Battle Burnout: Address the Six Motivators for Enjoying Work

By Erick Lauber

Call center work is hard, and Gloria wasn’t happy. It wasn’t that she hated her job or anything like that. Her co-workers were fine, and she didn’t mind the type of work she did. In fact, she thought she did it pretty well. Of course, she wanted more money, but who doesn’t? No, something else was bothering her. At some basic level, she simply didn’t enjoy coming to work anymore. Whatever excitement or sense of accomplishment she used to get had been replaced by a lack of motivation.

Gloria’s issue is a common one. Employees around the world sometimes lose sight of what makes their work worthwhile. They get run down, burnt out, and de-motivated. At times like these, it can be difficult for anyone to enjoy work and find the old levels of motivation and energy.

To help Gloria and others like her, it is necessary to look at the underlying causes. Why do any of us enjoy work? Can we reignite those causes in our own work environment? The answer is yes. There are six reasons why we enjoy work, ignoring money, of course.

1) Inner Accomplishment: The remarkable time and energy some people put in to their work can only be understood as an inner drive; they simply want to achieve that goal. Seeking a personal sense of accomplishment is natural and can be harnessed every day. It can be described as “taking pride in one’s work” or a sense that “this is what I was meant to do.” Whether the objectives are short-term or long-term, making progress toward a goal makes all of us feel good.

What steps can Gloria take to regain that sense of accomplishment?

2) The Greater Good: Many of us are also motivated by a sense of community, the feeling we are part of something larger, and life isn’t just about our own individual needs and wants. Many experience this particular joy and peace as they volunteer for church or service groups, but it can also be encouraged in the workplace. Although more common in other cultures, many Americans are also motivated by community considerations.

Perhaps Gloria could reframe her circumstances and see how she is contributing to the greater good.

3) Personal Relationships: Many employees get enjoyment from the individual relationships they experience at work. It helps them look forward to each day. The laughter, the camaraderie, the forgiveness, and even the occasional stresses are all something they enjoy and know they wouldn’t want to live without. But not everyone is the same, and certainly, we’re not all our best self every single day. Enlightened managers respect this basic human need to connect with others and allow it, if not encourage it, in their workplace.

How can Gloria connect with others at work? Does her boss know this is important?

4) Sense of Team: Similarly, some people enjoy a special sense of completeness and wholeness by experiencing team spirit. In the workplace, many employers work hard to encourage this shared identity by conducting internal PR and messaging campaigns. For quieter teammates, a sense of camaraderie might provide an extremely important opportunity to connect and feel like they belong.

Does Gloria feel she is part of a team? How much team spirit has her boss created?

5) Physical Exertion: Though not directly applicable to call center work, for some workers, a sense of satisfaction comes from physical exertion, and the absence of it makes the job less appealing. It doesn’t feel like work if they aren’t breaking a sweat or doing battle with the weather. This is partly a product of socialization and might be tied up with what work means to them. Modern day psychology reaffirms the benefits of physical labor. We all know how endorphins can give us a slight high, and everyone knows about the stress management benefits gained from working out.

Is a lack of physical activity at work contributing to Gloria’s lack of motivation? Since her job is sedentary, can her employer even offer an exercise program or gym membership?

6) Mental Challenges: Finally, a great many of us enjoy the special mental feeling that comes from exercising our creativity or satisfying our curiosity. For some, the small euphoria that comes from developing something new or conquering a complex problem greatly contributes to an individual’s sense of professional enjoyment.

Gloria’s work involves mental challenges on most every call, but does she feel invigorated by them or bored? How can her perspective be turned around?

“Why” is the Answer to “How?” So, what can management do to help employees enjoy their work? Or, what can Gloria or others do themselves? The answer is simple: treat the cause, not the symptoms.

Instead of worrying about symptoms like aggressive behavior or poor attitude, employees and employers can create a more enjoyable work environment by directly addressing one or more of these common denominators. Why not casually interview Gloria about whether she feels connected to her fellow co-workers? Does she have any friends at work? Why not ask, “Is this job challenging enough?” or “Would you like the opportunity to be more creative?”

Stepping back and reflecting on each of these six motivators can guide any manager or employee toward a more enjoyable workplace. There is hope for Gloria and her job by applying a little modern day psychology to her work.

Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. He has won nineteen educational TV and film awards and has been published in numerous psychology journals and book chapters. His video log is located at  For more information, visit or call 724-464-7460.

[From the February/March 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]