Unlocking the Motivations Behind WorkEssay

Assignment Question

describe why we have to work and why



Work is an essential and ubiquitous aspect of human life, playing a pivotal role in shaping societies, economies, and individual well-being . The concept of work has evolved over millennia, encompassing various forms and purposes. This essay delves into the multifaceted reasons why we have to work, examining both the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that drive individuals to engage in productive activities. By understanding the fundamental drivers behind work, we can gain insight into its significance in human existence and the broader societal context.

The Historical and Psychological Roots of Intrinsic Motivation

Work has been an intrinsic part of human existence throughout history, primarily driven by the need for survival (Maslow, 1943). As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory suggests, work addresses fundamental physiological and safety needs, ensuring access to food, shelter, and protection. This primal motivation is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, dating back to prehistoric times when early humans engaged in hunting, gathering, and crafting tools. These activities were essential for securing sustenance and safety, providing a foundational basis for the intrinsic motivation to work. Work fulfills psychological needs, contributing to individual well-being (Deci & Ryan, 1985). According to Self-Determination Theory by Deci and Ryan, individuals possess innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Work often allows individuals to exercise their skills and knowledge, fostering a sense of competence and autonomy. In the workplace, individuals also form social connections, satisfying their need for relatedness. This illustrates how work serves as a conduit for intrinsic motivation by addressing both historical and psychological facets of human nature.

 Work and Personal Growth: A Path to Self-Actualization

Beyond fulfilling basic needs, work serves as a catalyst for personal growth and self-actualization (Maslow, 1943). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory places self-actualization as the pinnacle of human needs, representing the realization of one’s full potential. Many individuals find intrinsic satisfaction in work that aligns with their passions and values. For example, research by Dik and Duffy (2009) emphasizes the importance of meaningful work, demonstrating that individuals who perceive their work as meaningful experience greater life satisfaction and well-being. This suggests that work can be a means of self-expression and personal fulfillment, aligning with Maslow’s concept of self-actualization.

Extrinsic Motivations: The Role of Economic Necessity

In the realm of extrinsic motivations, the role of economic necessity is paramount in understanding why individuals work. The concept of economic necessity is deeply entrenched in human society and has been a driving force for labor throughout history. Adam Smith, a prominent figure in classical economics, emphasized the significance of work in generating wealth and economic prosperity in his seminal work, “The Wealth of Nations” (1776). Smith’s ideas underscore how work, through its contribution to the production of goods and services, forms the foundation of modern economies. Income derived from work serves as a lifeline, addressing fundamental human needs. At its core, it ensures individuals can secure their basic necessities, including food, shelter, and clothing. Without a source of income, meeting these basic needs becomes an arduous challenge, highlighting the indispensability of work in economic terms. The provision of economic security, through gainful employment, enables individuals to attain a level of stability and certainty in their lives (Smith, 1776). Economic necessity extends beyond the realm of immediate subsistence. It plays a pivotal role in granting access to essential services such as healthcare and education. In modern societies, these services often come at a cost, and a steady income earned through work becomes the means to access them. Adequate healthcare ensures the maintenance of physical and mental well-being, while education opens doors to opportunities for personal growth and career advancement. Thus, work is not only a means to meet current needs but also an investment in future well-being (Smith, 1776).

Economic necessity also carries implications for societal stability and social welfare. In the absence of gainful employment, individuals may experience financial insecurity and dependency on social safety nets. This places a burden on governments and society as a whole to provide assistance to those unable to work. Work, therefore, contributes to the sustainability of social welfare systems, reducing the strain on public resources and enabling governments to allocate funds for other essential services and infrastructure (Smith, 1776). Work’s economic dimension extends beyond individual well-being to shape the broader economic landscape. Labor participation rates and workforce productivity are key indicators of a nation’s economic health. A thriving workforce, motivated by economic necessity, contributes to economic growth and prosperity on a national scale. It fuels the production of goods and services, drives innovation, and fosters competitiveness in global markets. Thus, the collective impact of work is instrumental in the economic development and sustainability of nations (Smith, 1776).

Societal Expectations and Identity

Societal and cultural norms exert considerable influence on the motivation to work (Durkheim, 1897). In many societies, work is not only an economic necessity but also a social expectation. As noted by Durkheim in his work on the division of labor, societies depend on individuals performing specialized roles to function efficiently. Thus, societal norms and expectations compel individuals to participate in the workforce, contributing to the collective well-being and stability of society. Work serves as a platform for personal achievement and recognition, shaping one’s identity (Erikson, 1968). According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, individuals develop a sense of identity through their interactions with society. One’s occupation and role in the workforce can significantly influence their identity and social status. For instance, a doctor may derive a strong sense of identity and status from their profession, motivating them to excel in their field.

 Extrinsic Rewards and Excellence

In the realm of work, the allure of extrinsic rewards plays a pivotal role in motivating individuals to strive for excellence (Herzberg, 1959). Extrinsic rewards come in various forms, including promotions, bonuses, and awards, and they serve as powerful incentives in the workplace. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, which distinguishes between hygiene factors (extrinsic factors like salary and job security) and motivators (intrinsic factors like achievement and recognition), sheds light on the significance of extrinsic rewards. Promotions, one of the most coveted extrinsic rewards in the professional world, represent not only an increase in job title and responsibilities but also a tangible recognition of one’s competence and contributions. The prospect of career advancement can be a potent motivator, propelling individuals to consistently deliver exceptional performance. It is not just the financial aspect that appeals to individuals but also the sense of achievement and status associated with climbing the corporate ladder.

Similarly, bonuses serve as a compelling extrinsic motivator. These monetary rewards, often tied to individual or team performance, provide a direct and immediate acknowledgment of one’s efforts. Bonuses can act as a powerful reinforcement mechanism, encouraging employees to meet and exceed targets, thereby benefiting both the individual and the organization. Awards and accolades, whether within the workplace or on a broader scale, are significant extrinsic rewards that fuel excellence. Winning an award or receiving public recognition can be a source of immense pride and satisfaction. It not only boosts an individual’s self-esteem but also enhances their reputation, both within and outside the organization. The pursuit of such recognition can stimulate employees to consistently excel in their roles. The pursuit of extrinsic rewards is not merely a selfish endeavor; it often leads to positive outcomes for organizations as well. When employees are motivated by the promise of promotions, bonuses, or awards, they are more likely to invest time and effort into their work. This, in turn, can enhance overall productivity, innovation, and the achievement of organizational goals. It’s essential to recognize that the effectiveness of extrinsic rewards can vary from person to person and situation to situation. While some individuals may be highly motivated by financial incentives and recognition, others may place greater value on intrinsic factors, such as the satisfaction derived from the work itself or the opportunity for personal growth.


In conclusion, the reasons why we have to work are multifaceted and deeply ingrained in human existence. Intrinsic motivations, rooted in historical and psychological needs, drive us to engage in productive activities that fulfill our basic needs, provide purpose, and foster personal growth. Extrinsic motivations, including economic necessity, societal expectations, and the pursuit of status and recognition, also play a significant role in motivating individuals to work. The interplay between these intrinsic and extrinsic motivations creates a dynamic and complex web of reasons why work is an integral part of human life. Understanding these motivations sheds light on the profound significance of work in both individual lives and society as a whole.


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. Plenum.

Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2009). Calling and vocation at work: Definitions and prospects for research and practice. The Counseling Psychologist, 37(3), 424-450.

Durkheim, E. (1897). The division of labor in society. Free Press.

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. Norton.

Herzberg, F. (1959). The motivation to work. Wiley.

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.

Smith, A. (1776). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. Strahan and Cadell.


frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Q1: Why do people work?

A1: People work for various reasons, including fulfilling basic needs like food, shelter, and safety, as well as psychological needs like competence and relatedness. Work also offers opportunities for personal growth, self-actualization, and the pursuit of passion and meaning.

Q2: What role do economic factors play in work motivation?

A2: Economic factors, such as the need for income and financial security, are significant extrinsic motivators for work. Work provides individuals with the means to support their basic needs, access healthcare, education, and improve their overall quality of life.

Q3: How do societal expectations influence work motivation?

A3: Societal expectations and cultural norms play a crucial role in motivating individuals to work. Society depends on individuals performing specialized roles, and these expectations often compel people to participate in the workforce to contribute to the collective well-being and stability of society.

Q4: Can work contribute to personal identity and recognition?

A4: Yes, work can shape an individual’s identity and provide recognition. One’s occupation and role in the workforce can significantly influence their sense of identity and social status. Achieving excellence in one’s work can lead to extrinsic rewards, such as promotions and recognition.

Q5: How do intrinsic and extrinsic motivations interact in the workplace?

A5: In the workplace, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations often interact. While intrinsic motivations like personal fulfillment and competence can drive individuals, extrinsic motivators like financial rewards and promotions can further enhance performance and job satisfaction. The interplay between these motivations varies from person to person.