THE NEW YORK TIMES recently published an article called Hey Boss, You Don’t Want Your Employees to Meditate.

They pointed to a confusing study which seemed to indicate that meditation neither improved or reduced motivation on the job. I’m not sure if it’s solid or not, but to me it exemplified the wrong way of thinking about employee productivity.

And that thinking has been with us since the industrial revolution. We’re merely building on old myths. How so?

Well, when we look at the micro scale of productivity, we see things like the number of seconds it takes to insert tab A into slot B. The number of lines of code produced by a programmer. The number of customer calls handled per hour.

Each measure, by itself, can be a poor substitute for the true goals of the organization – perhaps even leading to bad decisions. But I’m writing today about motivation, state of mind, and productivity.

The underlying theory of the study is that meditation might be bad because it leads you to become more satisfied with your life. As a manager, you may not want that, because it’s dissatisfaction with the present and striving toward a better future is what makes your employees motivated.

At its essence, this says that happy employees = poor motivation. Which leads you to believe that your job is to motivate your employees through fear and abuse. To magnify their sense of dissatisfaction.

I would call this line of thinking simplistic and immoral.

The deeper motivation, the kind that sticks around for a lifetime, comes from striving towards a worthwhile goal. Does that mean you’re dissatisfied with the present? In a way, I suppose, but it’s not based on fear.

Fear-based motivation is quite fleeting. You don’t want to think about it; your sole goal is to get away from it as fast as possible.

When you’re trying to escape a disaster, pretty much ANY direction is acceptable.

As a boss, do you want your people to be going in any random direction to escape the present? No, you want them aligned around that sense of mission. Going in the same direction.

So help them build their motivation around the belief that their work is important and worthwhile.