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The Significance of Work and Motivation in Business

Discussing motivation in business without understanding the meaning and purpose of work in our modern societies is a common mistake. It oversimplifies reality by assuming that work is a natural human state akin to eating, reproducing, and sleeping.

Furthermore, neglecting to question the concept of work implies that work-employment-wage-earning is an unquestionable social norm.

This is why there is a proliferation of books on work motivation that deny the subordinate nature of salaried employment. These books promote clichés about motivation, emphasizing the desire for voluntary, enjoyable, and rewarding work as a source of happiness and personal growth.

The popularity of these books stems from their defense of an idealized capitalist world where everyone is rewarded for their work.

The current state of work results from capitalism's influence, treated as a dogma and a religion. This religion advocates for immediate happiness and idealizes meritocracy, urging individuals to work harder to earn more and find happiness at any cost.

The history of work demonstrates how capitalism, initiated by Adam Smith and endorsed by economists, has transformed work from a means of subsistence into a survival mechanism, turning workers into precarious employees. From rural fields to urban factories, from slavery to the exploitation of "free" individuals treated as commodities and resources, represented by numbers in Excel spreadsheets.

This godless religion also drives us to focus on ourselves, to protect ourselves, and to create our own success. With the decline of traditional employment, coaching has emerged with the same individualistic mindset. There is a coach for every aspect of life and every desire. This phenomenon results from more people being excluded from the traditional workplace and seeking fulfilling opportunities for their experience, which is often undervalued within companies but can find a place in one-off assignments.

Another concern is the future of work in the next 20 years. Machines, computers, and technology will replace workers in various sectors, such as transportation, management, catering, and distribution. The shortage of IT technicians and programmer-developers is evidence of the forthcoming wave of job replacements.

This raises the question of what will happen when factory workers are replaced by machines, just as they replaced slaves. This uncertainty contributes to workers' anxiety about their jobs' and livelihoods' persistence.

Work is evolving and resembling pre-industrial era practices. Self-employed individuals, cooperatives, and family-run businesses are becoming more prevalent. Examining past models can provide insights into the future of business.

Therefore, discussing motivation in business without considering the central role of work, its purpose, and the expectations it generates would be meaningless. It is especially crucial to highlight the frustration felt by a significant portion of the population still waiting for social mobility and economic trickle-down effects.

The 2008 crisis revealed that some banks were considered "too big to fail" and were bailed out by the public. Meanwhile, directors who failed in their roles received golden parachutes. Dividends for shareholders of struggling companies reached record levels in 2021 and 2022 during the COVID crisis. These examples highlight the increasing wealth disparity between the richest 1% and the slowing rate of poverty reduction since 2013.1

In this context, we must approach motivation. Employees cannot be viewed as if they exist in a separate world. They have families to support, mortgages to pay, gifts to give, and vacations to enjoy. They also have their own values, beliefs, desires, and aspirations.

Furthermore, the types of workers managed within companies are evolving. Outsourcing and division of labor are becoming more common. Different types of contracts exist, such as permanent and fixed-term contracts, interns, temporary staff, work-study students, seconded consultants, and even loaned suppliers in sectors like retail. The challenge lies in creating motivation, commitment, and engagement within a cooperative dynamic when not everyone is symbolically included in the system.2

It is important to emphasize that most people work out of necessity rather than desire. Therefore, it is the work context itself that plays a crucial role in mobilizing employees.

Work can be a source of individual and collective fulfillment, providing opportunities for discovery, learning, connection, and sharing. It offers most individuals a chance to lead a pleasant, fulfilling, and peaceful life.

Work can be more than just a means of earning income. While it may not be possible to offer everyone their ideal job, we can create environments where motivation and opportunities for personal growth are abundant and accessible.