3 Experiments That Show the Psychology Behind Workplace Motivation

Posted by on Thu, Apr 11, 2013

Motivation is largely driven by an individual’s psychology. Our lives, especially our work lives, are heavily impacted by the reward systems our brains create. By understanding how people experience reward, leaders can better understand how to successfully motivate their team, and how to meaningfully communicate with their clients. Remember, reward doesn’t always imply money. Something as small as a “thanks” can go a long way to ensuring your team feels valued and stays motivated. A properly motivated team will typically mean happier customers.

Jessica Gross’ What Motivates Us at Work looks into 7 engrossing studies that demonstrate how psychology can greatly impact the leader-team member dynamic.

Here are three of the most compelling studies to help leadership better understand motivation.


image via imelenchon/morguefile

The less appreciated we feel, the more money we want 

The study: Participants were asked to perform a simple task. At the end of the task the participants were either greeted with an acknowledgement, were ignored, or their tasks were shredded. Unsurprisingly, those who were acknowledged needed the least incentive, and those who were ignored or had their work shredded need twice as much money to continue.

What this means: You’re a busy person. Your team understands that. But by ignoring your team’s successes, you’re sabotaging their efficiency. Show appreciation for their work, even if it’s just a “thanks”.


Helping others increases our motivation

The study: The students who had benefited from the call centre’s fundraising efforts visited a fundraising call centre. After the visit, revenues had increased by 171 percent even though the call centre team denied the visit had any impact on their work ethic.

What this means: Whether you make it entirely apparent or not, your employees will work better if they feel like they are helping people. As I’ve said in the past, making your business client-focused will improve your team’s motivation. If your team feels like they are ripping a customer off, they are likely to feel unmotivated.


The harder the project, the more rewarded we feel

The study: Participants were asked to make an origami structure following directions, and then a second origami structure without directions. Across the board, the second structure was uglier than the first, but participants still valued it more.

What this means: Even if an employee might not be ready for a larger project, consider giving them that responsibility. Chances are, they will work a lot harder, learn a lot more, and will feel more valued as a result.

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  • cas124

    Where are the links/citations to these studies? I’d like to read them in more detail, please.

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