The Six Drivers That Motivate You at Work

As you advance in your career, it’s crucial to understand what makes you tick so that you perform at your best.

Published: Jan 9, 2020

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

Unlike a preservationist, you typically strive to achieve desired circumstances rather than avoid undesired ones. You prefer challenging roles at work that allow opportunity for personal growth, upward mobility, and achievement. You pursue the respect and recognition of others and tend toward an entrepreneurial spirit, preferring environments in which promotion and rewards are granted according to merit.

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

Before you go on...

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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 just received a memo from your CEO that your company is extending holiday time off by two extra days this year. It’s being billed as part of the firm’s thank-you to employees during their twenty-fifth anniversary celebration. You should be happy to have more time off, but you’re really a bit annoyed: a big project is gaining momentum, and while it’s not due for a month, you want to try and get it done as fast as possible. Lately, your favorite pastime has been working late at night, away from distractions at the office. After reading the memo, you decide that instead of taking those days off, you’d rather go into the office when everyone is gone and have two quiet days to move the project forward.

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.

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: As a human resources specialist, you’ve been trying to get upper management to implement some of your ideas for improving diversity and inclusion. Your boss suggests that you talk to the division’s vice president, and after waiting two months for a meeting, you get a chance. After you present your strategy, you can tell she’s only lukewarm on the ideas because she says she’ll get back to you with her thoughts. While you wait, you reach out to others at the company to see if you can get any traction. You start to feel angry as you think about all your other ideas the company has passed on, and how they say one thing and then seem to do another. So when you meet a director of diversity and inclusion at a networking event, you become invigorated by her desire to venture out on her own and start something new—possibly with you.

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: You’re a highly efficient executive assistant who supports a team of six leaders and enjoys the excitement of having to produce results under tight deadlines. But you feel that only three of the leaders are fully utilizing your skills and time, often doing much of the work themselves. So you set up meetings with those three to see what additional projects or tasks you can take on from them. When two of them give you more work but the other one stalls, you decide to sign up for an online training course and start researching MBA programs so you can position yourself for an opportunity that’s more demanding.

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: You finally got the role you’ve been waiting for: vice president of IT. You'll be leading a large team, and you can’t wait to get them into gear. But there’s something you just can’t shake. In the past you’ve been told that those who reported to you felt intimidated by your confidence and occasional lack of empathy. It bothers you to have to deal with everyone’s feelings when it’s time for execution. This time, though, you’re trying to be more strategic about how you motivate your team’s different personalities. By doing so, you think you can make this team successful, and you’re already envisioning the day when you gain enough prestige and leverage to take over that corner office.

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: Yikes: you’ve been invited to join another professional association’s committee. While you enjoy attending networking events to get ideas on how you can improve your skills, you hate the idea of participating in this way. You think committees are a waste of time, and even being asked to sit on this one is making you feel like quitting the association. You decline and offer some ideas about how they might run the group more efficiently. You think to yourself, “How many members does it take to change a light bulb?”

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: You should’ve listened to your career coach. Knowing your passion for innovation, he was right to question your desire to work for a more conservative company—not because the product-manager role didn’t sound exciting, but because you’re already frustrated by the red tape you’ve had to go through just to get hired. You went through several interview panels and prehire testing, then barely stayed awake during the two weeks of training that hasn’t been updated since 1980. Now that you’re in the role, you feel like your first project is akin to a paint-by-numbers kit. Don’t they value critical thinking? Things are so formal that you feel like you’re in prison. Sure, the pension is nice, but the thought of filling out one more form, or having to break for lunch at the same time ad infinitum, makes you want to bang your head against the table.

For more on motivation and goals in the workplace, visit

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