Brain power

The power of non-financial incentives

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

It’s long been argued that non-financial measures are key to motivating people in the modern world of work. The case was perhaps first made by Dan Pink in Drive, but it’s since become a fairly accepted norm of the working world.

Despite this growing acceptance however, it’s still something that few of us manage to obtain in our working lives, so all additional evidence is welcomed, and the latest comes via a recent study1 from Columbia Business School, which reminds us that an emotional connection to our work is often key to high levels of motivation.

Rather than aspiring to change how managers seek to provide engaging workplaces however, the researchers instead hope to provoke changes in how economists measure satisfaction at work, with a new metric based around work meaning.

“In today’s highly mobile economy where workers can quickly move on to new companies, managers and supervisors who want to motivate and retain workers need to create jobs that offer more to employees than just a salary,” the authors explain. “Income is one part of a much larger relationship that today’s employees have with their jobs. When choosing a job, newer generations of employees – at all income levels – also factor in what they are doing, who they are working for, and how they are doing it.”

So what defines meaningful work? The researchers propose four core components: autonomy of decision making, competence and mastery of the job, the mission and purpose of the company, and our ability to relate, both to others in the organization and the goals of the business.

They hope that this fresh understanding of the role of purpose in our work can help economists to rethink how they currently measure job satisfaction, which has traditionally used variants of income minus opportunity costs, which of course misses out meaning entirely.

Article source: The Power Of Non-Financial Incentives.


  1. Cassar, L., & Meier, S. (2018). Nonmonetary Incentives and the Implications of Work as a Source of Meaning. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 32(3), 215-38.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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