We’re all talking about it: Company culture. We review it when scanning employment opportunities, our hiring manager discusses it during your interview, and some companies even test new employees to confirm they know it, live it, and love it. It seems to me like company culture is critical to success, yet culture tends to feel like some magic force that few know how to control.

Academics have studied why people work for decades, but a major breakthrough happened in the 1980’s when professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester distinguished the six main reasons why people work: Play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.The first three motives, play, purpose, and potential, are referred to as direct motives because they are directly connected to the work itself in some way. The last three, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia are referred to as indirect motives because they tend to reduce positive motivations when it comes to their careers.

  1. Play

Play is when you are motivated by the work itself. You work because you enjoy it. Your work ignites your passion and curiosity and enjoy the day-to-day tasks, activities, and responsibilities that come with your job.

  1. Purpose

Purpose is when the direct outcome of your work fits your identity. You work because you value the work’s impact. For example, a teacher driven by purpose values or identifies with the goal of educating her class. An employee who is driven by purpose feel that their individual performance is related to the company’s big – picture goal.

  1. Potential

Potential is when the outcome of the work benefits their identity. They feel that the work they are doing benefits their long-term goals set forth by themselves. This could be a promotion, their “dream job,” etc.

  1. Emotional Pressure

Emotional pressure is when you work because some external force threatens your identity. You work to avoid emotional pain from coworkers, family members, your boss, etc

  1. Economic Pressure

Economic pressure is when an external force makes you work. You work to avoid punishment such as losing your job or source of income.

  1. Inertia

Inertia is when the motive is so far removed from the work and you identify that you can’t identify why you’re working. When someone asks you why you do what you do and your response is, “I don’t know. I did it yesterday and the day before that,” that signals inertia.

Creating a business case for culture isn’t impossible. While it is difficult to measure whether your employees are being proactive, creative, or resilient in the moment, it’s actually not difficult to calculate total motivation. By nurturing your team and giving them the skills they require to further their careers, companies can find that the smiles on their employees’ faces will stay, preventing a talent drain that could hurt them immeasurably in years to come.