Who do you work for?

Who do you work for? The one-handed economist, David Zetland

Economists assume that people work for themselves first, i.e., accepting payment (extrinsic motivation) to do something they would not do if they were not paid.

But that “model” ignores the role of intrinsic motivation (we do what we like) which plays a role — large or small — in determining where we work, but also how much we are willing to accept to do the work (more intrinsic motivation on offer means reduces the need for extrinsic motivation).

So it’s complicated.

Now get into the common problem of outsiders assuming you are there for intrinsic reasons when you are there for other reasons. For example:

  • You work at a non-profit, but only because of the salary (extrinsic).
  • You teach at a university but only because you want to be left alone to do research (different intrinsic reasons).
  • You say you care about the public interest but your company screws the public (extrinsic displaces intrinsic).

My one-handed conclusion is that you should not take someone’s motivational claim at face value. Better to watch to see how their behavior (revealed preference) aligns or clashes with their professed goals (stated preference).