ASK THE OD PARTNERS: Is A Satisfied Employee Necessarily A Motivated Employee?

Reflections and Thoughts by Gabrielle Lee

Senior OD Catalyst

Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO at Gallup, shared a conversation he had with a ranger at the Yellowstone National Park several years ago. Having noticed the famous sign that says, "Don't Feed the Bears,” he asked the ranger if a lot of campers were getting mauled. The ranger explained that the sign isn't for the protection of the campers, but for the bears. Because once the bears taste the campers’ treats, they quit digging for roots and catching deer — their natural instincts are ruined and so are their lives.

Clifton observes this bear-feeding culture in many companies that try to increase their employees’ satisfaction by offering them free lunches and other pampering services at work. Yet just like bears who fill their appetites with treats from campers and give up hunting, an employee's satisfaction at work doesn’t necessarily drive them in the long run.


While job satisfaction isn’t only derived from external factors such as workplace benefits and having a conducive working environment, but also comes intrinsically when we fulfil a task or responsibility to the best of our abilities, or get recognised for what we do, it's limited to being the degree to which we feel positively or negatively about our jobs. Ultimately, the driving force behind any kind of action or lack of action lies in our motivation.

When things are going smoothly at work and there are no crises or critical periods, feeling satisfied with our jobs can superficially mask the need to address our motivation. Satisfaction may also lead us into complacency, which stifles our desire to do something more to improve our performance at work.


Motivation mobilises performance because motivation is associated with our purpose, which is timeless and continually gives meaning and direction to our work. A purpose can be described as a larger-than-self vision, which pushes the individual to continue to find ways to contribute to the community. Perhaps "purpose" can even be understood as one’s “lifework”; symbolising a never-ending pursuit of one’s mission in life!

In fact, motivation that comes from purpose can even spur us towards performance or behaviour that exceeds our expectations. I’ve seen how such purpose-driven employees stay loyal to an organisation despite the "downs" that may happen when the economy is unstable, even willing to take huge pay cuts or cuts in personal benefits, until the organisation has weathered the storm. These employees have such conviction in the work of the organisation, as well as a strong alignment of their purpose and their work.

Do you know what your purpose in life is? How does it motivate you to keep pushing even when the external environment is not satisfactory?

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