How to Motivate Employees by Letting Them Motivate Themselves (Part 1 of 3)

Our society is fairly obsessed with the concept that employees can be “motivated” into doing work they do not like or do not want to do. But is this conventional wisdom valid?

HR managers generally learn to motivate by using a combination of sticks and carrots. If you offer employees enough money to do good work and/or create punishments to disincentivize bad work, you should get compliance and results. Most people in Western society learn these concepts from an early age. Even to suggest that they could lack validity borders on the heretical.

But emerging science in the field of human motivation suggests that this “stick and carrot” strategy is not only somewhat inhumane, but it is also surprisingly likely to backfire.

For instance, in a series of experiments he ran in the 1970s, Edward Deci, a famous behavioral psychologist, demonstrated something quite peculiar. If you try to motivate people to perform a certain task by offering them more money, they will be de-motivated. They will also do worse at the tasks they complete.

More recently, researcher Daniel Pink conducted several experiments to identify what motivates achievement. Pink found that employees who experience autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose at work tend to be more fulfilled and to produce better results.

Contrary to what most of us learned about motivation, more money does not mean more results.

When workers lack purpose, a sense of control over their output, and opportunities to improve, life can be miserable, even if the perks are generous. We will learn more about how to motivate properly in an upcoming post. Until then, please look to Attorney Nancy Gray for a sound, free case evaluation regarding your California employment law questions.


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