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“…Insights into what really motivates me”

Author: Jason Phillips (Research & PR Officer, ABPNexGen)


You can picture the scene – slotting the hard-bound copy of my undergraduate dissertation into the stuffed library labelled box, returning to my university home and packing up my bags to move back down to London to enter the world of work.

During the train journey home, I couldn’t resist the desire to use my device to vigorously search ‘my work personality’ and ‘what career suits me’. Safe to say in hindsight this resulted in some skewed, often unreliable and invalid insights directing me into my first, entry-level role.


Five-Factor Fit

Falling into the world of publishing, marketing, communications and public relations, I would take comfort in knowing that my Five Factor personality tests would rate me as an ambivert, thus providing justification for me to schmooze at journalist networking events, yet write my follow-up notes alone in the corner of the office on the same day.

Whilst the use of psychometric tests, the measurement of mental manifestations and phenomena to establish individual differences (Bech, 2012), can support individuals in understanding how their personality dimensions and traits may shape and predict their behaviour, I now see it to be rather reductionist in nature to use personality as a sole measure of career fit and success.

Looking back, I had failed to truly consider situational factors in my role choices, whilst also not taking the time to consider what I was truly motivated by on a personal and professional level.


Money and Motivation

During my Psychology Conversion Msc this year, I was provided with the opportunity to explore these motivations further by presenting on a topic which I had debated about with family, friends and colleagues over the years – is money a motivator in the workplace?

Following three promotions within 11 months of starting my first role in the PR world and swift incremental salary increases, I had assumed that ‘climbing the ladder’ with new job titles and subsequent benefits would be all the motivation that a member of Generation Z would need. However, studying psychology and human motivation was able to give me an insight into what really motivates me (with a little help from Abraham Maslow, Richard Ryan, Edward Deci and Frederick Herzberg).


The Hierarchy of Needs

Drawing on a classic motivational theory in psychology, Maslow’s (1943) pyramid structure in principle illustrates five needs for human beings: physiological, safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation. It is posited that to progress to the next stage of needs, you must have a significant level of the previous need. However, key to this theory is that you do not need to have a maximum, quantifiable level of each need before moving onto the next. Additionally, ‘consumption’ of needs can occur simultaneously.

Reflecting upon my own hierarchy of needs, I was fortunate enough to have my homeostatic needs met, with healthy food, clean water and a warm home to live in. My safety needs were met through living in a tight-knit secure community in the heart of North London. My relationships with colleagues, friends, family and professional contacts ensured that my love needs were also satisfied. Whilst working for top clients and being rewarded for securing media coverage allowed me to meet my needs of esteem, something was missing. In hindsight, reflecting on Maslow’s hierarchy, I believe that I had truly been missing the top piece of the puzzle, self-actualisation. I had not met the mantra of “what a man can be, he must be” (Maslow, 1943, p.382).


Self-Determination Theory

Following this realisation, Ryan and Deci (2000) allowed me to reflect upon the key characteristics that a job role should consist of in capturing my attention: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Whilst yes, I was certainly meeting my objectives and connecting with others, I often struggled as an Executive and Assistant to truly establish the autonomy that would allow me to feel in control of my own work life behaviour and contribute to the greater team cause effectively.

In addition to these needs, I was fascinated to learn about the difference between intrinsic motivation, “the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself” and extrinsic motivation i.e. doing something to “attain some separable outcome” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, p.71). Whilst I was receiving a separable outcome in the form of money, I question whether I was inherently interested in all of the work I was carrying out. Did it engage my interest, exercise my full capacity and provide me with my psychological needs and curiosity for growth?


Motivation Hygiene Theory

Growing up, my father had always said the same statement to me repeatedly, without citing an author (a referencing-fanatics nightmare!). When I used to read about movie stars, football players or CEOs at FTSE 100 organisations, I used to tell my father that surely money was what drove them to put in the hours, physical exertion and mental marathons. But he would point out that money is not a motivator.

I wouldn’t say that my father is similar to Frederick Herzberg in his professional endeavours. Although I would argue that they certainly have the same vision when it comes to business. As illustrated by Motivation Hygiene Theory, there are two separate factors at work supporting satisfaction: motivation factors and hygiene factors (Miner, 2005). Motivation factors, such as achievement, verbal recognition, responsibility and advancement through promotion are found to increase positive feelings in employees, resulting in an improvement in respective performances (Miner, 2005). In contrast, when hygiene factors (i.e. company policies, interpersonal relations, job security and salary) are provided, there should be a reduction in dissatisfaction, but not an increase in satisfaction (Miner, 2005). Thus, in this framework, whilst providing employees with money may support those who are demotivated, on its own Herzberg does not consider it to be a motivator.


Embracing Empirical Evidence

My personal experience can tell you that offers of a pay rise do not necessarily result in turning down opportunities to work with ‘bigger named’ clients and in more ‘luxury’ verticals. Moreover, empirical evidence notes that it is not necessarily the numerical value of money that makes it a motivator for some. For example, Wiley (1997) believes that it is the self-esteem that money provides through recognition from others that is the real motivator for employees. Furnham and Argyle (1998) echo Wiley’s findings as money as a motivator, caveating that it truly depends on situational factors for the employee, such as the salary of their friends, how many children they have or whether they are looking to purchase a new property.


What Motivates Me?

Whilst the aforementioned researchers provide excellent angles to consider, I must say that throughout the process of developing my presentation on ‘money and motivation’, I shifted towards the other side of the argument. Although recognition through money and the subsequent mood-boosting products and services it can buy is certainly attractive, I would argue that it truly depends on life stage. During this fresh start in my professional career, I understand that entry-level roles can be relatively homogenously remunerated financially. With that in mind, it becomes a shift from the tangible to the intangible – trying to establish exactly what allows me to feel motivated come a Monday morning.

Personality and individual differences, situational and environmental considerations certainly must also be considered, as each and every one of us are unique. But during this journey of motivational discovery, I do believe that my decision to work towards becoming an Organisational Psychologist is intrinsically motivated. By allowing me to learn, help others to grow and build my own path for success, I do believe this is an area that will fuse together my personal and professional values towards an exciting career path ahead. I want to secure a role where I can be a supportive individual to employees navigating the psychological obstacles of the workplace. If that is what I can be, then in the words of Abraham Maslow, that is what I must be.

For a synopsis of the MSc research on the Psychology of Needs, Self-Determination Theory and Money as a Motivator in the Workplace, please feel free to contact Jason Phillips at @jasonphillips10 or Jason David Phillips.



Bech, P. (2012). Clinical Psychometrics. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons.

Furnham, A., & Argyle, M. (1998). The Psychology of Money. London: Routledge.

Maslow, A.H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396. Retrieved from

Miner, J.B. (2005). Essential Theories of Motivation and Leadership. New York: M.E. Sharpe.

Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68

Wiley, C. (1997). What motivates employees according to over 40 years of motivation surveys. International Journal of Manpower, 18(3), 263-280. doi: 10.1108/01437729710169373

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