The Common Belief About Motivating People That We Get Wrong
We’ve all heard of the insane salaries and perks that Wall Street and large companies bequeath their CEO’s. They’re astronomical.
You see, companies believe that large salaries will both retain top talent and also give them incentive to perform at a high level. It’s the primary tool used to motivate employees and keep them happy.
The problem with that belief?
Our Basic Belief About Money and Motivation
Money is important, but just how motivating is it?
It turns out that many of us believe that cash bonuses, stock options, and other monetary perks is the single best tool to motivate others.
A new study, published in Motivation Science, questions that belief. Psychologists asked participants to predict the the outcome of a particular situation. Here’s the scenario:
A group of people are playing a game. Who is more likely to play again? A group that is offered a performance based incentive to play, or a group who isn’t offered an incentive at all.
Over 62% of the participants believed the group offered the monetary incentive would be more likely to play again.
However, the psychologists had conducted this exact scenario prior to asking the participants. And they found that people who weren’t offered any incentive were, in fact, more likely to play. A result that has turned up time and time again in psychology research.
Here’s another interesting fact.
People who answered incorrectly were also more confident about their answer. Meaning that the ones who got the answer wrong – that money would increase motivation – were more convinced that they were right.
Here’s How Money Affects Motivation
This has turned into a basic assumption about how people are motivated.
Want someone to perform better at their job? Want your kids to take out the garbage? Want them to get better grades in school? Then pay them to do it. Or pay them more.
And the lead author of the study thinks it’s a big problem:
Society has a deep-rooted misunderstanding of how motivation works, and employers are repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot with the frequent use of rewards to encourage certain behaviors or increase effort.
This doesn’t just apply for companies. It’s applicable to our personal and parental lives as well. Using financial incentives to get children to behave in certain ways have been shown to backfire.
It’s true that money can increase a person’s short term motivation. But it’s short lived. Psychological research has shown that this is one of the worst ways to increase long term performance.
How Does Money Demotivate People?
The psychologists say there’s two big reasons why offering incentives may actually hinder performance.
1. It erodes our intrinsic motivation. Experts have even labeled this phenomenon the “undermining effect”.
Subconsciously, a person’s autonomy is eroded. If they’re getting paid to do something, they’re no longer doing an activity because they simply enjoy it. They’re now doing it because someone is giving them a reward for doing so.
2. We focus on the reward and not the actual task at hand. And this can lead to some unethical behavior, like lying or cheating. When the end result is the only thing that matters, it seems we’ll do anything to get there.
The experts believe we need to stop thinking in such an outmoded fashion:
Our work shows we need to correct our strong misbelief in a carrot and stick approach to achieve sustained motivation among workers.
Money is important, but it isn’t everything. And for long term performance, it’s best to tap into more intrinsic types of motivations. Not external based rewards.