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Motivation Considerations

Dec 28, 2014

Written by: Tim Houlihan
(View Author Bio)

What can we do to cause people to be motivated to take action?

Motivate Employee Engagement 


Motivation has many sources. Simply put, motivation boils down to people taking action because they either want to or they have to. Most action at work takes place because people want to. The question then becomes what can we do to cause people to be motivated to take action?

Preferences vs. Actions

A noted researcher in the field of behavioral research stated that “Preference and the decision to take action are separate psychological transactions.” In several studies, researchers found that people believe that money is the most motivating reward because it’s the most rational of choices and the most fungible of all rewardsii. However, the same researchers have discovered that the biggest improvements in performance come from non-monetary awards and not cash or cash equivalents.

The Power of Irrational Behavior

If we always acted rationally, we’d never have credit card debt, never eat chocolate ice cream, and never run marathons. We do these things for irrational reasons. We give in to desires that outstrip our financial wellbeing, to the pleasure of ice cream in our mouth, and for the t-shirt at the end of the race. None of these actions is done for monetary purposes and they are the de facto definition of irrational behavior. It’s okay—it’s who we are as human beings.

Irrational – or what some consider emotionally driven—behavior is the key to influencing behavior changeiv. In several corporate studies including participants from tire sales people to retail clerks to call center employees, BI WORLD WIDE has observed that irrational desires cause more positive changes in behavior (and hence performance) than the rational desire to earn more money (or cash equivalents).

Keeping Up With the Joneses

We are drawn to comparing ourselves to others and researchers find that keeping up with
the Joneses is a powerful social motivatorv. How do we really know that we are or are not keeping up? Perceptions are all we have. We judge others—and believe that we are judged —by the stuff we have. Earning an extra $50 doesn’t create a lift in status and will not get discussed at the water cooler; however, new sunglasses can be bragged about in the office as being “a gift from my company.”

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Tim Houlihan at BI WORLDWIDE

Tim Houlihan

Vice President
Reward Systems Group

For more than 25 years, Tim Houlihan has indulged his curiosities of human behavior in the workplace. He passionately pursues answers to questions such as “Why do some people work harder than others?” and “Why do some people set and achieve goals?” and acknowledges that behavioral economics holds excellent explanations for some of these mysteries. As the Vice President of Reward Systems at BIW, Tim is responsible for leading the development of innovative reward systems. He partners with academic colleagues from leading universities around the world and he is actively engaged with leaders in Fortune 1000 companies to develop solutions for the human side of business problems.