Feel-Good Messaging Won’t Always Motivate Your Employees

Executive Summary

When a company wants to change employee behavior — especially when that change will benefit both society and the company’s bottom line — what’s the best community strategy? While using prosocial motivation (for example, “this will help the environment”) may seem like a win-win, new research suggests that a more banal type of motivation (“this will help us cut costs”) might be a better bet. Why? Employees are often skeptical when “feel good” messaging seems disingenuous, especially when there’s evidence that the change in question is not purely for the good of society. While there are situations where prosocial motivation can be effective, leaders should carefully consider the circumstances before tugging at employees’ heartstrings.

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The idea that your actions at work contribute to the betterment of society — to help protect the environment, end poverty, or promote social justice — is an inspiring one. Recent research suggests that it can be a powerful motivator too. Indeed, the once-monolithic view of financial incentives as the way to motivate employees has been challenged by a wave of studies showing that linking people’s work to prosocial causes can motivate people in ways that transcend their paycheck or bonus. Employees want to see themselves as good people and work on behalf of organizations that positively contribute to the world. Consequently, when their actions advance a prosocial cause, they may work harder, for longer hours, and even for less compensation.

It is no surprise, then, that when leaders seek to motivate their workforce by taking up “win-win” behaviors — ones that are good for both society and a company’s bottom line — many assume it’s best to frame their appeals in prosocial terms. Whether it’s getting employees to use less energy at work or nudging delivery drivers to reduce the time their vehicles are idling, a statement such as “Help conserve the earth’s vital resources” would seem more motivational than “Help conserve our company’s vital resources.”

But is that actually right? Sure, practical rationales for changing behavior don’t seem as righteous or sexy as prosocial ones. But they do very clearly signal that an organization’s motives are genuine. If you claim to be driven by a desire to make society better, your employees may wonder if this is actually true, whereas if you provide simple, practical rationales, they’re unlikely to question them. That made us wonder: Is it better to motivate employees by inspiring them with a sense of prosocial purpose, or by communicating more humdrum but genuine-feeling reasons to change their behavior?

In soon-to-be-published research, we investigated this issue by studying a change initiative at a large university — and what we found challenges conventional wisdom.

The initiative involved convincing employees to plan and coordinate orders of office supplies so that every order would reach a value of at least $50, a practice we refer to as “bundling.” This represented the kind of opportunity that most organizations relish: a way to reduce both costs and environmental footprint. But leaders had to figure out how to communicate why they wanted employees to change their behavior. Should they extol the prosocial, environmental benefits? The instrumental cost savings? Or both?

We designed a field experiment find out. We randomly assigned employees to view either a prosocial (“limiting pollution”), instrumental (“limiting costs”), or mixed motive (“limiting pollution and limiting costs”) message for caring about bundling each time they access the organization’s procurement system. We then evaluated changes in employees’ behavior by comparing a six-month pre-study period to a six-month experimental period, covering 10,169 purchases in 556 university offices.

To our surprise, the prosocial message was actually the least effective in changing employee behaviors — and the instrumental message was most effective. The mixed motive had less clear effects, but it tended to be in the middle. This result stands in stark contrast to the idea that when in doubt, organizations should tout their contributions to environmental sustainability and other prosocial goals.

To understand why we got the results we did, we conducted additional survey experiments with a separate group of people. We described the concept of bundling and then presented one group with the prosocial motive and another group with the instrumental motive, just as in the field experiment. We asked everyone how they viewed the organization given its expressed motive for bundling and whether they would be inclined to bundle if they worked there. We found that when organizations offer a prosocial rationale for a behavior that also advances their bottom line, people see the organization as less genuine — they question whether senior managers are disclosing what they really care about. Offering a cost-savings message may not conjure inspiration or a profound purpose, but it seems real and true to employees. And it turns out that seeming genuine matters. We find that people are more willing to change their behaviors when they believe the motives the organization claims are its true motives.

This is not to say that prosocial messages are bad thing. They have many virtues outside the scope of our work. Attaching a broader prosocial purpose and meaning to work can provide inspiration, a sense of belonging, and deepen one’s commitment to an organization. Even in the context of our survey experiments, we observe the power of prosocial messages to engage people — but only when people perceive them to be true. We suspect that in many organizational contexts the notion of a purely prosocial motive would be met with skepticism. This is important because the “win-win” contexts in which organizations have much to gain financially from prosocial behaviors may be the very ones in which leaders should be most wary about extolling their prosocial motives. It may be that prosocial motives may only seem genuine and prove effective for changing behavior in selective contexts — when organizations have consistently acted in ways that align with prosocial values, for example, even when costly.

These findings have direct and potentially substantial implications for organizations seeking to promote a wide range of activities that can be justified on both prosocial and instrumental grounds—whether they can make a case for diversity based on social justice or performance, or for improving working conditions in supplier factories with an appeal to morality or risk reduction.

Prosocial values have the potential to inspire and motivate under certain conditions, but in many organizational contexts it may simply be more effective to acknowledge bottom-line concerns. In our university case, that meant encouraging leaders to say, “We care about limiting costs” — not a profound declaration but one that comes across as authentic.

Industrial Digitalization During the Pandemic and Beyond – SPONSOR CONTENT FROM SIEMENS

Comprehensive Digital Twins, Flexible Apps, Open Ecosystems – And Putting Humans First

Like the rest of you, we at Siemens Digital Industries Software have spent much of 2020 learning new ways of working (from home), collaborating with colleagues, and supporting customers.

A division of Siemens, we are a global top 10 software company and the world leader in industrial software. Though Siemens overall is better known for trains, turbines, and CT scanners, our growing software business generates annual revenue of nearly $5.8 billion and employs tens of thousands of employees around the world.

Our Xcelerator portfolio is central to that business. Xcelerator includes industrial software; a cloud-based, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) offering; and a rapid application development platform.

For the software industry, the pandemic period has accelerated many long-standing trends in how employees get their jobs done. However, for our industrial customers, which are primarily in such key sectors as aerospace and defense, automotive and transportation, and electronics and semiconductors, the past few months have been truly a watershed moment.

We are amazed at how organizations in these industries that typically are wary of change responded in unexpected and innovative ways, taking advantage of advanced software capabilities. One example is VinFast, an automotive startup in Vietnam that ramped up production of ventilators armed with a licensed Medtronic design but no previous medical experience. Another example is Spectrum Brands, which similarly converted an assembly line from insect repellent to hand sanitizer. In both cases, the line changeovers happened in a matter of weeks, possible only thanks to a digital-twin approach to manufacturing. Our industrial software enabled creation of digital twins of the proposed new manufacturing lines, which were debugged and optimized in the virtual world before real-world implementation.

The examples, in fact, go beyond industry. Among the stories in the video below is that of the city of San Antonio, which used our low-code platform, Mendix, to build an app so that city residents could more easily apply for housing assistance going into the COVID-19 lockdown. A two-person development team built and deployed the app in less than two weeks, speed that mattered given the sudden avalanche of need. Financial assistance applications spiked from an average of 60 per week to more than 2,000, a scale that was impossible to handle with the old paper-based process that demanded in-person interactions that would have been made difficult by social distancing requirements.

For all the outsized attention that tech, finance, and media/entertainment receive, the industrial sector continues to punch above its weight in the world economy, generally accounting for a greater percentage of GDP than employment. Expect this to continue given ongoing industry digitalization efforts, including the use of an ever more comprehensive digital twin that integrates the virtual and physical worlds; pursuit of personal and adaptable applications for new ways of working; and increasing access to open, modern ecosystems.

Crises routinely spur not only innovation but also a general setting aside of differences and cooperation among individuals, firms, and countries, because what’s good for humanity is good for business. Other challenges are inevitable, including those related to climate, which will similarly call for a widespread collective response, albeit one that depends on individual initiative and risk-taking to flourish. That’s why our customers are using Xcelerator to reduce emissions by designing electric aircraft and school buses as well as more fuel-efficient cargo ships for an industry that carries 90% of global trade and generates roughly a billion tons of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases annually.

IoT is sometimes used as shorthand for the digital transformation of industry, which includes the proliferation of connected devices and factories; an emerging capability to monitor and analyze data from these industrial nodes in real time, thanks to low-cost sensors and inexpensive processing of these data, both at edge nodes and in the cloud; and ever more powerful automation driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Together, these trends comprise the next tech wave, one that’s only gathered momentum during the coronavirus crisis. It’s also perhaps the world’s best chance to bring expanded economic benefits to a larger segment of the world’s population, especially if it can unfold in a way that puts people first.

Siemens CEO Roland Busch often speaks in such human-centric terms, as he did this year in a podcast conversation with his communications lead, Christiane Ribeiro.

Ribeiro: So, do you believe that IoT will be the next growth engine of society?

Busch: It’s about growth. That’s one element. But what are the challenges we’re looking to solve where IoT might help? So, number one is growth, and have in mind that the growth over the past years enabled us, as a society, to bring hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. We have an aging society, which is another problem because the cost for our health care systems will increase. An aging society means also that we have fewer people in the labor market, and we have to feed close to 8 billion – soon, 2035 maybe, 9 billion people. And here comes another challenge – all that has to be done using fewer resources. So these are the challenges. How can we maintain our economic growth while consuming fewer resources?

Ribeiro: Do you really think that IoT can help solve these challenges?

Busch: I do believe that IoT can make its contribution like technologies did in the past. … [W]e need a substantial new way of deploying technology, and I do believe that IoT or, in other words, the connection of the real and the digital worlds, can do a lot in order to contribute to solving these challenges.

Read a longer version of this post here https://sie.ag/3iqi2Yh .

Learn more about how digitalization can help you grow your business at siemens.com/software

EXCELLENCE – One of the Greatest Motivational Speech Videos Ever (Success) HD

EXCELLENCE - One of the Greatest Motivational Speech Videos Ever (Success) HD

EXCELLENCE! Best motivational speech video of 2020 featuring new speeches from Walter Bond, Marcus Taylor and Coach Pain.

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WHEN IT HURTS – Best Motivational Video Speeches Compilation (Coach Pain FULL ALBUM 1 HOUR)

WHEN IT HURTS - Best Motivational Video Speeches Compilation (Coach Pain FULL ALBUM 1 HOUR)

WHEN IT HURTS! The Full 1 Hour Long Motivational Speech Album by Motiversity and Coach Pain is OUT NOW! Download it on all platforms: https://motiversity.lnk.to/WhenItHurtsAlbum

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Thank you so much for your support over the past 2 years! We are honored by the incredible support we have received from each and every one of you since the release of our very first single together, When It Hurts. Since releasing the first video in 2019 our videos together have received well over 10 million views and we are blessed that they have reached and helped so many people. We read all the comments on our videos and the number of people leaving messages saying their lives have been changed…they decided to not take their own life… and they will keep fighting another day, brings tears to our eyes. This is beyond what we could have ever imagined, and Coach will keep speaking as long as people are listening and we are making a positive difference in the world. Thank you to each and every one of you and any support of this first album is truly a blessing. Keep going and remember this: don’t you give up on this life.
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"I am honored to share my story with you so that you can see the path that brought me to where I am today. You see, I believe that it is through difficult situations and great pain that the human spirit grows and character is developed. And my story is a testament to this.
I started in the fitness industry when I was only 18 years old, and I knew that it was where I belonged. I had always been into fitness and enjoyed being active through my whole childhood. I was involved in Martial Arts, Wrestling and Football throughout high school and was generally a very physical person. I have been in the field for 26+ years and plan to stay here for many more. While I always enjoyed my work and was successful with it, I was not as passionate then as I am now. The passion didn’t come until much later. The passion came through the most painful loss I have ever experienced…"

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Really Slow Motion
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Arn Andersson

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NOW IN CHINA! “Can’t Eat, Can’t Travel, Can’t Rent” | Andreas Antonopoulos

NOW IN CHINA! “Can’t Eat, Can’t Travel, Can’t Rent” | Andreas Antonopoulos

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