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Need More Evidence About The Dangers Of Extrinsic Rewards? Here It Is From The Harvard Business Review

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The evidence demonstrating the dangers of extrinsic rewards and the importance of helping people develop intrinsic motivation is pretty overwhelming at this point (see The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students).

The Harvard Business Review has just “piled it on” even more in a post titled Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research.

Though the focus of the article is on monetary compensation for work, it’s clearly applicable to motivation of all kinds, including grades, points, etc. in the classroom. The majority of the article is a recap, and a good one, of research that I’ve previously written about — either in this blog or in my books, Helping Students Motivate Themselves and Self-Driven Learning (and, of course, in Dan Pink’s book, Drive). Having it come with a Harvard pedigree, though, can certainly help bolster one’s case.

The last third of the article, however, highlights a newer study that came out just a few months ago. It analyzed data from 200,000 employees:

The results showed that employee engagement levels were three times more strongly related to intrinsic than extrinsic motives, but that both motives tend to cancel each other out. In other words, when employees have little interest in external rewards, their intrinsic motivation has a substantial positive effect on their engagement levels. However, when employees are focused on external rewards, the effects of intrinsic motives on engagement are significantly diminished. This means that employees who are intrinsically motivated are three times more engaged than employees who are extrinsically motivated (such as by money). Quite simply, you’re more likely to like your job if you focus on the work itself, and less likely to enjoy it if you’re focused on money.

The article goes on to discuss another study from a few years ago:

Intrinsic motivation is also a stronger predictor of job performance than extrinsic motivation — so it is feasible to expect higher financial rewards to inhibit not only intrinsic motivation, but also job performance. The more people focus on their salaries, the less they will focus on satisfying their intellectual curiosity, learning new skills, or having fun, and those are the very things that make people perform best.

The fact that there is little evidence to show that money motivates us, and a great deal of evidence to suggest that it actually demotivates us, supports the idea that that there may be hidden costs associated with rewards.

These excerpts certainly support what I, and others, have written about the importance of learning goals over performance goals (see “Learning Goals” versus “Performance Goals”).

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students.

I’m also adding it to The Best Resources For Learning Why Teacher Merit Pay Is A Bad Idea.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Mr G's Idle Musings » Blog Archive » My Diigo 04/15/2013

  2. Pingback: How much motivation is in your tank? | counselorssoapbox

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