It’s been a while since I wrote or taught (or thought) about the basic idea of why people work.  We called it “motivation” back in the day, and I taught it for years in corporate management training programs.

Maybe it’s a good idea to re-visit these basic topics every once in a while.  Good leadership certainly requires an understanding of the answer to that questAdam Smith Was Wrong: Why Do People Work?ion.  And who the heck was Adam Smith, what was he wrong about, and why should you care?

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of “Why We Work” (I love the simplicity of that title) answers that question.  

So why do people work?

In his book Schwartz talks about the basic question in the title: why do people work?  He says that people work for a variety of reasons, and pay is just one of them.  In fact, we’ve known for years that pay is not even at the top of the list of reasons why people work.  More intangible factors like making a difference, recognition, and feeling personally effective stand at the top of that list.

Schwartz also talks about why some people are satisfied by their work, and others are not.  The answer to that question begins with Adam Smith, who was a thought leader during the Industrial Revolution.  Smith believed that people are inherently lazy and worked only for pay, so many organizations built work to be tightly controlled and managed, minimizing the human element in it to the lowest common denominator.  Douglas MacGregor later called this Theory X management.  Many of our organizations still reflect this thinking today.  Theory Y management, by contrast, reflects more of the true motivators mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Schwartz also talks about having a job, a career, and a calling, and the differences among them.  He also discusses the millennial generation, and what they’re looking for in the workplace (hint: it’s not the same factors Smith had in mind, nor what the Baby Boomers are working for either).

All in all, a good book, and worth your $11.17 on Amazon.