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June 13, 2016 Comments Off on Still Believe in Motivation By Carrots? Here’s Why it Won’t Work! Views: 124 Alignment, Driving Force, Internal Communication, Life At Work

Still Believe in Motivation By Carrots? Here’s Why it Won’t Work!

Anita volunteers at an old-age home where she spends time with the elderly, helps with errands and organizes fun activities for them. Recently, she was invited to work full-time with a salary of INR 25k per month. However, she confessed that nowadays she doesn’t feel as motivated to come and work as she used to earlier; somehow it isn’t as much fun.

Surprised at Anita’s reaction? Well, there is an explanation. Studies indicate that if extrinsic rewards are allocated for behaviour that had previously been intrinsically rewarding, the overall level of motivation tends to decrease.

Wait a minute. Does this mean people need not be paid for work?

Dan Ariely (Duke University), and James Heyman (University of St. Thomas), explored this idea. They set up computers that had a circle on the left side of the screen and a square on the right side and asked participants to use the mouse to drag the circle into the square. Once they did, a new circle appeared on the left. The task was to drag as many circles as they could within five minutes. Some participants received five dollars, some fifty cents, and some were asked to do it as a favor.

Can you guess how hard each group worked? The five dollar group dragged, on average, 159 circles. The fifty cents group dragged 101 circles. What about the group that was paid nothing but asked to do it as a favor? They dragged 168 circles; much higher than the other two groups.

Let us think of the possible reason. As people, we do tend to subconsciously talk to ourselves. Is it not possible that here, the participants may have asked simple questions such as, “Would I do it for 5 dollars?”, “Would I do it for 5 cents?”, and “Would I do it to help someone else?”. The answers to these questions may have been “Seems good”, “Seems low”, and “YES!” respectively. Thus only going to prove that it is ‘the desire to help someone’ that would internally motivate the person to go the extra mile.

Research also suggests that if there is no external reward, we shift the ‘cause’ of doing the work from external to internal. We feel control over what is being done; whereas there is a loss of choice when we are paid for it.

While this surely does not imply that organisations need not pay people, it does imply that managers need not act like they are the ‘cause’ of motivation for their employees. Rather, their role must be to help an individual find his or her ‘intrinsic’ motivation.

Ask your team: Why are you doing this work? What moves you about it?

What gives you the satisfaction of a job well done? What makes you feel good about yourself?

  • Challenge: Tasks must challenge the person. Make work more interesting!
  • Control: Make employees feel control over what they do by involving them in making decisions that affect them and their jobs
  • Recognition: Provide positive recognition to the person at work
  • Support : Create growth and developmental opportunities

Once you ensure these, you will find that when people pursue work goals for intrinsic reasons, they perform better and are more satisfied at work. So, do away with those superfluous carrots and help your employees discover meaning at work.

To understand how we can customize interventions to make employees feel motivated at work, say hello at

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