What Makes Us Happy & Motivated at Work – Three Ways to Gauge

happy and motivated at workMore than a year ago, I changed jobs and managers within the same company.  I went from having one of the worst leaders I have ever experienced in my career, to having one of the best.  On my first day with this new leader, she asked me a simple question – what make you happy at work?   What was different about her is I realized she really cared and wanted to know my answer.  I remember being a bit unprepared and told her what came to mind quickly

  • Supportive, trusting leader
  • Meaningful, impactful work
  • Great people to work with
  • Work life balance

I knew it was a bit generic but that was the best answer I had.  Ever since then, I started doing research on this subject – what make us happy and motivated at work – to come up with a better answer for myself.   I realized 3 ways to gauge

#1 Who you have as a leader is immensely important to whether you are happy and motivated at work

With a great leader, you can “fly” as you know he or she has your back.  This leader will

  • give you autonomy and trust
  • give you support/guidance only when you need it
  • help you get promoted
  • create a safe zone for you to take risks and fail and thrive still

The best advice that my current leader has given me is “trust my gut.”  It really rebuilt my confidence after working for another leader that constantly looked for ways to put me down. When a leader believes in your abilities and give you great responsibility, you can absolutely thrive in your role.

Another important aspect to having a great leader is having “psychological safety.”   Google spent 2 years studying 180 teams and shared 5 traits of high performing teams.   The last trait is “psychological safety.”   This means you don’t need to be perfect.  Your leader has created a safe environment for you to take risk, learn new skills.  Even when you fail, it’s absolutely okay.  Who wouldn’t be happy and motivated in this kind of environment?

#2 Happiness and motivation have nothing to do with money. 

Society has trained us to overly focused on material things, but multiple scientific studies have showed money is never a motivator of us, knowledge workers.  In fact, more money, can actually be a de-motivator.   Don’t believe me?   Watch this entertaining 10-min video on this subject – The surprising truth about what motivates us.


The three factors that really motivates all of us are

  • Autonomy – ability to direct and lead our own work
  • Mastery – ability to evolve and learn new concept to help us master our jobs and career
  • Purpose – Does our work have a larger meaning?  what difference does it make to other people?

This second learning is important as even if you have the greatest leader in the world, if your role doesn’t give you purpose, you can still be unhappy.  If you don’t get to learn and develop your skills, you still will want to leave your job.

#3 shoot for 51%+

There are no perfect leaders or perfect jobs.  You are also never going to be perfect. Your goals in to shoot for 51%+, To be happy and motivated at work, all you need is 51%+

  • You should strive to be the best you can be at least 51% of the time
  • You leader should be there for you at least 51% of the time
  • Your work should at least have 51%+ autonomy, mastery, and purpose for you

Every thing in life is about balance.  The pursuit of happiness is every one’s right, but don’t over-analyze.   This shouldn’t be a daily question you ask yourself as you will bound to be unhappy.    You also shouldn’t be a robot and never ask this question or do it only every 10 years.   I think the happy medium is about six months to a year.   Every so often, reflect on your current situation, be grateful for what you have, and then figure out what you want to do to change anything.    You always have control over your own destiny.   Your happiness and motivation may be only one perspective change away. 🙂

Your comments: what make you happy and motivated at work?   do you agree or disagree with what i shared?  I look forward to your questions and comments.

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Best wishes to your career success – work smart and live more!



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