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Positive & Negative Motivators in the Workforce

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A constant struggle for many managers and executives is keeping employees motivated. Enthusiastic, motivated employees tend to be happier and more productive than those who are just trying to make it through the work week. Getting employees excited about the business and their role in its success is not always easy. Some employees view their jobs as a paycheck and nothing more, while others might grow bored and unchallenged. To overcome employee apathy, use different techniques and strategies, including those that provide positive and negative reinforcement, if necessary.

Positive Motivation

In a dog race, a rabbit on a stick is held out over the track and the dogs chase it in their run to the finish. The same mentality applies to the company that dangles bonuses, raises or other rewards to their employees to increase productivity and efficiency. The end result is that the company provides motivation for employees to do their jobs better. The reward does not even have to be monetary. Some companies offer days off, special parking spots or a plaque or certificate for outstanding work. The key is to be consistent and stick to your performance perks. Once the motivator is removed, productivity usually returns to normal.

Negative Motivation

Negative motivators are used to take something away from the employee if performance levels are not met. Usually, money is the driving force of the negative motivator. Withholding a raise because an employee is not showing improvement is an example of using money as a negative motivator. Other negative motivators include the threat of failing to advance in the company or even losing a job altogether. If an employee knows that he must meet certain performance goals to retain his job, he will be motivated to meet them. The unspoken threat of losing a job can prompt employees to work harder and longer without complaint.

Do Motivators Work?

One problem with using motivators in the workplace is that the effect seldom lasts. Employees respond for awhile, but then productivity returns to normal and the company has to continually think of creative ways to keep employees involved and motivated. There is also the possibility that employees will feel manipulated and used if motivators are constantly dangled in front of them. Many employees might wonder why a company doesn’t just provide a consistent salary structure and work environment rather than depend on gimmicks such as performance bonuses or threats of lower pay. It is helpful to record and analyze employee performance before and after a motivator has been implemented to see how he responds.

The Best Motivation

Researchers at the Incentive Federation recommend positive motivation over negative motivation. They suggest establishing certain criteria for incentive programs to ensure success. These criteria include making goals challenging but still attainable, ensuring that any promotions do not conflict with everyday performance or company goals, and ensuring that the desired outcome from the incentive program is quantifiable. The researchers also found that long range incentive programs were better than shorter term motivational programs.


Adele Burney started her writing career in 2009 when she was a featured writer in "Membership Matters," the magazine for Junior League. She is a finance manager who brings more than 10 years of accounting and finance experience to her online articles. Burney has a degree in organizational communications and a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.

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