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13th November 2013

Why Go to Work?

Successful business teamIt is a question I first saw examined in a paperback on “industrial psychology” that I read as a management student. A memorable aspect of the book was the analysis of status in the hierarchy indicated by acquiring personal offices, private car parking spaces, gaining secretaries, increasing size of desks as one was promoted, larger offices, etc. etc.. But one particular aspect which it considered was the role of social interaction as a major reason why people came to work in the  first place. In those days we had industrial environments (where most people were employed) which were often unpleasant. The book postulated that people did not come to work just to put bread on the table, crucial though that was, social interaction was a driver too.

The importance of social interaction at work seems to me to have occupied a very minor role in “management-speak” over the passing years. There are a multitude of terms: extrinsic (!) reward, self esteem, perhaps team working and, of course, money, which are used to explain the motivation for coming to work. Indeed money (since benefits can now put that bread on the table) is often suggested as a reason for  not coming to work.

It is curious that the idea that one might come to work for social reasons does not seem to occupy any significant place in academic management thinking . That is in spite of the fact that work is a place where most people do socialise and many find their lifetime partners.

Furthermore, “socialising” has become synonymous with non-work activities.

Recent research using MRI scanners (Matthew D. Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect) is beginning to confirm that social interaction is of greater importance in human behaviour than often thought. This research challenges conventional thinking about our motivation for work, the concept that our decisions are as rational as we like to think they are and, especially, the philosophy behind how our institutions and organisations operate.

Going forward, scientific research is likely to help us understand much more clearly the importance of individual social needs in decision making. Ironically, it may provide a rational basis for being less bound by logical argument when it comes to making decisions. It also seems to me that social interaction is so important that we must not ignore it in making decisions or indeed in  understanding how and why we ourselves make decisions.

Malcolm Martin – QCS Expert Human Resources Contributor

Topics: Human Resources


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