What gets you up on Monday morning to go to work? How do you feel on Monday mornings, or even on Sunday nights, when you think about going back to work?

Did you know that for most American workers, well-being increases on Friday evening and decreases dramatically on Sunday night to reach a low point on Monday morning? Why does working, or even just the thought of working, affect our well-being so negatively? Is working inherently bad for us? Does it have to be?

You may be familiar with the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you are having fun and are genuinely interested in doing something. Imagine a toddler playing with brightly colored blocks or imagine yourself playing golf, painting, or playing your favorite video game. Extrinsic motivation is often portrayed as work. We often think that people work primarily to get money. But do they?

People work for a variety of reasons. They do it to earn a living, we all do. We have to eat, pay for a dwelling, pay for clothes and other basic necessities (basic is individually defined...), and people in many countries must also pay for their healthcare and for their kids’ education.

But people have many other reasons to put effort into their work, and some of them are often considered more important than earning money. These include enhancing one’s self-worth, making a difference in the world, and a personal interest in the work they do. The reasons why you work have consequences for both your performance and for your well-being.

Working to get money (money motivation), is quite an extrinsic form of motivation. This not only includes money but it can also include working to get promoted, to get perquisites, and even working to get approval or avoid criticism from others around you. In recent research that my colleagues and I have done, we find that when people have high money motivation, they perform up to minimum standards and sometimes use shortcuts or cheats to get rewards. This is particularly the case if they receive money in the form of bonuses. They also feel a lot of pressure and so their well-being tends to suffer.

You might work to get some self-esteem or to avoid feelings of shame about yourself. We all have a bit of ego motivation, some more than others. This form of motivation is funny in that it does lead people to put quite a bit of effort into work. After all, the stakes are high... but it is at the expense of their well-being.

Being motivated through meaning happens when you work on something that fits your personal values. When people see the positive impact their work has on a beneficiary, a client, the environment, or any other stakeholder they care about, they are more likely to be driven through the meaning this holds for them. This form of motivation is very good as it leads to putting a lot of effort into your work and it increases your well-being. 

You are intrinsically motivated when you have fun doing something. Wouldn’t it be easier to get up on Monday morning to go play instead of going to work? Unsurprisingly, intrinsic motivation is related to both high performance and high well-being . And yes, people who have high intrinsic motivation tend to have less pronounced weekend effects. They get up in better spirits on Mondays than people who don’t enjoy their work.

What is the difference between meaning motivation and intrinsic motivation? In terms of performance and well-being, you get about the same effects. But they are different too. When working to make a difference you focus on the outcome of the activity, that is, the impact it has, not on the process of doing the activity itself. If the process of working on something is interesting and enjoyable, like painting, that is intrinsic motivation. If the outcome of the activity is what you care about, like satisfying a client’s request for a painting.

Not everything we do at work is enjoyable. For example, I enjoy teaching but I don’t enjoy grading. But I find meaning in it. I know that students need to demonstrate what they have learned and I need to give them feedback about that. It is useful to them. Though grades serve other purposes, this is the purpose that gives me meaning.

So if you’re having trouble getting up on Monday mornings, think about the reasons why you do the job you do. If they tend to be for money or ego, see if you can transform them into meaning and fun. Read my future posts for some tips.

References

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Getting Up on Monday Morning

What Gets You Up on Monday Mornings?

The quality of your motivation matters.