Several years ago, The Wall Street Journal published an article with this gloomy headline: “The State of the American Workplace Is… Meh”.
The data in this article showed that 52 percent of all full-time workers are not involved, enthusiastic, or committed to their work. Another 18 percent of full-time workers are actively disengaged.
That means a vast majority — 70 percent — of the American workforce are not engaged in their work.
And while this study initial study was conducted in America, these numbers represent a growing trend all across the world — especially here in Australia and New Zealand.
So what’s going on here?
Let’s put these staggering numbers into context.
For the last 50 years, social scientists all over the world have taken a hard-headed, analytical and empirical look at what motivates people in their work.
Even though many types of motivation are available to us in our organisations, researchers found the most common way we motivate is through If-Then rewards — IF you do this, THEN you get that. These are controlling, contingent motivators that we always fall back on.
We can actually summarize 50 years of research into just 14 words.
If-Then motivators are…
“Great for simple and short-term tasks. Not so great for complex and long-term tasks.”
Let’s unpack this a bit.
Do we like rewards?
Of course we do.
Do we like them a little or a lot?
We LOVE rewards!
Rewards get our attention. They get us to focus and concentrate on getting the job done. If someone offers us $500 to do something relatively simple and straightforward, we’ll be locked in and engaged until the job is done.
It’s a great frame of mind when you know exactly what to do.
Fifty years of social science tells us that If-Then motivators are incredibly effective for tasks that follow an algorithm, recipe, or set of rules that lead to a logical conclusion.
For example, it could be following that algorithm with your body: Turn this same screw the same way on an assembly line.
It could be following that algorithm with your brain: Add up these columns of figures and process this paper.
For simple and short-term work, these If-Then rewards are really effective.
But when someone offers you a contingent If-Then reward for something complex, creative, or conceptual with a long time frame, it’s not that effective.
You may get excited about the reward and try to focus in on the job, but what if you’re trying to do a job nobody’s ever done before? What if you’re trying to solve a non-obvious problem? What if you don’t even know the question you’re being asked? What if you have a really long time horizon?
In these cases, If-Then motivators just don’t work.
For creative and conceptual work, you need a more expansive view. You may need to take something from way over here and combine with something from way over there to get a solution unique to your problem.
Think about your day-to-day work. How much of your work is simple and algorithmic where you know precisely what to do and it’s easy to carry out?
Probably not that much.
How much of your daily work is complicated and conceptual?
A lot more, right?
If-Then motivators are great for 19th Century work. They’re fairly good for 20th Century work. But they’re just out of steam for our modern, 21st Century work.
If 70 percent of the workforce is truly disengaged, that can only mean one thing: we desperately need to update the way we motivate.
To learn how the world’s best leaders motivate individuals to work together and accomplish goals in the workplace, attend the award-winning Influencer Training from Crucial Dimensions.