I would like to thank everyone who came to our Listening Sessions. Your participation in this process is appreciated. In the upcoming weeks, I will share with you my impressions, thoughts and hopes for our parish in the bulletin. In the meantime:

The Carrot and the Stick

What motivates you? If we aren’t motivated, if we aren’t driven, if we aren’t inspired, how can we ever hope to motivate the next generation?

Motivation works on three different levels. (Only going to talk about two today.) The first level is rather basic, biological motivation. We need to breathe, we need to eat, we need to survive. That motivation served us well in the Stone Age, as we were hunting and gathering and trying to outrun predators.

The second level came into play as societies and civilizations grew and motivation based purely on biological drives proved inadequate. So we moved to reward and punishment. I’ll call this level: the carrot and the stick. You get rewarded for good behavior (the carrot) and you get punished for bad behavior (the stick). In in teachers’ grade books that would be “A” and “F”. We realized that humans were more than their bio- logical urges and harnessing their drives was essential to things like, civilized society, the Industrial Age and the rise of technology.

It was really very simple. Rewarding an ac- tivity will get you more of it. Punishing an activity will get you less of it. The “carrot and the stick” persists because it is easy to un- derstand, simple to monitor and straightfor- ward to enforce. And on top of that, carrots and sticks are utilitarian, and carrots and sticks work… to a point. But once we reach a certain point, these types of incentives, be- lieve it or not, create the exact opposite effect. In other words, this system works rather well. Until, it doesn’t.

And today in 2022, it really, really isn’t working. Gallup has done extensive research on the subject, and they show that in the United States, more than 50 percent of employees

percent are actively disengaged. The cost of all this disengagement is about $300 billion a year in lost productivity— a sum larger than the Gross Domestic Product of Portugal, Singapore, or Israel. What’s worse, instead of restraining bad behavior, the carrot and the stick can often set bad behavior loose giving rise to cheating, addiction and many horrible, horrible short sighted decisions.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Believe it or not, rewards can even transform an interest- ing job into a drudge. For instance, when artists were commissioned to make a particular work of art, that work has significantly less quality than a work of art that they made on their own, without seeking a price. The carrots, what we call extrinsic rewards, don’t work. Believe it or not, according to the London School of Economics, financial incen- tives can result in a negative impact on over- all performance. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

Before you give up on this article, be assured that companies have to provide a certain lev- el of economic benefit. And there is still a place in our world for the carrot and the stick. The employee is definitely worth their wage. But what social scientists are discover- ing is what truly motivates someone is way more than the carrot, way more than the stick. If you want to know what I am driving at in one sentence: we need to stop brib- ing people into compliance and instead challenge them into engagement. We need to seek a higher form of motivation, one that is internal and not merely based on external and extrinsic rewards.

(to be continued next week…)

Father Kevin

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