As the majority of Americans return from a three-day weekend, many are dreading the trip back to the office today. Why brave this test of willpower? The answer is simple: money. But what if it that wasn’t your source of motivation, then what would your answer be?

During a debate over money and its importance with some friends, someone brought up an MIT study that proved that money was not as motivating as we are conditioned to believe.

In short, the study took a look at how performance improved as monetary reward increased. The findings were perplexing.

When Money Increases, Performance Decreases

Initially, the study took a large group of students and gave them a set of challenges: memorizing numbers, solving word or spacial puzzles and physical tasks. Each challenge was rewarded based on performance, with three levels of rewards ranging from low to high monetary value.


The results. An increase in reward DID IMPACT performance when it came to mechanical skill. Individuals improved their performance to get a higher amount of money. But, when it came to cognitive skill, this was not the case.

When the task called for the most basic cognitive skill, a higher reward led to poorer performance. Surprised with these results, the people running the experiment decided to branch out and try it somewhere else – India. The replicated experiment reproduced findings that the more money you give people to complete a cognitive task, the worse they become at it.

This is important because in the modern-day employment environment, where companies are always on the lookout for individuals with cognitive skills.

Daniel Pink, a business and technology author, discussed the results in a 40 minute presentation which was summarized and put to awesome animations below:

What does this mean for you?

This study really pushes managers and businesses to restructure their compensation models. Granted, no one is going to go into work and ask to be paid less, but maybe this study should restructure how you go about your work.

The study showed that there are three key motivators:

1). Autonomy: or the ability to be in control of our own lives.

2). Mastery: People want to improve on a skill that is important to them.

3). Purpose: So you feel like what you are doing is bigger than just yourself.

If you do not feel content in your current position, find a way to apply the above three motivators. By working this out, or finding a job that fits these you will ultimately be more content in your work environment and, therefore, produce better results.

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  • guest

    I have read another study about motivation and money with somewhat similar results. These studies don’t duplicate the year-in year-out grind. When you wake up one morning and you realize how you are doing your job well and your standard of living is dropping you WILL be unmotivated. When you have a job and at your 90 day review they say,”you do this well, you do that well, I’d like to see some improvement in this area” and drop a 15% raise on top of a starting pay that was 15% more than you were asking you WILL be motivated. When you wake up on New Year’s Day and look at your life and how it is going better you come in to work to accomplish something.