Category Archives: motivation

My PhD…in plain English

Inspired by @lizith on #phdchat, who has written a blog post describing her research in plain English, I thought I would give it a go myself. I would really value your thoughts, comments and questions…

If someone enjoys their work, does it because they care about what they’re doing, and works hard because it is personally important to them, is this the same as someone who works hard because they want to achieve a target and get their bonus at the end of the month. Would these people behave the same? There is a significant amount of experimental research which indicates that the first person will be more engaged in their work, feel more positive about it and have better overall satisfaction but the reality is that many organisations don’t understand the impact that pay and bonuses has on staff.

I am examining how different methods of rewarding people at work, in a number of different organisations, impact on how they behave and feel about their work. I’m interested in how people asses the value of their pay, how this then meets some of their fundamental needs, and how this impacts on the way that they are motivated.

I am using surveys to explore people’s general attitudes about pay & feedback, their motivation and the way they think about and behave toward their work. I am also going to focus in on people’s daily experiences and motivation at work through diaries to see how these interact with their more general attitudes and behaviours. I hope my research will help businesses to plan their reward strategies to get the best out of people for the benefit of the individuals as well as the organisation.


Filed under motivation, phd process, reward

Poster presentations

Last year I was accepted to present a poster at a conference. I didn’t have a clue what this meant…aside from the fact that it must involve a big piece of paper! I did some research and was delighted with the results so I thought I would share my tips with others facing the same challenges:

Step 1: Find some other examples of posters, particularly ones in your field which will help you visualise your finished product:

  • Check the conference website in case they have examples of posters from previous years
  • Google it (google images has loads!)
  • This page from LSE has some useful links to example posters at the bottom…have a good look around

Step 2: Think about your key messages. You are very limited on space so my recommendation would be to use 4-5 powerpoint slides to sketch out what you want to say. You will probably need some kind of introduction and conclusion but these should be brief.

Step 4: Understand the requirements of the conference. Should it be ladscape or portrait? A0/A1/A2? How much should you focus on empirical findings? Read the guidelines carefully.

Step 3: Putting your poster together. Don’t underestimate how long this takes! Looking back at examples you’ve found of “good” posters (clear structure and message, not too cluttered, visually attractive) and test out lots of options. Don’t go overtop with lots of colours but don’t be too bland either. You need to attract the attention of readers from a distance of a metre or two so the font should be right. The LSE site has some great tips on format and software packages for putting posters together. I used powerpoint and found it really useful.

Step 4: Test the effectiveness of your poster. Getting your poster printed at full size is expensive so make sure you test it first. Print it in A4 or A3 so that you can see how it all fits together. Get friends/family/colleagues to read it – is it easy to understand? Check your spelling and grammer!

Step 5: Print your poster. Find out if your University has large printing services, mine didn’t. Local print shops will tend to be more expensive (or they are in London anyway!) so I used PWA UK an online service which was cheap and very fast. The poster was sent in a poster tube, which was very handy for carrying it to the conference, and excellent quality.

Step 6: Presenting your poster. Most posters will be in a large room or corridor where conference participants wonder around, normally during lunchtime, and view the ones that interest them. You should make sure you are available for as much time as possible during this period. People will come and ask you questions (which is less scary than it sounds!) so you should have rehearsed a quick, minute or two, summary of your poster.

Take with you:

  • Materials to fix the poster up (they will probably have some there but don’t take risks!)
  • Business cards and have them available for people to pick up next to your poster…some people are too shy/busy to ask
  • A4 sized print outs of your poster
  • If you have a draft paper to go alongside it…take this too and hand it out to interested parties.

Useful links

These are some other useful website that I used when preparing my poster:

…and finally, in case you’re interested, this is my poster on a qualitative pilot study that I did about motivational experience at work: SDT poster presentation v5.2 – portrait


If anyone else has any useful tips of links do share…

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Money controls…

“When people say that money motivates, what they really mean is that money controls”

In one sentence, Edward Deci, one of the founding fathers of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), sums up why I find this theory so compelling. 

It’s been nearly a decade since I started working in Human Resources and in that time I have seen a spectrum of different behaviours at work. I have always pondered the question – why do people do what they do? It was only when I discovered SDT that I finally feel like I’ve found a satisfactory explanation. The crux of SDT is that we are all inherently motivated beings. We do things because we enjoy them…unless, that is, something from outside of ourselves gets in the way. If you promise me a big bonus for behaving in a certain way I will become focused only on the bonus. If the bonus wasn’t there, I probably would have done it anyway…just because I wanted to!

Obviously this is a very crude summary of the theory, and human behaviour is cut and dry. In this article, from the end of last year, Deci and Richard Ryan explain why SDT was developed and why its popularity is on the up and far more eloquently that I can:

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The Fun Theory

This website shows some fantastic ideas collated by Volkswagen about harnessing intrinsic motivation to encourage people to perform normally boring tasks by making them interesting!

The piano staircase is fantastic…I would run up and down the stairs for that one!

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Don’t over cook your carrot!

I came across this really interesting article (via @ManageU) about Building a Better Carrot with tips on how to design better compensation systems in times when budgets are tight. There are some great examples on here of organisations using inventive incentives to boost productivity of staff and reports of them working – steak dinners, peers driven cash awards, celebratory parties.

But, at the risk of sounding like one of the “eye rollers” that Rutzick refers to, I think it’s important to treat this advice with caution…

Steak dinners only work for so long. If you introduce the concept that people will be rewarded for meeting their targets that fast becomes the only reason that they do so. What happens if budgets are cut so steak dinners aren’t on the menu any more (bad pun, I know!) – your staff will no longer have any reason to reach their targets. If targets weren’t being reached in the first place the reward is not the problem, there must be another reason.

I was alarmed at the example of the lawyers being given an extra $75 for each case completed above target. They said that “some of the guys worked nights and weekends to get the extra money and some didn’t” – for the people who are working all of these extra hours you are risking burn-out and mistakes, and for those that aren’t it is inherently unfair. What if one lawyer had a small child so couldn’t do the extra hours? It creates stress and competition and, in the long term, could lead to a reduction in productivity. With a target like this, how do you know that you are getting quality case management and not just keeping the numbers up?

That said, the examples of feedback are spot on for me. Empiorical research has shown that creating an environment where employees recieve feedback on how they’re getting on, helping them to feel that they are making a contribution, really works. This is particularly true when the feedback is unexpected.

The example in the article of Joan Klein, who received some silk flowers as a thank you from a manager for running some training for her, is a great example of how reward can work. Giving someone an unexpected reward – when it’s a thank you, box of chocolates or envelope of cash – will give them a boost in motivation without tying their motivation to the reward. As Klein says, she would run the training again but she wouldn’t be doing it for the reward (because she doesn’t expect one), she would do it because she wants to!

My advice is this – if your staff aren’t meeting their targets don’t throw money at them to fix the problem, find out what the problem is. Are the targets too tough? Do they care about what they’re doing? If you want to recognise people going the extra mile give them a one-off, unexpected reward – it can be cash, a present, time off, training. Just make it meaningful.

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Creative recognition

Monetary bonuses are commonplace in many workplaces. The argument about whether or not they have a positive impact on motivation is not one that is likely to be settled soon. It is my belief that they can help to give short-term bursts of motivation but the risk is that, in the long-term, employee’s attention is focused toward gaining their financial reward and not towards the value of the work itself. Wouldn’t we all rather have employees who are motivated because they care about what they are doing and want the company to be a success than a bunch of people thinking about their bonus at the end of the year?

That’s not to say that all bonuses have the same impact – giving unexpected rewards or recognition has been shown to have a positive impact on motivation because it is a form of positive feedback whilst not directing the individual’s focus toward the reward itself (they don’t know it’s coming!).

As part of my research I want to explore how different forms of one-off recognition award impact on motivation. It could be cold hard cash, extra days’ holiday, retail vouchers, special gifts…

Has anyone come across any interesting or creative forms of one off recognition?

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Dump the carrot and stick

Dan Pink’s, “Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us“, outlines in an engaging and informative way how organisations are perpetuating the myth that the way to motivate workers is to offer them a carrot or beat them with a stick.

In this interview, he explains what organisations can do to create an environment which encourages autonomy, competence and relatedness – the 3 basic psychological needs that Self-Determination Theory proposes we all need to thrive.

Dan Pink – Washington Post interview

In my research, I will be exploring the notion that traditional approaches to reward result in motivation that is short-lived, lacking in engagement, less productive and detrimental to employee’s wellbeing. Watch this space!

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