Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Why Sisyphus is most likely not motivated

What motivates us to work? In spite of many research finding, the belief that money does is still wide spread. Now think of Sisyphus, the king that, according to Greek mythology, has to roll a rock up a mountain for all eternity, and whenever he gets close to the top, the rock rolls all the way down again. If he had the choice and he got a lot of money for it, would he be motivated to keep on doing this?

Based on his TED Talk, behavioural economist Dan Ariely would most likely say no. He concludes from his experiment that it is meaning that motivated people. Moreover, people understand that meaning is important, but they don’t know how important it is. Acknowledging someone’s performance is a great motivator, whereas ignoring it is almost as bad as shredding it: it makes motivation plummet. And he confirmed the findings from his experiments in the “real world”.


For managers, team leaders and all those who are in charge of other employees, the consequence of these findings is pretty simple: when employees complete a task for you, acknowledge what they have done. Let them show or explain it to you. It might not always be possible to implement what they suggest. Furthermore, sometimes projects end before they have even begun, and whatever employees have completed until then is often of no further use. Moreover, what employees do is not always good, so it is not always possible to praise what they have produced. That’s just the way it is. But we should always acknowledge the effort they have put into it. When doing so, remember what we wrote about establishing high quality connections: always turn your full attention to the person. This does not require much effort. But the effects can be huge.

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