The allure of intrinsic motivators is quite a well known one, as indeed is the concept that paying people to do things can actually demotivate someone. Despite this canon of evidence however, extrinsic tools remain the primary method of rewarding employees in the traditional workplace.
As if enough evidence didn’t already exist to counter that notion, a new study was published in the Netherlands recently to add more grist to the mill. The focus of the study was on the chemistry of how we make decisions and process information.
Central to the reward part of our brain is of course dopamine. In addition to performing various reward related roles however, it also plays a role in areas such as learning, attention, problem solving and so on.
Participants in the study were asked to complete a word task, after which they would receive either a high or low financial reward for successful completion.
It emerged that when participants were promised a high reward, they had trouble focusing on the task, and therefore performed badly on tasks that involved a degree of concentration. The researchers suggest that the high dopamine levels caused participants to focus more on the outcome than the actual task.
In reporting on their findings in the journal Psychological Science, Aarts and her colleagues suggest that for people with naturally high dopamine levels, the promise of a bonus for good performance could actually “overdose” the reward parts of their brains.
Suffice to say, the challenge is that in most instances the dopamine levels of employees will not be something known by your average manager. Alas, despite this substantial hurdle, it does remind us of the perils that exist in relying on extrinsic factors to motivate our staff.Original post