Carrots and Sticks vs. Quality of Life Motivators

Throughout my undergraduate career, I always had friends and classmates that I would watch struggle through classes because of a lack of motivation to do the coursework.  They are extremely smart individuals, but just could not find it in them to stay on top of things during our four years of undergrad.  Like many young adults, they would just rather be a “college kid” and never take things too seriously.  Incentives such as earning good grades just don’t do it for everyone.  An argument could be made that these individuals may have been more motivated by money if they were to do well in a course, rather than just receiving a good grade.  However, recent studies have shown that extrinsic incentives (carrots and sticks as Dan Pink referred to them in his video The puzzle of motivation) , like earning good grades or money, have been leading to poorer performance than intrinsic incentives, such as doing something to enhance theirs or other’s quality of life (for example, feelings accomplished by contributing to something bigger than themselves).


How can that be?  Underlying just about everything that we know and have learned about working and business is the notion that money (salary/bonuses) is the number one motivator.  So how is it that recent studies have proven, with facts, that this is not necessarily the case anymore?

Due to advancements in technology, tasks and skills that we completed and that were required for many people in their careers have been completely revitalized.  As a future auditor, I can specifically say that I couldn’t be happier that audits are no longer performed with a piece of paper (more like thousands of pieces of paper) and pencil, by hand.  Thanks to technology, audits are now completed on computers on a variety of operating systems that firms select.  This is just one small example of a once very monotonous job that involved much mechanical, uncreative thinking that has changed in the last decade or two due to technological advances.  This revitalization has caused many auditor’s (and individuals in other effected fields) jobs to involve more creative thinking and problem solving skills.  In turn, these changes are causing individuals to be motivated by means other than money and bonuses, which are said to narrow a persons focus onto that one goal – making money.

So, the question is… Do you think that businesses should concur with these job task changes and re-strategize the way that they incentivize their employees (in situations where tasks have changed – because in some situations, normal money incentives still prove effective)?

I think that strong arguments could be made both ways.  On one hand, companies may not want to incur the extra costs of developing and creating a new compensation strategy for employees when they are experiencing what they feel is positive returns from employee work.  They may want to take the easy way out and continue things the way that they are.  On the other hand, similar companies experiencing what they think is appropriate, positive productivity may not know what they are missing out on, or companies that are experiencing negative productivity may know that they need a change in motivations offered.  If these companies were to experiment by motivating their employees through ways that make them feel like they are making meaningful contributions and/or more in control of their time, the studies introduced by Dan Pink (like the candle problem, and the experiment that Dan Ariely completed with a group of MIT students and a group of people in India) suggest that productivity would increase in all areas.

Tying it into our mi621 class… Perhaps social media could play a role in helping management experiment with different motivations.  Management groups could follow in the footsteps of Google and several other companies by allowing employees to have time to work on projects unrelated to work, or to work from home (just examples of two general intrinsic incentives that may work).  Using social media platforms as a tool, these management groups could more accurately and efficiently track their employees progress from different locations, cutting down on the costs incurred to implement or develop new systems.  Social media platforms like Twitter and HootSuite could be utilized by companies, first on a beta tester group of employees, to see if incentivizing individuals by giving them more control over their time would be something that would work for that particular company.  And by using social media it does not have to be a costly endeavor for the company.

In closing, I believe that if management motivates its employees through methods that emphasize the importance of the quality of life, they will show their employees that they care and will generally experience more collaboration, creativity, and cooperation from employees – which is something that any management team would want.  Developing a way to monitor this through social media would prove to be very advantageous allowing management to monitor their employees on a much greater scale.  I believe that social media platforms, like Twitter and Hootsuite mentioned above, have so many untapped resources that could be extremely beneficial to the business world if properly employed and first mover businesses that find different, successful ways to use social media other than as marketing tool will be hugely successful.


  1. Your article is very interesting, especially as I begin my job search with tangible incentives such as, a salary, in mind. I agree with your points on Twitter and Hootsuite’s capabilities companies should tap into to attain a clearer understanding on successful motivation tools. Your blog further had be questioning University’s grading systems that are all based on a grading scale leading students to work for extrinsic rewards. What if schools did not give out ‘grades’, but rather enabled students to study, take courses, read, and take tests purely for intrinsic satisfaction. Obviously, students’ performances would be closely monitored, but it would be fascinating if students’ performances were compared with a grade on a test when a student knew they would not obtain a real grade, as opposed to the current system. I believe if such autonomy was granted to students, we would all experience more personal satisfaction, as well as, a higher performance.

  2. Nice post. I do think that social media can provide the ability to monitor employees in ways that would allow them to contribute more with a higher quality of life. For instance, if employees didn’t have to commute, they’d have an extra hour or two a day (that could be split between work and home?) I do also think they can motivate employees by glory (i.e a tweet from the CEO praising the employee’s work) that would be VERY motivating.

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  4. Great post. The research into this field is definitely eye-opening, which makes one wonder why more companies don’t jump on-board. I think one of the main problems is that there are misconceptions not only on the employer’s side, but the employees as well. I can’t imagine trying to approach a manager (especially if they were older and possibly more firmly rooted in traditional incentive methods) to basically tell them, “Guess what, you know those cash bonuses and stock options you were getting? We’re stopping that now. From now on, you will receive non-monetary incentives.” I don’t imagine that going over too well initially. This shouldn’t deter companies from making the switch for positions that involve creative thinking and problem-solving, however. Gradual implementation and experimentation to see what works and doesn’t work (like you mentioned) seems like the better option.

  5. Interesting article. I do believe that non-monetary incentives are the strongest incentives, but in and of themselves it will not work everyone. As a law student it is easy to bring it back to law, because by and large not many people are corporate lawyers because they love corporate law. Placing such a large value on non-monetary incentives would leave the world lawyer-less, sadly and gladly. To me at least, this idea can work, but it is very industry specific, because in many industries the only value to public recognition from a CEO via twitter or something similar is only a veil with cash underneath.

  6. Good post. I agree that intrinsic incentives are better motivators than extrinsic ones. Motivation from people (positive peer pressure etc.) I believe is a far better motivator than money. Whether the motivation comes from the desire to impress your peers, boss, or family, or from the fear of letting down your peers, boss, or family I have always found the people incentive to be a key factor.
    So I agree that companies could benefit from changing how they structure incentives, but I am entirely sold on social media being able to produce the same productivity that face to face interaction does. Social media has significantly closed the gap between face to face and remote communication but many studies have shown it still does not match the productivity of face to face interaction. However, it would be interesting to see if the greater flexibility incentive and data yielded from using social media as a means to give employees greater work flexibility outweighs the remaining gap in productivity.

  7. I love the post, and agree with everybody that more intrinsic incentives like a retweet by the CEO or stressing more work-life balance could lead to higher productivity for the employees in a company. However, I also agree that you cannot take away certain cash or stock bonuses that are already in place, because people will always regard money as a high motivator. At the macroeconomic level, taking a pay cut for more recognition around the office does not sound too appealing. It seems like many start-ups and smaller companies are rewarding their employees with non-money motivators. And I think that if this proves effective, then the trend might spread to the larger global organizations. But not anytime soon.

  8. Great post. I agree with everyone across the board that social media would be a great way not only to track motivation, but to give companies a public forum to showcase and recognize various employee’s who are going above and beyond. Professor Kane commented about the chance to be tweeted at by the CEO for a job well done, and I too can see this being a huge motivator. I actually think our MI621 class is a perfect example of this. With the chance to have a blog post go “mini viral”, be tweeted at/have a blog commented on by the professor, or have a quality blog post in the running to be published on a major online publication, our class is full of incentives that have nothing to do with the actual grade. If we were to compare grades to money in the real world, I think our findings would be the same. That if people feel comfortable with a steady salary or a decent grade, it is only opportunities to be recognized by our peers or to collaborate with them that are going to truly motivate us.

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