Conventional wisdom would suggest that money alone motivates us to work. For many people, the incentive of getting paid is what compels us to get out of bed each morning. It drives us to do our jobs and to do them well, with the opportunity for pay rises and bonuses motivating us to work harder and more productively. Yet, whilst money is an important motivator it isn't necessarily enough on its own...

A few months ago a friend of mine was working on an important legal case as a paralegal. He had been asked to research reams of precedent that were to be used in court the following week. After several long nights compiling his research, the firm he worked for dropped the case.

His pages of research were now worthless, those long nights wasted and he became deeply depressed. He began to turn up to work late and leave early, his productivity diminished and a month later he quit.

He is now training to be a teacher and has since told me that whilst he enjoyed his work as a paralegal and the challenge of researching cases long into the night, seeing his efforts go to waste so suddenly without regard was too disheartening. He felt unappreciated and eventually resented those he worked for.

My friend's story is not an uncommon one - despite a decent wage and stable employment he did not feel a "sense of purpose" and as a consequence his productivity suffered.

His tale is anecdotal evidence that money alone isn't enough to motivate us to work - and chances are, you're reading this and recalling a similar situation you've experienced during your working life.

My friend's comments led me to some recent research by Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioural economics. Through a series of experiments he studied and analysed the effect and importance of this "sense of purpose" and why we need more "meaning" in our work.

Experiment 1 -The Bionicles


For the first experiment, each participant was asked individually whether they would like to build LEGO Bionicles for money. For every Bionicle a participant agreed to build the amount of money on offer would decrease (e.g. the first £3, the second £2.70, the third £2.40...etc) until the participant decided the task was no longer worthwhile.