Why do people donate time and money to help charities? Every year people give millions of hours to organizations like Habitat for Humanity for free and whatever needs to get done whether construction, painting, cleaning up, etc. gets done without any complaints. People almost forget about who they are, where they come from or what their vocational status might be and are simply happy to do a good deed. Then when you ask them why they do it you inevitably hear them say it was so much fun.
Dan Pink in his book Drive, relates this phenomenon to what is called the Sawyer Affect. It speaks to what motivation drivers are in place when work feels like fun and conversely when fun becomes work. What has been found is that when money is the driver (and basic needs have been met) it becomes less motivating and the fun disappears. Hence we call it “Work” and the pay we get “Compensation”. When money is not involved, even though the activity might be typically viewed as much harder, tedious and physical, people see it as “Fun” and are highly motivated. How strange!
The reason it is fun is because intrinsic motivators are in place. Pink speaks to these as being related to Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In the case of charitable work, it speaks to a great sense of purpose. The notion of helping people is an innate part of our human psyche and when viewed in this way we give of ourselves unconditionally.
So it begs the question as to whether this can ever be translated into the workplace. Ask many entrepreneurs and they will tell you that they work long hours because it speaks to autonomy and mastery. In a work environment where there is autonomy, where people can grow and people feel part of something (purpose), great things can happen. Innovation soars, turnover disappears, productivity jumps and ultimately financial performance excels. Yet many companies are very reluctant to even consider this strategy with their people. Unfortunately old habits die hard!