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Are Workers Today Unhappy, Or Just Unmotivated? 24:25

This article is more than 8 years old.
(Michael Lokner/Flickr)
(Michael Lokner/Flickr)

It's easy to laugh at a hapless fictional TV office manager like "The Office's" Michael Scott — we've all had bosses that make the workplace less than exciting.

But with unemployment still above 9 percent and wages stagnating, finding meaning and motivation at work is more important than ever, for employers and employees.

The problem is the vast majority of managers don't know what truly motivates people, according to a major, years-long study from Harvard Business School. Researchers found that a series of small, key changes can bring dramatic boosts to motivation, creativity and productivity.

[sidebar title="Featured Comment" width="320" align="right"]"Motivation comes from within, if a management team puts a group of people together that can find value in working towards a common goal then employee satisfaction will prevail." — J Dannenberg[/sidebar]

"We found that of everything that engage people deeply in their work, the single most important is simply making progress in meaningful work," said Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and one of the study's authors.

Now, we all want to be fulfilled at work and it's no easy task. According to the study, though, you've got to focus on the small stuff: the more steps forward you take, the more fulfilling you find your work.

"We found, interestingly, that progress could incredibly boost people's motivation and happiness, even if it was what we call a 'small win' — a relatively incremental step forward," Amabile said.

Progress even trumps normal workplace motivators like promotions and bonuses, according to the study.

Cambridge-based Internet marketing firm HubSpot was ranked by the Boston Business Journal as the best place to work in the Boston area. Brian Rogers, the manager of people operations at HubSpot, says the key to workplace satisfaction is respect.

"We treat our employees like adults here," Rogers said. "We know that they're very hard working, responsible individuals that want to do well at their job, but also want to see the company succeed so we let them do that."

So, what matters to you at work? Your project? Your team? Your manager? Your work?


  • Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration, Harvard Business School
  • Brian Rogers, manager of people operations, HubSpot

This program aired on September 19, 2011.

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