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What motivates employees in the workplace?

Ted Talk: Dan Pink- The puzzle of motivation

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don’t.  Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think.  Dan Pink introduces ‘The Candle Problem’.  The Candle Problem involves individuals using their knowledge and creativity to find a solution of attaching a candle to a wall with a box of thumbtacks and matches in a way that will keep the candle from dripping.  In the experiment, there are two groups. One group is told that they are being timed while the other group has a monetary incentive for finishing their product.  Surprisingly, the group with the monetary incentive took 3 more minutes than the group with the time restraints.  Past research has shown that for most tasks you cannot incentivize people to perform better with money.  Although this is the most robust findings from social science, it is the most forgotten.  Dan Pink says throughout his speech, there is a “mismatch between what science knows and business does”.

Dan Pink states that if we can get past the simplistic “carrots vs. sticks” ideology, and allow workers to be more motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, we can make our businesses stronger and maybe even change the world.

Over the course of our lives, many of us have learned to persist at difficult tasks. Usually we like particular types of difficult tasks, and we often take pride in accomplishing difficult goals. That is, we have learned to work towards mastery of certain things.  We like challenges.  Employees with high self-efficacy believe in their abilities which is shown through hard work and dedication.

While many would think that pay was the most powerful motivation tool, it is not.  People want to feel important and respected.  Achievement is the drive to succeed.

Click here to watch the full TED Talk video.


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