What motivates us at work?

Seven fascinating studies that give insights posted by Jessica Gross  on April 10, 2013

“When we think about how people work, the naïve intuition we have is that people are like rats in a maze,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariely in a talk given at TEDxRiodelaPlata. “We really have this incredibly simplistic view of why people work and what the labor market looks like.”

When you look carefully at the way people work, he says, you find out there’s a lot more at play—and a lot more at stake—than money. In his talk, Ariely provides evidence that we are also driven by meaningful work, by others’ acknowledgement and by the amount of effort we’ve put in: the harder the task is, the prouder we are.

“When we think about labor, we usually think about motivation and payment as the same thing, but the reality is that we should probably add all kinds of things to it: meaning, creation, challenges, ownership, identity, pride, etc.,” Ariely explains.

To hear more on Ariely’s thoughts about what makes people more productive – and happier – at work,watch this fascinating talk on TED. Below is a list of the studies Ariely and other researchers have completed, with interesting implications for what makes us feel good about our work.

  1. Seeing the fruits of our labor may make us more productive
  2. The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it
  3. The harder a project is, the prouder we feel of it
  4. Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation
  5. The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules
  6. Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance
  7. Images that trigger positive emotions may actually help us focus

eVo Associates finds all this work both fascinating and extremely helpful as the world of leadership shifts to focus on outcomes through total team participation rather than direction.  This dramatic shift in perspective – and in real, fast and sustainable results – will be pervasive across all developed markets within the next decade.  It is time to observe what is happening and apply it to our own organizations.


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