Does Money Hurt Workplace Motivation?

“Show me the money!” The line made famous by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise in the hit movie Jerry McGuire speaks to the obsession with money in pop culture, our daily lives and even in our workplaces. But does the obsession come with a price, and are there any consequences to this obsession in the world of work?

Money and empirical thoughts

Edward Deci, professor of psychology and social sciences at the University of Rochester and director of its human motivation program, was one of the first researchers to shed light on the damaging impacts of financial incentives on motivation. In one of his many experiments examining the subject, Deci asked a group of students to solve a series of puzzles. For one group, he offered cash rewards that were linked to their performance, while in another he did not. Deci found that members of the incentivized group did just enough to receive the reward, while the other groups continued to work on the task even after the desired level of performance was attained. He concluded that this is a striking example of how an extrinsic reward can systematically undermine our desire to perform for performance sake (e.g., intrinsic reward).

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Craig Dowden

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Craig Dowden & Associates is a firm focused on supporting clients in achieving leadership and organizational excellence by leveraging the science of peak performance. He is author of Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership.

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