Promote the bigger picture at work

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Employers can improve engagement and productivity by promoting competition, completion “a feeling of significance” in the job they supply, says psychologist Dan Ariely.

In a video on Inside Workers’ Heads – a new joint project between Mercer and thoughts collaboration site Big Think, he says many employers “have this idea people work for money, and in fact we believe that people don’t want to work; that all we want to do as human beings is sit in the beach and drink mojitos”.

“Sadly, [they believe]we don’t have enough resources to do that, so we work therefore we could get ample money to drink mojitos.”

But this isn’t the way to think about human motivation, he says.

“In fact, people reminisce about it; it gives meaning to their own lives. When they recover, they want to really go up again.”

Work fits within precisely the same type, Ariely says. “Sure, we care about money and it’s fine to get paid, however there’s additionally a wide range of other things that we get. A need for accomplishment, and conclusion, competition with several other people, a sense of advancement, and a sense of meaning… all of these things really, really matter.”

Because the nature of work changes, and interweaves more strongly with life, “the relative significance of money is getting smaller and the relative importance of those other things could get substantially larger”.

The difficulty is that often, employers don’t understand this, he says.

In cancelling the project, the CEO “did not take into consideration their motivation and significance and what they actually cared about, and in doing so he essentially deflated them. They were completely uninterested in what they were doing from that moment on”.

So the lessons for employers, Ariely says, are to “recognise how important meaning, finish, motivation and competition are in getting individuals to care and also to work hard… to try and support those and… don’t undercut those human motivations”.

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