What Motivates Workers? A Behavioral Scientist Explains

Behavioral scientist Charlotte Blank encourages business leaders, and business educators, to start thinking scientifically when exploring how to motivate their employees. Research and scientific data can give employers the keys they need to ensure employee well-being.


Charlotte Blank: [00:05] Science has a lot to offer business leaders. I encourage anyone in an organization to start thinking like a scientist when it comes to motivating their employees.

[00:24] Scientists know that first of all, humans are not computers and we are so much more than rational economic utility-maximizing machines. As a leader, the first lesson you can learn from behavioral economics is that cash is not always king, and more is not always better.

[00:40] There's a whole toolbox to pull from that also motivates people, things like giving simple recognition, giving people rewards to spend on others, creating team experiences as a reward, the list goes on. I encourage leaders to not only pull from these existing principles but to test them out in their own organizations to really see what works best for their people.

[01:01] The key to employee well being is really building a culture and environment that fosters the pillars of intrinsic motivation.

[01:09] In our world of incentive and recognition reward programs, we talk a lot about extrinsic motivators and extrinsic rewards like cash, bonuses, trips, merchandise, ways that you can externally provide people with tokens of gratitude or an extra carrot to work hard.

[01:24] Those are important pieces, but they don't really move the needle if you don't have a strong foundation and a culture that fosters intrinsic motivation, which is the sense that I just want to do my best at this because it's important to be inside.

[01:37] Key pillars to building a culture of intrinsic motivation include elements of autonomy, mastery, purpose and social connection. I'll elaborate just on one that is interesting, this notion of autonomy, giving people a sense of control over their own destiny.

[01:53] Even in the most straightforward seeming jobs, even in entry level jobs or a place where it might seem like you're just producing something out of line, there are ways to give people a sense of autonomy, perhaps in setting their own goals or giving them a choice between extrinsic rewards that they might be able to take home.

[02:10] It could be that any little way of making them feel like they have a choice in something, or a say in their own destiny can really have a positive impact on their well being and performance.

Filmed September 2019 at AACSB's Global Accreditation Conference in San Antonio, Texas, USA.