Motivate Employees by Telling Them How Their Job Affects Others

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Managers who want employees to improve their job performance might be overlooking an opportunity to motivate them.

Scholars and psychologists have known for decades that how people perceive their jobs directly influences how well they perform. Here’s what wasn’t known: When an employee knows how her job affects people who benefit from the product or service she works on, It can lead to better performance. 

In today’s workplace, people are more interested in work that benefits society. Adam Grant, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, sought to dig deeper into this concept by experimenting with a group of fundraisers. Although they were calling people to solicit alumni donations for university scholarships, the callers had no contact with the students who went on to win the scholarships. 

So Grant created two groups: Group A read two stories about how previous callers had made a difference in others’ lives. Group B read two stories about how former callers had personally seen benefits from the job by using the knowledge and experience to build successful careers. 


Group A “increased significantly one month later the number of weekly pledges they earned and the amount of weekly donation money they raised,” Grant wrote in the Journal of Applied Psychology. 

In a related experiment, he asked one group of lifeguards to read stories about who other lifeguards rescued swimmers. A second group of lifeguards, the control group, did not read such stories. Within one month, those who had read about the impact of rescue efforts on the victims saw an increase in the number of hours they worked, supervisor ratings of their helping behavior, and their perceptions of social worth. 

What can managers do to get similar results? Try sharing stories with employees about the importance of their roles, and encourage employees to circulate such stories among themselves. 

Although many people perform meaningful jobs that protect the health and well-being of others, “they are often distanced from information about how these efforts make a difference,” says Grant. “Mere exposure to task-significance cues can enhance job performance by fostering a deeper understanding of the social impact and social value of one’s work.”

About the Author

Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach who has helped thousands of business professionals worldwide improve their ability to craft clear, compelling messages. He started Writing With Clarity following a long journalism career with the Associated Press and now conducts corporate workshops and provides one-on-one coaching. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill). His clients include Facebook, GE, Dell, Chevron, Cisco, Georgia-Pacific, KPMG, Campbell’s Soup, Oracle, Motorola, Reebok, Dow Chemical (China), SAP (Singapore), and Vale Mining Corp. (Brazil).

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