Work Better, Live Better

Motivation, Labor, and Management Ideology

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David Gray

In the United States, a strong work ethic has long been upheld as a necessity, and tributes to motivation abound—from the motivational posters that line the walls of the workplace to the self-help gurus who draw in millions of viewers online. Americans are repeatedly told they can achieve financial success and personal well-being by adopting a motivated attitude toward work. But where did this obsession come from? And whose interests does it serve?

Work Better, Live Better traces the rise of motivational rhetoric in the workplace across the expanse of two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Cold War. Beginning in the early twentieth century, managers recognized that force and coercion—the traditional tools of workplace discipline—inflamed industrial tensions, so they sought more subtle means of enlisting workers’ cooperation. David Gray demonstrates how this “motivational project” became a highly orchestrated affair as managers and their allies deployed films, posters, and other media, and drew on the ideas of industrial psychologists and advertising specialists to advance their quests for power at the expense of worker and union interests.

Cover design by Frank Gutbrod
Cover photo by Packer (poster artist), “We’re Ready for the Challenge Tomorrow, Let’s do the Job Together!,” c. 1941–1945. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration (NAID) 516115.





Chapter 1
Motivation, Management, and Industrial Modernity

Chapter 2
Quests to Shape the Worker’s Mind
The Rise of Psychological Motivation

Chapter 3
Visions of Striving
Debating Work’s Promises in the Great Depression

Chapter 4
The War over Motivation
Prosperity Rhetoric and the Remaking of Work’s Rewards during World War II

Chapter 5
Selling Workers on Their Jobs
Consumption-Based Motivation and Management Dominion in the Postwar Era

Chapter 6
The New Hucksters of Cooperation
Cold War Consensus Campaigns and the American War of Work

Motivation in an Age of Diminishing Rewards