Employee motivation and engagement has seldom been a more topical issue. The issue of how to motivate people has been a matter of debate since the days of people such as Maslow and McGregor. Despite both men outlining the various intrinsic motivators, for much of the last century our ideas of motivation have revolved around extrinsic factors.
That hasn’t stopped people like Dan Pink from banging the drum of intrinsic motivation however, and his RSAnimates video remains the most viewed RSA talk ever. Many companies have tried to implement intrinsic means of improving employee engagement, with award programs such as employee of the month proving stubbornly popular.
Some new research from Washington University suggests however that such schemes can often do more harm than good.
They found that employees often resort to gaming the system (or at least trying to), whilst people who had achieved strong performance before the scheme was introduced suffered a 6-8% reduction in performance afterwards. The suggestion is that they were demotivated by the presence of an award scheme to promote behaviour they already exhibited.
The researchers believe that the award program actually ended up decreasing productivity by 1.4% rather than improving it. With gamification being used an increasing amount to encourage participation in social business projects, this is something that all social deployment people should be aware of.
While awards programs can be powerful tools for motivating employees, companies must think carefully about the unintended consequences that can cripple their efficacy.