Preserve or Promote: Your Motivation Style at Work

Recognizing patterns in what motivates and de-motivates you can have a powerful effect on your career.

Published: Jan 9, 2020

What motivates you in the workplace? The results of our quiz indicate that you are a preservationist.

Unlike a promoter, you typically strive to avoid undesired circumstances rather than achieve desired ones. At work you prefer stability, reliability, and, if possible, low stress. You are motivated by having job security, achieving a well-rounded background lifestyle, functioning in structured, well-defined roles, and being part of a supportive group. You typically prefer jobs in which promotion and reward come via seniority or tenure.

Here’s a look at how your motivations are likely to play out in the workplace.

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Now back to your quiz results!

The motivation to achieve a balance between work and personal life. Preservationists prefer work-related flexibility and broadly defined self-development, while promoters thrive in high-stress, life-defining job roles.

Sample scenario: You’ve recently relocated to a new state to be closer to your family and joined a local nonprofit organization working in fundraising. While you feel passionate about the organization’s mission, you’ve been most pleased with the consistent hours, the ability to work remotely, and the time your job allows you to spend with family and friends. That’s why the recent news that your boss is leaving and her position is up for grabs hasn’t caught your attention. While the rest of the fundraising team has been competitively marketing themselves for the role, you’re much more interested in maintaining the work-life balance that might be lost if you entered a senior role.

Preservationists are often highly collaborative and prefer to be part of a team, build consensus, and share responsibility. Promoters, meanwhile, can sometimes view collaboration as an impediment to moving forward.

The latitude to pursue an independent, entrepreneurial approach to work. Promoters often desire more freedom from organizational constraints; they want to set and pursue their own vision. They also value employability over job security—which is one driver that’s often a nonnegotiable for preservationists.

Sample scenario: After a few years of stagnant growth, the company you work for as a financial analyst is looking to replace its president. In a midsize company, the new president may not directly affect much of your day-to-day work, but you hear that one of the executives in consideration is a young leader with a track record of working in high-growth startups. While many of your coworkers begin to whisper about the potential that may come from this style of leader, all you can think of is the opportunity for increased risk. You’d much prefer a level-headed and experienced CEO who sticks to organizational markers and doesn’t reinvent the wheel.

The motivation to press on in the face of tough obstacles. Promoters, who prefer challenge, like competitive work assignments and environments that often preclude them from operating comfortably and in familiar ways. Preservationists, meanwhile, prefer the status quo.

Sample scenario: Since graduating from college, you’ve been planning a career as a certified public accountant. You aced your CPA exam and landed a position within a major consulting firm. Your years of strong performance have now put you in the running to spend a year overseas working in the firm’s Berlin office. For many, this would be a dream opportunity. But all you can think about is the language barrier, the culture shock you’ll encounter, and the entirely new accounting system you’ll have to learn. And that’s before you even think about the logistics of moving your family abroad. So you decide to decline the opportunity and recommend another team member instead.

The desire to achieve work-related status and influence, and to make an impact on the organization. Promoters who seek power often want visibility and responsibility within an organization, to acquire a high degree of influence. Preservationists, meanwhile, prefer to fly under the radar and contribute in their own ways.

Sample scenario: After working in sales at the same company for over five years, you’ve been offered a leadership position to manage a team. Instead of feeling good about increasing your level of responsibility (not to mention your salary), you have absolutely no desire to go down the management path. You’d much rather remain an individual contributor who doesn’t have to be responsible for the output and success of a whole department. So you decide then and there that a career as an individual contributor and subject-matter expert in your field is the more alluring option.

The preference to work interdependently, make decisions jointly, and pursue goals in a group. Preservationists are often highly collaborative and prefer to be part of a team, build consensus, and share responsibility. Promoters, meanwhile, can sometimes view collaboration as an impediment to moving forward.

Sample scenario: As the chief marketing officer of a small coffee-shop chain, you’ve always prided yourself on allowing decisions to be group efforts involving senior leaders and employees. Branding decisions and names of products get workshopped and voted on before any major decision is made. Employees love the interaction and collaboration, but some of the managers have started to grumble about the approach, saying it slows down the process and isn’t agile. Even though some say having a single decision-maker would be more efficient, you stick to your guns. You know that getting everyone’s input has led the company to a creative approach to marketing that would have otherwise been impossible.

The preference for work-related stability, predictability, and structure. Individuals with this preference—preservationists—value job security and familiar problems and solutions. Promoters, meanwhile, can handle more of a play-it-by-ear arrangement.

Sample scenario: As a 20-year military veteran, you know that organization and process are what make projects work. But now that you’ve left the service and are looking for your next role in the civilian sector, you’ve been surprised to see that some organizations prioritize flexibility over structure. This makes you a bit anxious, as you’ve always been one to have a tool in your toolbox for every problem you encounter. Since you know where your strengths lie, you make it a priority to initiate a series of informational interviews and networking lunches to make sure that the companies you pursue will be a good match for you.

For more on motivation and goals in the workplace, visit

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