Motivation at Work

After a year of our lives being turned upside down and adjusting to a way of living we never expected, it can be hard to get truly motivated. What many thought was a temporary situation has become the new normal and, now more than ever, motivation at work is more difficult, especially if you’re no longer in an office surrounded by people.

While the question of how to get motivated at work doesn’t always have one set answer, as people find motivation in different ways, it’s generally recognized that finding intrinsic motivation at work is the best. This essentially means that the task or job itself is reward enough of a job well done.

Research by Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago shows that this leads to better results than extrinsic motivation in the workplace, an example of which is monetary reward or even negative consequences. Focusing on things that you have no direct control over, like rewards and consequences, can lead to a lack of motivation at work rather than an increase. 



Question Mark Icon

What affects work motivation?

Let’s talk more about control. In psychology, distinguishing between your circles of control, influence, and concern is an important way to improve your mental health. This practice comes from Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” in which he distinguishes the circles as below:

Circle of control: includes things that we can control like what we do and what we eat.

Circle of influence: includes things we can influence such as the strength of our relationships.

Circle of concern: includes things we have no control over even though they occupy our thoughts such as other people and their reactions or actions.

Control Circles Graphic

Many people spend too much time outside of the circle of control and focus instead on the other two. When we focus too much on these external factors, we begin to feel helpless and that has a detrimental effect on our daily motivation for work, as well as other areas of our lives.

Bringing focus back to what is within your control is more likely to empower you and give your confidence a boost, which in turn will aid your ability to self-motivate. The difference between each of the circles is similar to the differences in motivation vs inspiration: the latter has you waiting for something external to come along and spur you into action, whereas the former comes from within yourself to push you.

Another factor which may affect your daily motivation for work, and which is closely linked to taking control, is accountability. Motivation and accountability often go hand in hand as it means focusing on what changes you can make from within rather than relying on outside sources.

Instead of always placing responsibility on other parties, like management for example, try to change your perspective and take back some control and accountability. Ask yourself what can you do to improve your environment or to solve a problem? Refocus your questions from ‘helpless thinking’ questions to ‘I questions’.

For instance, instead of asking “why don’t management communicate better?” try asking “how can I communicate better with management?”.



Stress and work motivation

Stressed Woman

It sounds counterintuitive but bear with us when we say that certain stresses can be conducive to helping you increase motivation at work. In some ways, it can be stressful to actually not have any stresses as there’s nothing to drive you forward and keep you from becoming apathetic – and then unmotivated.

“Eustress” is the term attributed to so-called ‘good’ stresses. They’re things like excitement and anticipation or even nerves in the right setting. Without them, we’d have no variety in our lives and nothing to keep us pushing forwards.

The word “eustress” comes from the Greek prefix ‘eu-’ which means – you guessed it – good.

At work when you have these beneficial stresses, you can use the adrenaline that comes with them in a helpful and healthy way to combat any lack of motivation at work. Find some new challenges if your work is becoming stale or uninteresting, or talk to your boss about potential learning and development opportunities.



Tips for how to get motivated at work

Jules McClean, an accredited psychotherapist in the UK, recommends keeping a note of past successes. “Negativity sticks to us like Velcro, but positive feedback slides off like Teflon if we let it,” she says. “Keeping track of successes is not about bragging, but about being proud of what achievements you’ve made.”

Having your positive achievements in mind will help you to create a more positive mindset, too, which is one of four key factors in improving your self-motivation.

Positive Thinking Icon

Positive thinking

If you sometimes tend towards negativity, changing your mindset to include more positive thinking is a great place to start for increasing motivation. It’s about finding a balance so that negativity doesn’t overwhelm you – of course, not everything is positive 100% of the time.

Remember that only you have the power to change your own attitude. Keeping your thoughts positive and focusing on a positive future will help you realize it. When you natural expect positive results, choices you make will be more positive, and having a picture in mind of the success you want helps to bridge the gap between merely wanting something and actually having the confidence to go out and get it.

Thumbs Up Icon

Self-confidence and self-efficacy

They sound the same, but they have different meanings. Self-confidence is a confidence in your work and your own personal value. Self-efficacy is confidence in your ability to succeed in a certain task. Both are linked inextricably together with self-motivation; when you set challenging goals for yourself, your self-confidence dictates your belief in whether you have the skills you need to achieve the goals, and your self-efficacy dictates your expectation as to whether you will succeed.

It’s easier said than done to improve self-confidence and certainly can’t be done overnight. It takes work and a lot of positive thinking, as above. Work on recognizing your strengths and the achievements you’ve made, and write them down, too! Keep a list somewhere that you can refer back to if you need a reminder of your own skill and ability. Doing this rather than letting any weaknesses or negativity flow in will gradually change your mindset and thus improve your motivation, at work or anywhere.

Environment Icon


We mentioned earlier the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation at work and how the latter is the better of the two. That being said, having some external motivation at work lends some extra support, so identify things that motivate you and make you feel happy, and think about how you can incorporate them into your working environment.

Examples to consider:

  • If you do some of your best work in a team on collaborative projects, talk to your boss about increasing the opportunities for connecting with people.
  • Set some easily achievable goals for some quick wins every now and again to keep you feeling on top of your game.
  • Communicate with supportive people around you and keep each other accountable for certain achievements.
Goals List Icon

Strong goals for focus

Without an end goal, it can be difficult to find the motivation to get started. Writing strong, intentioned goals at work is a key strategy for making sure your work is the best it can be. This way, you’re also creating a little eustress in the excitement from a challenging yet attainable goal.

To write effective goals that will help you focus rather than flitting from one to another, or even giving up, you need to think SMART:

SMART Acronym

S – Specific – be clear and concise as to what you want to achieve. Anything too vague will probably lead to your motivation falling and your focus straying. It can help to further list some questions such as why this goal is so important and what you want to accomplish.

M – Measurable – ensure you have some way of measuring any success along the way and at the end. Assessing the progress you make as you go along will help you see how far you’ve come and keep you motivated to see it through to the end.

A – Achievable – don’t set yourself an unrealistic goal. Sure, it would be great if you ended up succeeding despite the huge challenge, but the setback you may feel if you don’t could have a detrimental effect on your motivation in other projects. Make sure any goal you set has an attainable end whilst still stretching your skills and challenging you.

R – Reasonable – beware of setting goals where the outcome is not entirely within your control such as getting a promotion. Narrow it down more so that it becomes about you honing any skills or increasing any experience you may need to put you in the running for a promotion.

T – Timely – every goal needs a deadline. Imposing time limits will give you a definitive end to work towards and help you manage the work within that time more effectively. If nothing else, the looming deadline can act as extrinsic motivation and spur you into action!



    Motivated People

    At the end of the day, the best motivation comes from within. Take whatever steps you need to make motivating yourself easier. Ensure you enjoy your work but are also challenged, surround yourself with the best kinds of people, and try to find the positives.

    Do you have any tips for improving motivation at work? Let us know!



    Email newsletterFor more informative articles about office supplies, subscribe to our email newsletter!

    Never fear, you won't begin receiving daily sales emails that belong in a spam folder. Instead, we promise a fun weekly roundup of our latest blog posts and great finds from across the web. And if you lose interest, it's always easy to unsubscribe with a single click.



    Elodie McClean is a writer and former newspaper advertising professional based in London, England. Often found in the nearest Starbucks having to spell her name out to the barista, she will also talk for days about all things dogs, lipstick, and gin related.

    Leave a comment

    All comments are moderated before being published