Research to Go

What motivates us the most at work?

Many jobs come with bonuses to make us perform better. Research, on the other hand, shows that this rarely works as intended. Is it really the case that more money doesn't motivate us?

The business community has long understood that a great opportunity for competitive advantage lies in a company's employees. This is a part of the reason why we now have HR specialists and departments, that set strategies for how goals can be reached through people.

One thing is to attract the right people, but equally important is maximising the potential of each employee. Studies suggest that motivation can be just as important as abilities with regard to our performance in the workplace. Hence, motivation is an important field of research within the disciplines of management, HR and organizational psychology.

Bonuses can kill motivation

In a study of a company in the finance industry, Professor Bård Kuvaas examined the effect of bonus schemes. One of the findings was that that the higher the bonus the sales people received, the more they were motivated by money, and the less they were driven by internal rewards such as joy, purpose or sense of accomplishment.

The problem is that the intrinsic motivation affected the work effort the most. In addition, higher bonuses, or the external motivation, made more people motivated to quit their jobs.

For simpler, repetitive tasks, this might not always be the case, but many of these tasks are already being automated. At the same time, Norway's workforce is generally highly educated, and many have expectations of making use of their expertise in the form of exciting challenges at work.

This is why the need for good leadership may be greater than ever.

So if more money is not the answer, what can companies do to get the best out of every one of us?

Trust makes employees perform

With the right kind of attitude, leaders can increase our engagement, but in the worst case, they can destroy our motivation. It also seems that to what extent employees are able to influence how they spend their days, can make a big difference.

Associate Professor Ole I Iversen conducted a study of 482 Norwegian managers and their subordinates. His findings show that as long as our managers also support us, we perform better when we can partake in shaping our jobs. It also makes us thrive and more satisfied with our leaders.

In other words, being able to influence our everyday at work can have many benefits. Conversely, too much control and supervision can kill motivation and cause more people to quit.

Power to the employees!

Although research and working life alike are steadily evolving, leadership is still associated with the stereotypically dominant boss. But how do leaders actually produce the best results?

Professor Øyvind Martinsen research suggests the contrary. His study of 2000 managers and subordinates found that the answer is to give more power to the employees. Allowing them more responsibility and authority to decide how tasks should be solved, increased their productivity.

Success, however, requires leaders to delegate both responsibility and authority, coordinate efforts with goals, ensure that employees are motivated to work independently and not least - teach them how to self-manage.


Do you think management, HR and organisational psychology are interesting? At BI, management subjects are included in some form in most programs. If you are particularly interested in HR and organisational psychology, you can read more about: