What motivates you when it comes to work? We sometimes assume those who decide on a profession for altruistic reasons are happier than those working simply to improve their bank accounts. In at least one profession, though, this might not be the case. Nurses motivated to help people are more likely to burn out on the job than those in it for the money and the lifestyle, University of Akron researchers discovered in their new study.

When you think about different jobs, it probably does not matter to you why someone has decided on the work. Let’s see: equipment salesperson, janitor, stand-up comic, investment banker, waitress… Do you worry at all about what drives someone when they come to take your order? Now consider a teacher, a dentist, and a lawyer. Here you may begin to wonder about the motivations of these professionals. At the very least, you are thinking about how well they perform their job. Now, think for a moment about the nearly 3.1 million registered nurses nationwide. This occupation, which remains female-dominated, still tends to be associated with care and altruism. In many minds, nurses are akin to mothers.

The “desire to help others,” a team of researchers from the University of Akron suggest, often figures prominently among the many motivations for those entering the field. However, this could very well be the very worst reason to work in the difficult and demanding profession, an insight based on survey data collected from more than 700 registered nurses in Northeast Ohio.

What the team discovered was nurses who are highly motivated by both the nursing lifestyle (many nurses work unusual schedules) and the ability to interact with patients are more satisfied with their employer and less inclined to leave their current job than nurses who say they want to help others. They also found nurses who pursue their career for less altruistic reasons or in addition to a desire to help others find the job less stressful. All of which results in less burnout, better personal health, and higher job commitment.

"We expect women to go into these jobs because they love the people that they're caring for," said Dr. Janette Dill, an assistant professor of sociology and co-author of the study. Yet, if this cultural assumption can be changed, Dill noted, not only would nurses suffer less burnout and genuinely enjoy their work, but quite possibly more men would be attracted to the profession. A win for one and all.

Source: Dill J, Erickson R, Diefendorff J. Motivation and Care Dimensions in Caring Labor: Implications for Nurses' Well-Being and Employment Outcomes. American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. 2014.