The unbearable lightness of knowledge working

Here’s an interesting article that’s been rattling around the web for a while now, but worth revisiting: according to Jared Sandberg at the WSJ –

In the Information Age, so much is worked on in a day at the office but so little gets done. In the past, people could see the fruits of their labor immediately: a chair made or a ball bearing produced. But it can be hard to find gratification from work that is largely invisible, or from delivering goods that are often metaphorical. You can’t even leave your mark on a document in increasingly paperless offices. It can be even harder trying to measure it all.

Doing a job well provides tangible benefits

Doing a job well is gratifying and provides tangible benefits

In Ireland recently, a survey by the recruitment company Executive Connections suggested that most people in the job market are on the move not, as you might imagine for greater remuneration, but because of a perceived lack of career progression and satisfaction with their current role; people really do have an inherent need for, and are motivated by responsibilities in their job.

As learning practitioners – and particularly in e-learning – we’re aware of the importance of motivating and rewarding learners. Many of us have first-hand experience of the numbingly dull exercise of proceeding through linear old skool CBT-style courseware. We try to design, develop, and deliver engaging and interactive  experiences that will reward our learners, or at least evoke a degree of satisfaction when they accomplish a task or successfully complete an activity, and we also know about the statistics of the high drop-out rates for e-learning programmes.

I’m wondering if there’s a relationship between these two phenomena? In my view, organisational performance is highly dependent on worker ability and motivation.

Ability depends on educational development, experience, and training; developing this facility is an ongoing process that doesn’t reap immediate rewards. However, motivation can be improved quickly. As a guideline, there are broadly seven strategies for motivation.

  • Positive reinforcement / high expectations
  • Effective discipline and punishment
  • Treating people fairly
  • Satisfying employees needs
  • Setting work related goals
  • Restructuring jobs
  • Base rewards on job performance

These are the basic strategies, though the mix varies from situation to situation/workplace to workplace. In the under- or unmotivated worker (including those who drop out of e-learning courses for example) we can say that there is a disconnect between an individuals actual state and some desired state: so how do we resolve this disconnect, and ultimately support knowledge workers find increased psychological satisfaction in their professional endeavours?

Answers on a postcard please.


Sandberg, J. (2008) A Modern Conundrum: When Work’s Invisible, So Are Its Satisfactions. The Wall Street Journal [Internet]. Available from: http://online.wsj.com/article/
[Accessed 12th July 2017]