Tell Me What You Want What You Really Really Want... From Your Job

In an ideal world, everyone would wake up inspired to go to work. However, only 34% of employees currently feel actively engaged with their job; compared to the 13% of us who feel actively disengaged. Whilst this is a positive improvement from previous years, it still leaves us with 66% of employees without strong fulfilment at work (1). This made me wonder, what do people really want from their job? Not what they just say they want, but (in the words of the Spice Girls) what they “really-really want”?

A bigger paycheck?

Psychological research has consistently suggested that where money has motivational power, it is nearly always negative (2). Money is seen as a “hygiene factor” (3), which means that if you don’t have enough of it, it can demotivate you, but on its own is not enough to motivate you. A major reason for that is the suggestion that money acts as external motivation. In some ways, it inhibits our innate desire to do a good job, leading to behaviours that work against employers’ interests (2).

Fun fact: Research from 10 years ago by the behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman suggested that having a household annual income of 3 times the national average wage of the country you live in is the magic number. A new study by Purdue University (4) suggested that once that “magic number” was reached, further increases in income were associated with reduced life satisfaction and a lower level of well-being.

‘Wannabe’ in line with the latest trends?

Today’s workplace is far different than it was a decade ago. In recent years, a period that has been dubbed “the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, we have experienced a state of “hyperconnectivity” whereby there is a seemingly infinite requirement to stay connected to those around us and the wider world. This has reshaped the world of work beyond recognition. People always think that change is faster in their generation than in any other. However, there is reasonable evidence to suggest things are changing faster than ever before (5). Technology has enabled this hyperconnectivity, whilst simultaneously increasing our appetite for constant improvement. Driverless cars, 3D printing, remote working, biometric medical subscriptions and smart cities allude to upcoming changes in our world. Therefore, the instinctive drive to improve ourselves and continue to learn helps to keep us relevant to the changing context of modern ‘jobs’. Continuous learning is more than an enjoyable aspect of the work-place - it is a core requirement for those looking to stay relevant.

Fun fact: Technology has reshaped the way we form and maintain relationships. A theory from psychologist Robin Dunbar suggests that humans have an upper-level cap on the number of people they can maintain meaningful relationships with – which is 150 people. He breaks this 150 down into smaller circles: 5 very close relationships that are generally family or intimate friends, 15 very good friends, 50 good buddies or and the rest acquaintances (6). If you glance at your social media profiles, you may see that you have more relationships to ‘tend’ than the human psyche was built to cope with (7).

Being paid to do the thing you love?

A recent PhD study revealed the magic recipe for satisfaction in the workplace: Passion, Energy, Flow and Enchantment (8). If you’ve ever heard someone describe a time when their performance excelled and they used the term being “in the zone”, what they’re describing is an experience of flow. It occurs when your skill level and the challenge at hand are equal (9). However, in order to reach the state of flow, you must feel passion towards the task or topic you decided to invest your energy in. Remember, just because you are good at doing something, doesn’t necessarily mean you will enjoy it.

Fun Fact: Simon Sinek says that parents who work late might feel guilty as parents but the negative impact on their children is little to none, however parents who come home from jobs they hate or don’t love, negatively impact their kids making them more likely to become bullies at school.

The answer?

So, it seems that neither hard cash nor development opportunities in isolation are enough to keep us happy and engaged at work. The former, because once we have enough it fails to be motivational and the latter because the whole world is now a development opportunity and there is little difference in learning opportunities from one job to the next. The answer seems to lie in finding just enough challenge of the kind that draws on skills you have and that is directed towards something you feel passionate about. And that could really ‘Spice Up Your Life’!

#candoloveto #cappinsights #spiceupyourlife

1. Gallup report:

2. Prof Adrian Furnham (2004), in The New Psychology of Money

3. Frederick Herzberg (1968). "One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?". Harvard Business Review. 46 (1): 53–62.

4. Purdue University study

5. The challenges of harnessing hyperconnectivity in the workplace

6. Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience

7. Maintaining Relationships: The Fallacy of Dunbar’s Number

8. Prof Adrian Furnham & Luke Treglown (2018) in Disenchantment: Managing Motivation and Demotivation at Work


10. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2019), 8 Ways To Create Flow According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi