.    Here are things to consider.

Much has been written about money not leading to happiness.  Let’s be clear about this and distinguish between wants and needs.   Money is a “need” in that it is necessary to survive, i.e. to satisfy the basic physical needs of food, clothing, shelter, etc.   However, at some point money becomes a “want”.   At some point, we reach a level where we are earning enough to satisfy the basic needs (defined by each individual) and additional money creates more and more “wants”, i.e. bigger house, better vacations, luxury items, etc.    It is at this point that money no longer provides personal satisfaction or leads to contentment.    It just creates a never-ending higher level of “wants”.

Lasting well-being does not come from external signs of self-worth or from obtaining validation from others.  It only comes from within.   Most psychologists agree on the importance of three innate needs:  relatedness, competence and autonomy. (1)  These same needs show up in Daniel Pink’s bestselling book on employee motivation, Drive. (2)   Pink describes the three elements central to employee motivation as:  autonomy, mastery and purpose.   Since two of these needs/elements overlap, consider the following 4 factors when seeking a change in career or motivating employees:

  1. Autonomy.   This is about acting with choice.  Research shows that when people feel that they are a key part of creating their own destiny, they are more motivated and successful.  Therefore, pursue goals that are interesting and enjoyable and reflect core values.  Job satisfaction correlates with levels of autonomy over task (what we do), time (when we do it), team (who we do it with) and technique (how we do it).
  2.  Competence/Mastery.   The need for competence drives curiosity, the innate motivation to learn.  It leads to the pride that is felt when something difficult has been accomplished.   Mastery begins when the challenges are matched with personal abilities.   According to Pink, Mastery has 3 rules.  It begins with mindset:  people must see their abilities as not finite, but infinitely improvable.  Mastery demands effort, grit and practice.  And finally, mastery is impossible to fully realize.
  3. Relatedness.  This is about the desire to feel connected to and to care for others.    The need for relatedness is satisfied by pursing goals that are about creating and strengthening relationships or about giving to the community.
  4. Purpose.  Closely aligned with relatedness, Pink describes the need for purpose as seeking a cause greater and more enduring than ourselves.  Within organizations, this “purpose motivation” is at the forefront in trends toward using profits for more than self-interest and policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms.

If you have read this far and want to know how to get started with finding the right career and the right job for you, contact a coach to partner with you to assess your personal strengths, abilities, and preferences and begin the journey to discover the career path that leads to personal satisfaction and fulfillment.   Call me for a free consultation.


(1)    Halvorson, Heidi Grant, PhD. (2010).  Succeed:  How We Can Reach Our Goals.  N.Y. N.Y.  Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

(2)    Pink, Daniel. (2009).  Drive:  The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  N.Y. N.Y.  Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.




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