Motivation theory will not expire quietly; today it is broadly trumpeted and highly sophisticated. With rare exception these approaches rely heavily on rewards and recognition to stimulate greater effort. This in spite of very strong evidence that rewards do not work.
This is part 3 of a 7-part article series titled "Forget Motivation: It's Time to Engage".
Motivation theory will not expire quietly; today it is broadly trumpeted and highly sophisticated. The dominant approaches include:
A) Humanistic: Abraham Maslow (1943) built upon the workplace studies of Douglas McGregor (Theory Y), Frederick Herzberg (hygiene factors), and others to create a hierarchy of needs model whereby people would seek to realize—or self-actualize—their higher ambitions. Thereafter motivation theory emphasized incentives, participation, and recognition by peers while downplaying punishment.
B) A complementary social theme starts with Albert Bandura and makes the case that esteem and respect in the eyes of colleagues and others is what stimulates increased effort. This thesis underlies an influential new study by Paul Marciano (2010) promoting engagement through deliberate recognition and respect on the part of the organization and supervisors.
C) Management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1997) offers a more comprehensive Toolbox approach to the problem. This view promotes a range of considerations including worker participation in setting the values and agenda of the organization, sharing in value creation, and learning, together amounting to greater employee empowerment.
D) Behavioral economics is the latest rendition offered by Yale business professor Ian Ayres. This approach combines behavioral psychology with money motivation to utilize “commitment contracts” to break unwanted habits or otherwise reward select behavior.
With rare exception these approaches rely heavily on rewards and recognition to stimulate greater attention and effort. This in spite of very strong evidence that rewards do not work.
Alfie Kohn summarized hundreds of psychological studies in a book revered by a few—and ignored by hordes—entitled Punished by Rewards (Houghton Mifflin, 1993). To oversimplify the findings, the case was simply that rewards kill interest. And it stands to reason that if one is being offered a prize to do something, the task itself must be inherently unimportant or unpleasant. It cannot be worthy or interesting in and of itself. If we want the prize, we hop to the work; if the prize doesn’t light our fire we attend to other matters. Reward and task remain separate, not bonded. Love for the task is rendered unlikely by gaining the reward, and incalculably unlikely if the reward is not won despite the effort.