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Research on The Best Methods for Motivating Employees

Why Finding Meaning at Work Is More Important Than Feeling Happy

  • Findings from a recent study conducted by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, professor of psychology at University of North Carolina and her colleagues, examined self-reported levels of happiness and meaning, and the results were alarming: a whopping 75% of subject participants scored high on levels of happiness, but low on levels of meaning.

best methods for motivating employees

  • Consider the latest survey findings from the Energy Project, an engagement and performance firm that focuses on workplace fulfillment, as well as the recent New York Times story on why many hate their jobs. The survey, which reached more than 12,000 employees across a broad range of companies and industries, found that 50% lack a level of meaning and significance at work.
  • Meaning trumps items related to learning and growth, connection to a company’s mission, and even work-life balance. And the employees who have meaning don’t just stick around longer. They also report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, and are 1.4 times more engaged at work.
  • A recent Stanford research project, asked nearly 400 Americans whether they thought their lives were either happy or meaningful—or both. The dissonance, in part, was how the two groups approach social interactions. Happiness is associated with being a “taker,” focusing on what one gets from others. Meaningfulness, in contrast, comes from being a “giver,” suspending what one wants and desires for a fair amount of self-sacrifice.
  • A study of hospital janitors who cleaned bed pans and mopped up vomit—perhaps the lowest-ranking job in a hospital—saw themselves as part of a team whose goal was to heal people, which suggests that meaning isn’t about the job; rather, it’s about how you view your job.


  • If you look at experiences of those who report higher meaning at work, it is not what people are doing—but rather who they are with. This is consistent with a set of findings on what distinguishes our best days: days whereby we feel enlivened and truly thriving. These days include at least six hours of social time. In fact, even three hours of social time reduces the chances of having a bad day by 10%.



The relationship between pay and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the literature

  • Although U. S. Gross National Product (GNP) has increased threefold over the past 50 years, levels of life satisfaction have remained constant since the 1940’s (Diener & Oishi, 2000), a finding which has been replicated in Japan (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002). Moreover, after a relatively short period of time (i.e., 1 year), lottery winners are no happier than before they won the lottery (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978). These findings suggest that income is unimportant to happiness.
  • Pay level was correlated .15 with job satisfaction and .23 with pay satisfaction. Various moderators of the relationship were investigated. Despite the popular theorizing, results suggest that pay level is only marginally related to satisfaction. Theoretical and practical implications of the results are discussed.
  • The reported level of job satisfaction is independent of pay level across studies and across pay levels. Employees earning salaries in the top half of our data range (N$64,000) reported similar levels of job satisfaction to those employees earning salaries in the bottom-half of our data range (≤$64,000).

Gensler 2008 Workplace Study

  • Gensler research shows that people spend an average of 6% of their time learning.
  • We found that employees at top-performing companies not only spend more time collaborating and learning, they consider that time more critical to job success than do their peers at average companies, who remain focus work-centered.
  • Compared to average companies, top-performing companies consider learning 80% more critical to job success, and spend 40% more time in this work mode.




What makes us feel good about our work?

  • People built many more Bionicles — eleven in the meaningful condition, versus seven in [the non-meaningful] condition.

The view from the top, and bottom

  • A new study…Commissioned by Dov Seidman, boss of LRN…found that 43% of those surveyed described their company’s culture as based on command-and-control, top-down management or leadership by coercion—what Mr Seidman calls “blind obedience”.
  • The largest category, 54%, saw their employer’s culture as top-down, but with skilled leadership, lots of rules and a mix of carrots and sticks, which Mr Seidman calls “informed acquiescence”.
  • Only 3% fell into the category of “self-governance”, in which everyone is guided by a “set of core principles and values that inspire everyone to align around a company’s mission”.
  • The study found evidence that such differences matter. Nearly half of those in blind-obedience companies said they had observed unethical behaviour in the previous year, compared with around a quarter in the other sorts of firm. Yet only a quarter of those in the blind-obedience firms said they were likely to blow the whistle, compared with over 90% in self-governing firms.
  • Lack of trust may inhibit innovation, too. More than 90% of employees in self-governing firms, and two-thirds in the informed-acquiescence category, agreed that “good ideas are readily adopted by my company”. At blind-obedience firms, fewer than one in five did.
  • Bosses are eight times more likely than the average to believe that their organisation is self-governing….Some 27% of bosses believe their employees are inspired by their firm. Alas, only 4% of employees agree. Likewise, 41% of bosses say their firm rewards performance based on values rather than merely on financial results. Only 14% of employees swallow this.

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