The Difference Between Wanting And Having To Work

This distinction is rooted in the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and your company’s culture will dictate how your employees feel about coming to work.

The Difference Between Wanting And Having To Work
[Image: Flickr user Erfi Anugrah]

It’s true that most of us have to work to sustain ourselves, but what happens when we actually enjoy what we do? When employees have a balance of motivators, businesses see employees that are actually happy to show up for work each morning.


If your employees are intrinsically motivated, there is something inside of them that pushes them to work. However, if they are extrinsically motivated, something outside them brings them there.

Intrinsic motivations include the inborn needs for mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

Extrinsic motivations are often what’s being suggested when managers talk about incentivizing a task: money, promotions, and other dangling carrots.

The best companies have a handle on this balance and encourage their employees to feel both kinds of motivation.

For instance, Apple gives new hires a memo in which the company contrasts work and life’s work:

People don’t come here to play it safe. They come here to swim in the deep end. They want their work to add up to something . . . that couldn’t happen anywhere else.

Apple’s confidence is intoxicating. We think that organizations should have a similar swagger in their own field and should be exemplars of doing the absolute best work. This is what the top performers are attracted to: fully exerting their talents in an environment that encourages and cultivates that skillful exertion.


Skillful exertion is at the center of doing work as an extension of your individual emotional convictions and as an expression of your interior life by way of commerce. This is also the emotional center of the organization: its culture.

Building A Culture

Company culture is made manifest in everything the organization creates–in the continually considered excellence of Mayo Clinic, the multivalent innovation of P&G, and the eminent coolness of Apple. An organization is a shared endeavor, one that we can build mindfully.

The most immediate way to form an innovative culture is through the people you hire. This is especially true of the first few hires: their demeanor will radiate out into the organization, becoming the default set of actions for new employees.

Just as user experience–the way people interact with a product–is becoming increasingly important in the development cycle, employers need to become more mindful of the way employees experience the organization. This, one could say, is a primary way to acknowledge the sentience of the individuals that compose it.

To do that, we need to consider what people are looking for in an employer and in their working experience.

What Drives People

Yes, a paycheck is an obvious motivator, but it is not the ultimate one.


A growing body of research shows how the correlation between monetary wealth and self-reported happiness drops off over time. A 2010 study led by the economist Angus Deaton and the psychologist Daniel Kahneman made headlines with its finding that a salary of $75,000 was the threshold for day-to-day happiness, where employees could better absorb adversities as diverse as asthma or divorce.

A 2012 poll by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found that respondents with an income level over $50,000 reported higher levels of satisfaction with their safety, health, employment, community involvement, and spiritual life.

Being paid well is probably a necessary part of being happy and fully engaged–it certainly provides a strong signal–but it is not sufficient to ensure that state of well-being. There’s more going on in engagement than just compensation.

This presents a follow-up question: what else are people looking for in their jobs, how do we give it to them, and how does this relate to doing amazing, innovative work?

Adapted from Everything Connects: How To Transform And Lead In The Age Of Creativity, Innovation And Sustainability (McGraw Hill, 2014). Copyright (c) 2014 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.

About the author

Founder of SHADOKA and other companies. Newest book "Survive to Thrive – 27 Practices of Resilient Entrepreneurs, Innovators, And Leaders" (Motivational Press, 2015).