The Sawyer Effect

I read the Sawyer Effect on Darren K. Bourke’s blog again today, and I felt compelled to share a part of it.

“The Sawyer Effect relates to research conducted with reference to the drivers of motivation around work and play.

Researchers experimented with children whereby they divided them into three groups.

The first group was the ‘expected award’ group where children were told they’d receive a certificate and ribbon if they drew a picture.

 The second group was the ‘unexpected award’ group where children were simply asked if they wanted to draw (without the promise of awards). At the end of the session, the researchers then handed each child that drew a certificate.

The third group was the ‘no award’ group. Children were invited to draw but no promise of award was made, nor certificates handed out at the conclusion.

Two weeks later the teachers set up paper and markers for the children during a free-play period and invited them to draw.

What happened next is fascinating.

Children who were in the second group of ‘unexpected award’ and third group of ‘no award’ drew just as much as they had previously.

However, the children in the first ‘expected award’ group showed much less interest and spent little time drawing.

Researchers concluded that The Sawyer Effect had taken hold.

The earlier experiment had now turned play into work.

 So how do we interpret The Sawyer Effect in the business environment?

Intrinsic motivation is what produces a solid work ethic within an individual. Workers feel a sense of autonomy and pride in fulfilling their duties independently in exchange for fair pay and conditions.

However, when contingent rewards are introduced ‘if you do this, then you will get this’, negative impacts can result.

‘If then’ rewards require people to forfeit some of their autonomy which can diminish intrinsic motivation over time.”

It is one of those learnings that becomes obvious only after you study it.

I will pay more attention to its live use cases at work.

– Osasu Oviawe

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