Why do we do the things we do?

By: Glenda Lofton, Ph.D.

Oct 29, 2019


A few years ago a group of us staying at a major hotel chain watched two employees clean up after a brunch in the main atrium.  The task involved taking down the folding tables, clearing away the soiled tablecloths, vacuuming a small area, and then setting up tables for another function.  Looking down from above, we watched as the workers in slow motion put the tablecloths in a pile, folded the tables, left for a while returning with a cart on which to load the tables, then left and returned with a huge bin in which to deposit the few dirty tablecloths that easily could have been carried to the bin.  One slowly vacuumed the floor, leaving behind a huge chunk of cheese and two large pieces of trash.  Two hours after they had begun, they returned with the same tables they had removed, set them up in a new configuration, crooked and unsymmetrical, covered them with clean tablecloths that were likewise crooked, and stepped over the cheese that still remain on the floor as they departed.                

Meanwhile, the housekeeper on our floor cleaned many rooms thoroughly and efficiently, taking the opportunity while she worked to smile, inquire about our visit, respond to my grandchildren, ask if we needed anything, and offer suggestions for things to do while we visited there.                

Over the years, like many, I still ponder...Why are some people apathetic about their work while others are passionate about it? Why do some persist until the task is completed, while others look for more elegant and complex solutions long after a reasonable answer has been found? Why are the LSU Tigers “up” against some teams and “flat” against others? I recall a former coach who expressed the frustration of a lot of us who try to motivate others to high performance when he stated, “Do I know if they’ve learned their lesson or not? No…but you know, why does anybody do what they do?”  As an educator, I read of school districts bringing in motivational speakers to “motivate” students to increase their achievement on national standardized tests and giving cash bonuses to teachers whose students scored higher on the tests. If motivation comes from within the person, and money can sometimes be a de-motivator rather than a motivator (as suggested by Frederick Herzberg (1923-2000), one of the most influential names in business management and who also happens to be one of Tommy’s favorite psychologists), then will these actions make a difference?                

From the research on motivation, the study of why we do the things we do, we know to no one’s surprise that people who are motivated usually perform well.  However, we are still making “educated guesses” about why we do the things we do—why some are motivated and some are not.  In my own study of motivation, I agree with psychologists like Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) who suggest that motivation is linked to a hierarchy of our deeply rooted needs and aspirations as human beings with the most basic needs at the bottom:  

  • Physiological Needs: The basic needs of food and water
  • Safety Needs
  • The need for love/belonging
  • Esteem needs, including self-respect and the respect of others
  • Self-actualization or the need for a sense of personal fulfillment 

That’s what makes motivation so difficult to understand and develop.                

In The Purpose Driven Life, (2002), Rick Warren explains that, “Everyone’s life is driven by something—a problem, a pressure, a deadline, a painful memory, a haunting fear, or an unconscious belief.  There are hundreds of circumstances, values, and emotions that can drive your life but most result in unused potential, unnecessary stress, and an unfulfilled life.”  In contrast, Warren suggests that “nothing energizes like a clear purpose…It is usually meaningless work, not overwork, that wears us down, saps our strength…”                

At Lofton Staffing, we talk about our purposes as individuals and as a staffing service—to study, train, and work not only to serve our clients but to serve each other.  For me that purpose becomes even more motivational when I think of the Bible verse, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23, NIV).  As Tommy, and now Bret and Bart, remind us, “Why do we do the things we do? For the joy of it!  And when we don’t feel joy? We fake it. Why? Because research suggests that when we change the way we think, we change the way we act, and if you at least look joyful, it makes the rest of us feel a whole lot better!”        

About Lofton: Founded in 1979, Lofton Services offers clients the best of all worlds. We provide the responsive, personal service and flexibility of a small local firm while having the technology, resources, and infrastructure to deliver the benefits of the biggest players in our industry. Lofton Staffing can deliver the right people, with the right skills, right when you need them. Celebrating 40 years in staffing excellence! Contact us today


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Relationships are built…one on one.
Know your people - match interest and talents to the tasks.
Don’t manage by numbers. (They just show if we’re on track.) People do the work.
People should feel better when they leave than when they came – and in turn we feel better.
When we help others, we help ourselves.
Great expectations: fair pay, fair treatment, teach me.
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Work at having fun (51% of the time.) If you don’t feel it, fake it. Having fun is not slacking off. Work is more natural than play.