Inner Work Life

October 23, 2011

I love the concept of inner work life from the book “The Progress Principle“. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer describe inner work life as the “perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday.” (p. 20). Based on the work of Richard Hackman, Ed Lawler III, and Greg Oldham, we’ve known for over 40 years that how folks think and feel about their jobs affects their performance. We can change how folks think, and consequently how they perform, by making improvements to the work that they do.

Inner work life follows a very similar chain of logic. Employees perform to the extent they are motivated to do so. Given that employees know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, we have a reason to expect that they might choose to perform. Motivation to perform is strongly affected by what an employee thinks and how he or she feels about work. Perceptions can lead to emotions, and emotions can affect perceptions, and both affect motivation.

If you want to affect the motivation of your employees, you have to improve how they think and feel about the organization, the work they do, co-workers, themselves, and you. The choices you make as a manager influence the events of every work day, and it’s workday events that drive employee performance through employee motivation, emotion, and perception.

The fact that you can help improve the performance of your employees by the choices you make as a manager is great news! It’s your responsibility to learn how to partner with your employees to continually improve the work environment. In future posts, I’ll share with you more specific thoughts from Amabile and Kramer on how to avoid negative and promote positive events at work.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Related Posts:

Five Beliefs Employees Hold About Leaders That Cause Silence

Meaningful Work: The Role Of Servant Leadership

Leader Lab: Want Your Employees To Display Positive Emotions?

About the Author:

Comments (9)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Hi Bret,

    Like you, I enjoyed immensely reading Amabile and Kramer’s Book “The Progress Principle”. In fact, I had the chance to interview them for my podcast series and I mentioned to them how their book was one of favourite business books of the year.

    Their findings are not only inspirational, but practical in application. I hope Bret, you’ll also be discussing their findings on the impact setbacks have on a team’s perception and drive. Certainly, their findings reinforce what other research has found with regards to the differences in impact between positive events and negative ones.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome back, Tanveer. I will be covering more from their book, and it’s impossible to overlook how much they emphasized the power of negative events. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  2. I absolutely agree that the perceptions and thoughts about an organization will affect how motivated an employee is when they work. If you can turn your organization into an inspiring force in their life, it is easier for them to be more motivated.

    “If you want to affect the motivation of your employees, you have to improve how they think and feel about the organization”

    I think that is a driving quote and factor. Organizations will be more successful if they change the attitude about and in the organization.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Will. Love the idea that work can be a positive, driving force in the lives of employees. As it should be. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  3. Wayne says:

    Another great post, Bret. I will have to pick up a copy of the book. Seems to be right on the money. I wonder if the authors cover authority & responsibility at all. In my experience, even unmotivated employees can execute the ‘how’ and ‘when’ part of the job. It’s the ‘what to do’ part that has been the catalyst of the poor performance. I’ve had more than one job where it wasn’t very clear what my ‘purpose” was. I was just a warm body filling a seat. In these situations, I believe it is the employee’s responsibility to take initiative and figure out what their purpose is, because in the end, they will be held accountable anyway. But that can be scary and impractical if employees do not have the authority to take initiative and fear speaking up. Sooner or later, they just give up. Those that can afford to jump ship do.The others stay.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    You will like it, Wayne. Love your counsel about personal responsibility in the face of deficient management. Bad management surely affects performance, but as individuals, we have to do our best to never let it be an excuse for bad behavior on our part. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  4. davidburkus says:

    Love this concept, as you know. I’m actually thinking about creating an infographic that outlines inner work life. (With proper citation of course).

  5. Bret: I have been a fan of Teresa Amabile’s work since I worked with her at CCL when she was on sabbatical. In my work with leaders and managers over the last 20 years, I have found that they are increasingly so focused on all their metrics and outcomes that they almost never think about or even wonder about what’s going on in the minds of their employees. Whenever I bring it up, they find the notion of inner life to be a big aha for them.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Mark! I envy you for the opportunity to work at CCL and all the great folks there. Taking care of employees is MGT 101 in my opinion. Thanks for sharing! Bret