Motivation: The Value of a Work Ethic

By Williams, J. Clifton | Baylor Business Review, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Motivation: The Value of a Work Ethic


Williams, J. Clifton, Baylor Business Review


The motivation challenge of an organization's leaders is extremely complex. Employees enter an organization with very different needs, personality traits, levels of formal education, skills, aptitudes, interests, and other attributes. They most certainly have different expectations of their employer and different views of what their employer has a right to expect of them. These differences provide leaders their greatest opportunity to become effective motivators and their greatest risk of failing the motivational challenge.

Employee Selection

Given the legal constraints surrounding personnel hires today, managers often give up trying to make professional selection decisions and decide primarily on the basis of intuition. That is not to say that intuition should play no part in the selection process. It is regrettable however when 75 years of research on personnel selection is ignored because managers are so afraid of discriminating illegally that they become totally nondiscriminating.

In every position certain personal qualities correlate more highly with onthe-job effectiveness than do others, and the law allows for selecting on the basis of those characteristics. Some organizations select employees who have a high probability of being productive. Others play a guessing game and hire applicants who are likely to be mediocre performers at best.

Many employees who otherwise have the qualities needed to serve their employer well, lack the motivation to do so. Many are highly motivated but not highly motivated to do what their employer needs done. Some, for example, are past masters at keeping their jobs and getting raises without ever making an effort to solve problems, develop new skills, or seriously identify with the mission and goals of their employer.

The actions of leaders and the policies and practices of organizations can greatly influence employee motivation, but what employees bring to the employment situation may influence their motivation even more. Some more than fulfill their employer's highest expectations because it is their nature to do their best; others barely meet acceptable standards despite their employer's most cleverly contrived motivational efforts.

The Protestant Work Ethic

The so-called Protestant or Puritan work ethic was important in the theology of John Calvin. It is thought to have supported the industrial revolution by creating a large pool of highly motivated workers-workers who believed it was their duty to put their God-given talents to work. They responded to the usual work incentives, but aside from those sources of motivation, they were productive because of their belief that it was the right thing to do.

Furthermore, the financial prosperity resulting from productive work, simple living, and saving part of their earnings was viewed as a sign of God's favor and evidence of their elect position. Similar beliefs about one's moral obligation to be productive are also present in other cultures. A Confucian work ethic, for instance, plays an important motivational role in Eastern cultures.

Modem studies of work motivation indicate that the Protestant work ethic is far from dead in the United States. Many Christians and others whose values have been influenced by Christianity still believe they have a moral obligation to be productive. …

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