Tag Archives: happiness at work

Are financial rewards killing your company? .

15 Jun


In 1949 when Harry Harlow tested his pin hook puzzles on caged monkeys he never expected the result that transpired. Quite quickly the monkeys began finding out how to solve the puzzles and within the space of two weeks became quite adept at it. Here’s the rub, Harlow had not offered the monkeys any incentive or reward for executing the puzzle. Nothing at all , no food or water or the chance to play in a larger cage with other primates. Something else drove the monkeys to complete the puzzle and it couldn’t have been an external factor. Something had stirred inside and led the Monkeys to want to complete the task for no other reason than it felt satisfying. Really!

Twenty years later, in 1969 Edward Deci of Carnegie Mellon took this experiment up a level. Well to the human level. Deci split a number of people into two groups. Lets say Group 1 and Group 2. Deci introduced  the group to Soma puzzles. They are Tetris/Rubiks cube like puzzles. Deci asked them to complete three puzzles. After puzzle two was completed Deci said he was introducing a fourth puzzle, between puzzle two and the start of puzzle three Deci said he had to leave the room and input the data from the results of  first two puzzles into a mainframe computer and would be back shortly. In the room with the participants was a number of magazines the group could read in the downtime if they wished.

Deci left the room and had no intention of inputting results into a computer. He spent the next eight minutes exactly observing the group through a two-way mirror. He discovers that both groups spent on average 3.5 minutes of the eight minutes working with the puzzle pieces trying to work them out.

On day two he mixed it up a little. He told Group 1 that he was providing a reward of $1 (about €7 in today’s money) for each puzzle correctly solved. Group 2 unaware of this,were to complete the puzzles once again with no reward. Again after puzzle two was completed Deci left the room once again for exactly eight minutes on the pretence of  inputting data into the mainframe.  The results were a little predictable but exciting too. Group 1 who had been rewarded monetarily for completing the puzzles had spent more time during that eight minute gap working out how the puzzles aligned. Group 2 were similar as the day before spending roughly 3.5 minutes on average working on the task in the downtime.Here we had the evidence, pay people an extrinsic reward and they will become more interested in the task and ultimately perform better. Money as a motivator works.

On Day three Deci told Group 1( the group that had received the financial reward the day before) that the money had dried up and that there was no financial reward for solving the puzzles today. Group 2 once again were to complete the task as given with no mention of a reward.

Group 1 with their dollars from Yesterday tucked away in their wallets started the task as usual but something changed. In their eight minutes downtime Group 1 spent significantly less time working on the puzzles than the day before. Finding more interest in the magazines provided than the puzzles in front of them. The motivation hadn’t lasted. Take away the financial reward and why would you do something for free.

But it doesn’t end there… Group 2, who had never received a financial incentive over the three days had suddenly by the third day spent longer during the eight minutes downtime than any other day working on the puzzle. Group 2 had now become the group with greater motivation and group 1 had become unmotivated. Lack of financial rewards had demotivated Group 1. But what had motivated Group 2? Was there a link to the Harlow experiments in 1949. Had something internally driven the monkeys to complete the pin and lock tasks and likewise had something internal motivated Group 2 on day three to spend more time working out how to solve a task.

Hang on though! We had witnessed the financial incentive working so maybe we just need to toy around with that. Maybe we need to offer financial rewards consistently and motivation will increase.

tennis balls

Dan Ariely decide to look at this India in 2008. He took 87 participants and spit them into three groups. They then had to perform a series of tasks ,like placing metal puzzle pieces into a plastic frame,throwing tennis balls at a target, a numerical memory game and other cognitive tasks. The participants in their three groups were all provide with various financial rewards for completing the tasks. Group 1 receiving 1 days pay. Group 2 received the equivalent of two weeks pay( nice money in any man’s language). Group 3 received a whopping five months pay on completion of the tasks. The results were astounding. Group 1 and 2’s results were similar but Group 3 who were offered an incredible five months pay as a reward for completing the task performed the worst!! What!!

What had happened here. Would the prospect of receiving a large monetary reward not spur you on to perform better. Apparently not. A few year later Ariely took a similar experiment to M.I.T in Boston and used some  grad students. This experiment involved two tasks. One was a cognitive skill ( adding numbers)that required the use of the brain the other was a simple mechanical tapping skill( an algorithmic task) that required tapping a button as fast as possible.  The students were offered rewards of $60-$600 depending on performance of the tasks.

All students performed well and were rewarded well for the tapping task  the higher the pay the better the performance but once again when money was on the table with the cognitive task just like in India and in Decis 1969 Soma puzzle test it led to a poorer performance.

Money as a motivator does not work as we expected. As in Decis Soma puzzle experiment and in Arielys series of experiment it indicates that finacial rewards lead to lower motivation and poorer performance. It can provide greater incentives in short bursts for jobs that require little cognitive skills like a factory production line or a garment factory worker.

With the rise of automation and outsourcing the jobs that our grandparents would have been employed in are no longer as evident in our societies. Look around your workplace and work out how many jobs involve the need for cognitive attachment rather than the linear robotic jobs of yesteryear and you will realise that the way we work is changing and as we can see from above the way we need to be incentivized is too.

We have spent the last 70 years trying to work out why those monkeys wanted to solve Harlow’s pin lock puzzle and we know its not from an external promise or “If-Then” reward. If it’s not external then the only driver we have left is internal. We have now entered the age of the internal or intrinsic reward and it changes completely, how we view work and what motivates us while we are there..

Is the 6 hour work week around the corner?

25 May

Why do we 8 hours or more a day? Because we always have done!

Why have we always done? I think Henry Ford came up with it!

Why did Henry think 8 hours was best? He wanted to give his workers free time to realize they needed to buy stuff.

Was it not something scientific that he had based on improving worker health and wellbeing? Not really but Ford thought “It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.” Henry Ford cut the working week from 6 to 5 days, doubled the wages from $2.34 for a nine-hour day to $5.00 for an eight-hour day and in return gained greater productivity. The results spoke for themselves. Workplaces quickly followed suit maybe not doubling the wages but shortening the working day and week.

Now it seems it is time to question the 8 hour working day. Do we really work for the whole 8 hours or more we are in work? To be honest it’s unlikely. We become our most creative and imaginative when we are looking for outlets that are not work. We spend ages with Dave trying to fix the photo copier feeder when really we have no clue how it works simply because it feels better than working( and it looks like work) . We volunteer to nip to the coffee shop down the road for everyone because it’s a break from work ,something interesting could happen on the way and it is work related so technically it’s work but with more chance of excitement. Many of us would quite happily volunteer to  jump in the car if needed and travel for an hour to deliver a package to the other side of the city  if it was urgent. Tunes on the radio and a new visual landscape . Happy days.

Although for some of us work is engaging and stimulating for many, most of the working day is spent thinking about activities we would rather be doing than sitting at this desk. Or we engage in activities that take us away from that working space in our head, social media updates on our laptop/Phone, online news feeds, emails from friends, researching and booking holidays etc. The truth is for most workers we would rather be somewhere else doing something different.

We could create a workplace like Google with all the benefits of free food , ergonomics and workplace stimuli but that can create burnout and it’s not home. As much as we would like to create positive relationships with our co-workers, they are no replacement for our family(or maybe they are).

Why not create a work environment where people can be their best, play to their strengths and simply go home. Jason Friend of Basecamp is a big proponent of shorter working weeks. “I wanted to do something about this. So, at 37signals, the software company I’ve run for the past 13 years, we take inspiration from the seasons and build change into our work schedule.

For example, from May through October, we switch to a four-day workweek. And not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days. We don’t work the same amount of time, we work less. When there’s less time to work, you waste less time. When you have a compressed workweek, you tend to focus on what’s important. Constraining time encourages quality time

The Gothenburg experiment with the 6hr working day is trialling at the minute in Svartedalens nursing home in southern Sweden. Early reports are good.An audit published in mid-April concluded that the program in its first year had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health. A year’s worth of data from the project, which compares staff at Svartedalens with a control group at a similar facility, showed that 68 nurses who worked six-hour days took half as much sick time as those in the control group. And they were 2.8 times less likely to take any time off in a two-week period. There has been opposition from politicians.“It’s the type of economic thinking that has gotten other countries in Europe into trouble,” said Maria Rydén, Gothenburg’s deputy mayor and a member of the opposition Moderates party. She is leading a campaign to kill the trial, citing high taxpayer costs and arguments that the government should not intrude in the workplace.

We can’t pay people to not work,” she added.

Workers in a nearby Toyota service centre have been working a 6 hour working day for the past 13 years with no plans to reverse it. The benefits to the workers and service centre are too evident. Greater production over 6 hours rather than 8 and more family downtime to do activities in life that make us happier.

Asking your staff what would work for them to become more productive might surprise you. A shorter working week as a trial might not be a bad thing. One Friday a month and see if the world stops turning. Or one week of working 30 hours per month. We are imaginative beings and ultimately flexibility is the key to the future workplace if we want to survive. Use that imagination.

Netflix embraced the flexible workplace years ago.” We should focus on what people get done., not how many hours or days worked. Just as we don’t have a 9-5 policy we don’t need a vacation policy” said Patty MCcord who is feted with creating the culture within Netflix. “There is a no clothing policy at Netflix but no one turns up to work naked.” In 2015 Netflix also announced that all employees would be entitled to unlimited parental leave at their choosing. Can we begin to seesaw trust is becoming a major factor in the new workplaces. Think about this are your best relationships and friendships with people you trust and can communicate well with or with people who you fear and openly distrust. The answer is here.

If you are willing to spend your weekend responding to worker texts and emails be prepared to embrace a shorter, flexible and more productive working week.

I started this article with the 3 Why’s that helps you look at what you do from a more crtical position. So start with this at your next meeting.

Why do we think that a 40 hour week is our only option?







Happy @work Lunchtime talk

8 Oct

happiness2 photoHad a great day at Yesterdays lunchtime talk on Happiness at work. An even greater reminder that companies start to trust their employees and start to concentrate on Employee wellbeing. The rewards will be tremendous if companies understand that making your staff feel valued and trusted are the keys to workplace happiness.

Companies who want an insight into how to increase workplace wellbeing and your bottom line would enjoy a lunchtime talk. Bring your sandwiches,bananas and coffee and enjoy a great lunchtime experience.


Where do we do our best work?

29 Sep

3 day work Week

22 Jul

4 days off

Hang on! this sounds good. Mexican Billionaire Carlos Slim speaking at a conference has advocated a 3 day working week. Three days of 10-11 hour shifts and 4 days to you and your family. Providing greater time to relax and follow activities we enjoy. Even more time to find another job or set up that business venture you might have always wanted to follow.  The downsides might be initially be change of routines and childcare arrangements for some. But the benefits to us and our communities mental and physical wellbeing might be a plus side we only see after years of this in practice.

12 years ago I worked for an organisation that wanted to implement this. The thought of 4 day weekends surfing,partying etc were too exciting for me to think of any other option. I thought that management must have had a conversation with Ricardo Semler. It was too good to pass on. Unfortunately an accumulation of mistrust and issues around changing daily routines put an end to this idea and it was never spoken about again. Maybe it’s time to revisit this conversation.


Life at Google Paris- not bad at all!

17 Jun

We don’t all have the same funds as some organisations but the general idea of creating an environment that will garner happier, healthier( maybe the free food could be a problem here) and more energised staff should be the goal of every organisation today.

Why You hate Work

9 Jun

Why you hate work 1This is an interesting  Article from the New york times by By TONY SCHWARTZ and CHRISTINE PORATH on employee Engagement, Purpose, Motivation and the effect that regular Downtime has on creativity.


Happiness at work on the radio

6 Jun



Just Click The radio above to hear my interview with Jolanta Burke on Happiness in the Workplace. Happy days.


How Happiness at work affects American workers

19 May
Happiness at work.

Happiness at work.

Happy Workplace Conference 2014

9 Apr

happy at workThis takes place on May the 14th in London and I am delighted to be going.

Happy Workplace Conference 2014

I look forward to catching up with likeminded thinkers. Creating a Workplace that your workers feel safe and look forward to arriving to makes total sense and is not an expensive proposition. It’s actually quite a fun thing to do.

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