How Do You Motivate People at Work?

One of the earliest studies of human behavior at work was done at AT&T’s Western Electric Hawthorne Plant from 1927 by Harvard’s Elton Mayo and published in a report by F. J. Roethlisberger and W. Dickson, Management and the Worker.

Their principle findings are still relevant today: when workers have an opportunity to contribute their thinking and learning to workplace issues, their job performance improves.

The initial study set out to discover how lighting affects performance and fatigue of workers. The findings revealed that it is not so much physical conditions that matter. People were motivated to perform well by the mere fact that someone took the time to pay attention to what they were doing.

They were also encouraged to interact socially and to contribute ideas. Their social needs were shown to have a powerful impact on their behavior at work.

Several current business books emphasize this same concept:

“The success of your organization doesn’t depend on your understanding of economics, or organizational development, or marketing. It depends, quite simply, on your understanding of human psychology: how each individual employee connects with your company and how each individual employee connects with your customers.”~Curt Coffman and Gabriela Gonzalez-Molina, Ph.D. in Follow This Path: How the World’s Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential, Warner Books, 2002.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of Daniel H. Pink’s new book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, do so today. He makes a good case for why businesses are out of sync with what the scientists have been saying for years:

All motivation is internally driven. Carrots and sticks may work for some routine tasks, but for many right-brain creative tasks, external rewards can interfere and distract from high performance.

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