Some managers love fear motivation. They insist that by scaring employees, they can spur workers to push themselves harder.
There’s just one problem. When you harp on the negative, it dampens everyone’s spirit. Sure, you can goad employees to shift their performance into overdrive. But they’ll feel lousy about it.
The results of a Yale University study shed light on the dangers of preaching fire and brimstone as a motivational tool. Researchers found that phone counselors for Quitlines, a smoking cessation service, were more likely to motivate smokers to quit by focusing on what’s to gain—not what’s to lose.
Warning callers that continuing to smoke could “give you disgusting black lungs” or “hairy growths on your tongue” is a conversation-ending turnoff. But by reframing the situation in positive terms (“Think of how much money you’ll save and how much more attractive you’ll look and smell!”), the message becomes more empowering.
Most of us prefer to strive for something appealing rather than avoid something awful. We feel more energized and satisfied digging within ourselves if we sense we’re marching triumphantly toward goal attainment. The joy that comes from basking in the rewards of hard work outweighs the relief of pain avoidance.
That’s why managers who motivate by describing the rewards of working harder (“You’ll earn more, develop new skills and gain job security”) prove more successful than those who issue threats (“You better shape up or else!”). Striking a positive note also lifts morale and fosters a better work environment.