Workers today are largely motivated by the same considerations as have always been the case, especially during periods of relatively high levels of unemployment: the need to support a family, make mortgage payments, save for college for offspring, afford vacations, own and maintain at least one automobile, and pay for other elements of everyday existence.
Especially in a free market economic system wherein privately-owned businesses are the main contributors to a nation’s Gross Domestic Product, each able individual is expected to produce in exchange for a living wage. In contrast to communist or orthodox socialist systems, in which government provides the main opportunities for employment due its ownership of the major means of production, workers in free market societies understand that they are expected to perform certain specified responsibilities that contribute to a larger effort. Failure to perform can and often does result in termination of employment. As we age and take on additional responsibilities and financial burdens, for example, home ownership, children, etc., the incentive to remain employed increases.
In addition to financial necessity, many people are motivated to work as a means of contributing to society irrespective of pure financial considerations. Workers, especially those who view their jobs positively, find value in their work and enjoy the feeling of being productive members of society. Especially for earlier generations who endured the Great Depression and other periods of social or economic upheaval, employment is equivalent to existence. Their jobs serve an almost existential purpose, and fear of unemployment, with its social, financial and psychological ramifications, remains a potent motivator. Additionally, certain professions – health care and public safety, to name two – involve a psychological commitment to serve others that transcends purely commercial considerations.
At the end of the day, however, financial considerations remain the single strongest motivator for the average worker. The need to pay rent or mortgage, buy groceries and clothing, raise children, and enjoy free time in a minimal level of comfort are sufficient motivation for most people.