by Vinod Balagopal, Social Psychologist and Career Counsellor
“Push” and “pull” factors represent types of motivators for the choices you make.
Pull factors refer to things that internally motivate you. When a pull factor is in play, you feel excited and engaged while you are performing an action. Pull factors help to keep you focused and actively encourage you to draw yourself in, that is, to keep you motivated.
For example: You are doing a job and you like the people you work with. They are, for you, a pull factor. You feel excited and happy to be in this social group. In this case it is also a social motivator. You may not actually like the work you’re doing but you like the environment this group of people creates, and you contribute to.
Another example: You are learning what you want to learn, enjoying the nature or scope of your work. It holds your interest consistently. Pull factors can be anything that give you a “feel good” factor while in that environment or doing that activity.
Yet another example: You have started a new job and you have a deep interest in a particular area, which you have only a little knowledge in. It may seem you’re at a disadvantage, however, your thirst for knowledge keeps you motivated to improve your skills in that area. As long as you’re still learning, the pull factor is in play.
Push factors, on the other hand, are external motivators. The “excitement” effect is momentary at best, but they can be powerful motivators to propel you on, or restrict movement.
For example: You have a choice between having a salary and having no salary. The first (having a salary) represents a favourable push factor, while the second (no salary) represents an unfavourable push factor.
Salary, in general, is almost always a push factor, the notable exception being your first job, but even then, the exhilaration wears off in a fairly short time. The same goes for bonuses; these work for short spurts of motivation, but with diminishing returns as the good feeling wears off with increasing rapidity.
Other push factors can be things like parental or friend approval of your job (eg. “you’re so lucky to have that job!”), physical health factors (eg falling sick more frequently, or more seriously), and your perception of your immediate society’s approval (eg. pursuing the “best jobs of 2018” without reference to your own inclinations).
Why are push and pull factors important?
They determine how long you will last at a particular job, workplace or, more broadly, career choice of any kind. Push factors, as the name implies, give you that extra impetus to make a move. However, push factors don’t represent anything that can anchor you down. Only pull factors can draw you in and keep you there, long term.