Self Determination Theory: What Motivates You To Work
How to command your own daily work, work that fulfils and sustains for a lifetime
Self-determination is an important concept when considering the human motivation to work and perform. Self-determination theory (SDT)1 explains human motivation, and according to Edward Deci, it is “the energy for action. It gets us up in the morning and moves us through the day”. Motivation allows us to make personal choices based on survival, integration, and work with others and allows us to feel we have control over the direction of our lives. In this article, we explore motivation to work from the perspective of self-determination theory and look at how internally generated motivation is healthier and more sustainable than externally generated motivation. In this sense, commanding our own work seems consistent with self-determination theory.
Self Determination and Working For Yourself
Many adult working people feel at odds with their work. I know this not only because I hear it in people's everyday language, but because many of you told me directly. In a piece of research I jointly published this year2, a large portion of respondents had a negative relationship with their work. In fact, all of the groups I looked at were dissatisfied with work. And in an ad-hoc survey running for about 18 months, 35% of respondents placed themselves at six or below on a 1 to 10 scale of happiness with work.
In the study I did with John Hyland, many individuals reported to love their work. They apparently wouldn't do anything else, even for pay. Some said they feel privileged to serve other people. But others were sick and tired of being undermined, undervalued, and disrespected. They felt neglected and unstimulated in their work, and these feelings were not reserved for those who were directly employed. Self-employed people were struggling too.
In our study, we didn't use Self-Determination Theory as a framework for understanding participants' relationships with work. However, taking its wide-reaching and proven application in understanding human motivation, It's worth considering here.
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Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Publishing
Maguire, L., & Hyland, J. (2022). Cross-sectional Analyses of Self-employed & Directly Employed Workers’ Job-specific Well-being In Creative and Corporate Workplaces. DBS Business Review, 4.