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April 4, 2017

Could there be a 'one size fits all' way to motivate employees, after all?

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 3, 2018.

It's a problem that faces many organizations: people on the team are feeling a little bored and uninspired. How can you help them fall back in love with their jobs?

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Francesca Gino shares research suggesting that people are much more motivated when they're reminded of the social impact of their work.

"Interactions with the beneficiaries of one's work can be highly motivating because they heighten workers' perceptions of the impact of their work," says Gino.

Gino cites a field study by Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School that found donors were more likely to give donations to scholarship foundations when they had a chance to meet those who would benefit from the scholarship funds.

In another study, Grant found that lifeguards were more focused after reading about people who'd been saved by lifeguards.  Other studies have found a similar effect for chefs—when they see their patrons enjoying their food, they work harder in the kitchen and make higher quality food.

Hearing from beneficiaries can even be more motivating than hearing an encouraging message from a leader, according to a study Grant conducted with Dave Hofmann of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One problem with motivation, as Gino notes, is that people in some jobs are far removed from those they benefit. But in such cases, studies have found that similar results can be achieved by showing people how their colleagues benefit from their work (Gino, Harvard Business Review, 3/6).

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