Management: Motivating the Unmotivated

Last week’s Economist had a great article by Bartleby, their columnist on work and management, about how different things motivate different people at work. Now I understand — I, too, said ‘Fucking duh’ when I read the premise of the article. Are we so disconnected from reality we need a fucking article in The Economist to tell us this shit? But after I read it, I became interested in what Bartleby had to say, specifically about the worker archetypes.

The reason behind this new paradigm shift in management was, of course, The Great Resignation. The Great Resignation is the name given to the pandemic driven loss of employment occurring in the 2020s. People were quitting their jobs in droves — either through nice resignation letters, or I imagine with middle fingers raised and asses photocopied on the office copy machine. Employers everywhere were left wondering WTF, and while many blamed economic stimulus the fact that stimmy money must’ve run out by now and not as many have returned to work as they thought would happen must mean that there’s something else out there. Maybe it’s the fact that people aren’t getting paid enough to deal with entitled Karens, maybe their human resources needs an ‘In’ prefix or maybe they just don’t want to get The Rona. Maybe. The Bain study certainly found that at least 58% of employees reconsidered their work life balance during this time, and the US Quits Rate is the highest it’s ever been.

So Bartleby has taken it upon themselves to provide to managers and potential hiring employers around the world (where you can actually read The Economist, anyway) some insights as to how to motivate the masses to mope on Mondays and fill empty jobs. The most interesting part of the article is where Bartleby mentions a study by Bain, a consultancy, where they highlight six different worker archetypes which correspond to how they are motivated in the workplace. Once these archetypes are identified, we can try to match their motivation to the archetype.

Remember when these were enough to motivate employees? Yeah, me neither.

Bartleby’s article raises a huge question to me. That was, ‘What is this Bain study that they’re referring to?” I managed to access it without a paywall, but I apologise if an Iron Curtain has been raised since. Read it here.

To summarise, and just in case the link stops working, the Bain study considers six worker archetypes to consider when hiring, prompting these prospective employers to rehumanise how they consider talent. Based on the Bain study, they are:

  1. Operator
  2. Giver
  3. Artisan
  4. Explorer
  5. Striver
  6. Pioneer

An Operator is someone who sees work as a means to an end. Life is more than just work to them. As such, they don’t really want to stand out. The mantra of the Operator might as well be ‘Keep your head down and say ‘Sir’ a lot and you’ll do fine’. These types of workers can provide the dependable backbone of a company, even if they may seem to lack proactivity and be disengaged. The highest prevalence of Operators are in Asia, are more likely to be 35–54 year olds with High School or lower education, and tend to be found in administrative jobs.

A Giver wants their work to have meaning, and that meaning is best expressed in how their work has an impact on others. The Giver wants to give back to society, and finds joy in work that allows them to spread positivity. Givers can be seen as selfless, or at worst naive. They are most prevalent in Africa, are more likely to be 55+ year olds with at least a bachelors’ degree, and, unsurprisingly, tend to work care jobs.

The Artisan values skills. They tend to want to work to improve their own skills, or learn new ones. Artisans see work as a stepping stone to true mastery of their craft. They are most comfortable with complex tasks but may lose sight of the bigger picture in their single minded pursuit of mastery. They are most prevalent in Europe, tend to be 55+ year olds with college or high school education, and of course tend to drift towards manual jobs.

The Explorer seeks new experiences. They see work as the way to Adventure, to excitement and variety. Explorers are best engaged when they are allowed to try and do something new. They tend to always try something new, even when others might complain they are directionless. They are most prevalent in the Middle East and tend to be younger (18–34 year old) college graduates in service jobs.

The Striver wants to prove themselves. They tend to be those hypercompetitive workers who always seem to be trying to prove something. The Striver gains validation from work and their achievements in it. They don’t mind that others might see them as over competitive jerks, but maintain that their discipline is the key to success. Japanese have more Strivers than any other surveyed location, and they also tend to be younger people with bachelor’s degrees in knowledge jobs.

Personal Opinion: The Striver is a dick. I hate the Striver. Moving on…

The Pioneer wants change. They see things they don’t like in the world, and use their jobs as a vehicle they can use to try and enact change that can have meaningful impact. If Gandhi said ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ The Pioneer has taken this to heart and it is now their motto. However, another motto they hold dear, like many politically minded individuals, is ‘If you’re not with me, you’re against me,’ which can piss a lot of people off. Like The Giver these people can be found in Africa, among the highly educated young in knowledge jobs.

There’s a quiz on the Bain website that helps you find out which you are. I’m typing this before I actually take part in it. Based on the definitions above…I’m an Operator, I think. I don’t want my job to define me. I want to walk in, do stuff, walk out, get paid. That’s it. The less I can do every day the better. Work, to me, is just something you do to survive. You don’t want to do it, but you have to if you want to continue to enjoy your present standard of living. So you show up every day wishing you could just not. Let’s see what the survey says…

Yup. I don’t know if my preconceived ideas helped shape my answers to the survey, though, but I answered as honestly as I could. It’s strange that I’d have Artisan as my second next choice, though. I don’t honestly care about being good at stuff. Even more surprising than that is how Striver is my third choice. What? I don’t want to prove anything. I just want to get in, get out, and go home, and I wouldn’t mind skipping straight to the go home.

Immediately a new question is raised in my mind. How the bloody hell do I motivate a goddamned Operator? I know motivating me would be a hard sell to any manager. I don’t want anything to do with work. I don’t want to do any more than the bare minimum. I certainly don’t want you to fucking motivate me. I want to play video games. I want HR to make non — committal grunts when I’m mentioned. I want to go home. And yet…there could be a way. A way to give me what I want and let me work, too. Yes. Yes…like The Great Resignation, a new paradigm for working has arrived in the 2020s. A paradigm that gave rise to Zoom, ISP connectivity and mobile working solutions.

Yes, I’m talking about Working From Home, or WFH.

Photo by Jason Strull on Unsplash

My experience with WFH was fucking amazing. I got up late, had breakfast whenever it pleased me to do so, blasted music and watched streamers even as I was working. I napped at 10am. I sometimes ditched work altogether and played with our pet bunny rabbit or played Animal Crossing or ate brunch. I never have brunch. And meetings! God Bless Zoom. I attended some meetings without wearing any pants. Shit I attended some meetings with my pants down sitting on the porcelain throne making a deposit. Best of all? Almost all meetings that should have been an email were just emails. And there was nobody — NOBODY — who could do a goddamn thing about it.

Man. It was glorious.

Look, the point isn’t how I’m a bad, disengaged and unmotivated worker. The point is that even one such as I can be given the proper incentive to make my working experience better. I didn’t just jerk it and play video games. I did work. I played with the bunny rabbit but I’d stop and get stuff done. Animal Crossing got shelved whenever it was time to do stuff. Sometimes I ate brunch while I was working. And guess what? I was happy to do work. It gave my life purpose. I felt recharged with random naps, meals whenever I felt like it and Animal Crossing sessions. After each moment of Goofing Off, I’d get the fuck back to work.

Basically, if a manager wanted to motivate me, I’d tell them to let me work from home.

There’s more to it, of course. I also appreciated that I had clear and specific instructions, and had tangible deliverables so I could point at a pile and say ‘I’ve done my work’. But being able to goof off like I did during my WFH days was a godsend, and I daresay that there are ways to motivate the other archetypes. Managers and employers just have to be open to what these decisions might be. Maybe it’s letting someone like me goof off on company time as long as I could point to a pile of deliverables and announce, like a Warcraft 3 peon, ‘Job’s Done’. It seems counter — intuitive, but we’re in a New Normal. We can send people to space but it’s only billionaires and nobody believes in Science anymore. Why not let me have an hour to goof off and I’ll get back to you on that Thing You Want Me To Do?

It may not be so hard to motivate the other archetypes. Take the Artisan, for example. Promise them training, promise them that their job involves skill and by doing it they hone those skills. Provide them with work that allows for skill improvement and a working schedule that is friendly to self — study and out of office learning. Hell — maybe pay for their education, or help them get that education that they want. Wouldn’t that be great for an Artisan? All management needs to do is recognise what would motivate each worker and be prepared to deliver it. Yeah, I know. Easier said than done. But then again we said that about working from home, and we all know how that turned out. Better that than another Great Resignation, I say.

What’s your archetype? What would motivate you? What, if you could have anything you wanted, would be your dream job? Let me know.

Not, like, now now, though. I’ve already maxed out my productivity of the day writing this post. Now…I have a bunny rabbit to play with.

Bunny Tax. Ain’t he cute? Yesh he ish. Yesh he’sh cute he’sh sho cute

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