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Ted Talk Tuesday: Rewards Aren't the Key to Employee Motivation

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This post is part of our monthly TED Talk Tuesday series, spotlighting can't-miss TED Talks and their key takeaways. You can learn more about our partnership with TED here.

Daniel Pink is trying to change the way companies view the modern workplace. He is the author of five provocative books, including three long-running New York Times bestsellers: A Whole New Mind, To Sell is Human and Drive. The latter is the focus of this TED talk, and draws on 50 years of behavioral science to overturn conventional wisdom about human motivation. Dan has also been a contributing editor at Fast Company and Wired, as well as a business columnist for The Sunday Telegraph.

In his TED Talk, "The Puzzle of Motivation," Pink explores what motivates people and how company leaders can apply this research to their own organizations. He goes on to explain what social scientists know, but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think.

Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.

"There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does."

In business, when you need to meet a specific sales goal or want employees to help brainstorm a new product, it's natural or even expected to offer a financial incentive as motivation. But Pink reveals that social psychologists have proven incentive-based rewards not only fail to inspire, but can also dull thinking and block creativity. "This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored," Pink explains. We need to find a new way to motivate employees—one based on intrinsic factors rather than extrinsic ones.

"[The] new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose."

Scientists who have been studying motivation have found these three elements are key to intrinsically motivate people. People want autonomy over their lives. They want to master their craft. And they want to be involved with something greater than themselves. If you can find a way to incorporate these three things into your company culture, Pink says, you will be much more successful at motivating people to be creative and thoughtful.

"Traditional notions of management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self-direction works better."

In today's "always-on" world of work, employers often struggle to find the best way to engage their employees. But maybe the solution comes down to rethinking the way we manage people. Pink explains that providing employees with autonomy can inspire more personal investment in the work. He offers Google as an example: Every engineer at Google gets to spend 20 percent of their time working on anything they want. The result? About half of Google's new products in a year are "birthed" during that 20 percent time—including things like Gmail and Google News.

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When we talk about the quest to "have it all," it's almost always in reference to working women trying to balance a stressful 9-to-5 with the equally difficult demands of family. To be sure, women face distinct challenges in the workplace and high expectations at home. But this Father's Day, let's not forget that dads are increasingly juggling work and home life, too. Single fatherhood is becoming more common in the US—a 2013 Pew report found that a record 8 percent of families with children were headed by a single dad—and 60 percent of households with children are dual-income as of 2014, putting added pressure on both working parents. While policies in the US do not mandate paid family leave of any kind—unlike parent-topia Sweden, which offers 16 months of paid parental leave and three months specifically for paternity leave—many companies are now thinking about how they can help their workers be "Employee of the Year," without sacrificing their "Dad of the Year" trophy. Here are ten excellent companies for working dads, based on a new report from parenting resource website Fatherly. 1. Google Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 53,600 Paid Paternity Leave: 7 weeks (12 weeks for primary caregiver) Industry: Tech Dad-friendly Policy Highlight: When you work with Google, your family is part of the family—really. If an employee passes away, the company provides his/her spouse with 50 percent of their salary for 10 years and immediately vested stock options, and children receive $1,000 a month until they turn 19 (or 23 if they're a student). 2. Facebook Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA Number Of Employees: 10,082 Paid Paternity Leave: 17 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: Procreating pays off. Facebook gives new parents a $4,000 "new child benefit," along with subsidized day care. Not to mention the $20,000 worth of supplemental insurance coverage for fertility and family planning treatments. 3. Bank of America Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Charlotte, NC Number Of Employees: 220,000 Paid Parental Leave: 12 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Bank of America's twelve weeks of paid paternity leave is on par with countries likeIceland. Not too shabby. And, if you can handle the pay break, the company also allows for an additional 14 weeks of unpaid leave. 4. Patagonia Photo: Shutterstock Headquarters: Ventura, CA Number Of Employees: 2,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 8 weeks Industry: Retail Policy Highlight: Working parents don't have to stray far from their kids as Patagonia provides on-site child care for kids up to nine years old. The famously laid-back company will also provide afternoon transportation from local schools back to the office babysitter. 5. State Street Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Boston, MA Number Of Employees: 29,530 Paid Paternity Leave: 4 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Flexible work arrangements are a must for the busy working dad (or mom). State Street's program helps take the stress out of setting up some work-from-home time by requiring their managers to approach their employees about flexible work options. 6. Genentech Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: San Francisco, CA Number Of Employees: 14,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Biotech Policy Highlight: Along with dedicated paid paternity time, Genentech also offers a sabbatical program for long-term employees. Every six years, you earn six months of time off—perfect for a long summer trip with the kids. 7. 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Roche Diagnostics Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Indianapolis, IN (North American HQ) Number Of Employees: 4,500 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Healthcare Policy Highlight: Roche employees have plenty of opportunities to teach Junior essential life lessons like how to swing a bat or grow a juicy tomato. The company spends $35,000 annually on sponsored extracurriculars like community sports leagues, and also offers an on-site employee produce garden. 10. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: New York, NY Number Of Employees: 41,000 (U.S.) Paid Parental Leave: 6 weeks (plus an additional 2 weeks if have or adopt more than one kid) Industry: Professional Services Policy Highlight: Another company that values ad-hoc work schedules, PwC allows employees work-from-home options as well as ""Flex Days." So if you can cram 40 hours of work into less than five days and clear your schedule, you could end up with more frequent three-day weekends and more time with the kids. Photo: Shutterstock

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