The Prospect of Nudges Generating the Biggest Shove

Remember the time you promised to lead a healthier lifestyle? Or the time you vowed to procrastinate less? It all starts out the same– determined individuals with a drive for change. Yet, a majority find themselves right back where they were.

Indeed, convenience, habit and temptation often hamper even the most conscientious goals. Thankfully though, all hope is not lost. The concept of “Nudge”, made famous by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, provides vast insight on how judgements and choices can be made easier, without resorting to coercion. In fact, nudges pervade our lives!

A case in point would be Google. Although the organization has earned the reputation of fattening up their staff with food on demand, Google has adopted nudges to advance healthy eating initiatives. Similar to IKEA’s design of food placement as mentioned in class, the salad bar is placed strategically within sight upon entering the cafeteria. This is reinforced by studies that have shown that people tend to fill their plates with whatever they see first. Thus, by adjusting the ease and access to the leafy greens, while positioning Desserts down another line of sight, Google has successfully encouraged higher nutrient uptake.

Google has also successfully adopted environmental cues. Before a Googler grabs an empty plate, he is faced with a sign that people with bigger dishes are inclined to eat more. While the sign does not tell him what to do, it affects his behaviour. This increased small plate usage by half, to 32% of all plate traffic.

Nudges can also be observed closer to home. I am sure most of you would be familiar with the following promotion materials. With names like Move-In Martin and Give-way Glenda, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) hopes that these avatars can be embodied in commuters.

By appealing to social pressure, LTA hopes to encourage commuters to act with social grace.

As with all such campaigns, success rate varies and the inevitable question comes to mind: What are the reasons behind the different success levels resulting from different types of nudges?

To answer this, I would like to introduce a video titled “All Washed Up”, which focuses on influencing behaviour change. Specifically, combining the following four influences help significantly when trying to modify behaviour, i.e.:

  1. Personal Motivation
  2. Change Environment
  3. Deliberate Practice
  4. Social Influence

Such findings do shed some light on the differing success of nudges adopted by different organizations. Consider the following examples:

The first is the “Travel Early, Travel Free” program by LTA. Many incentives were introduced to encourage commuters to travel early. For one, as evident from the poster below, 15 McDonald’s outlets gave out free coffee to early commuters. This incentive encouraged commuters to travel early, by bundling the positive (incentives and freebies) with the dreaded (setting off earlier). This uses personal motivation to effect behavioural change.

To facilitate pre-peak train travel, LTA assured that there will be more train trips during the pre-peak morning period to ensure sufficient capacity. Further, LTA actively worked with employers to facilitate their employees to travel pre-peak period. Thus, LTA initiated changes to the environment by adjusting the ease and access of pre-peak travel.

LTA also relied on social influence to encourage the masses, evident from the following poster. By putting a name and face to a member of the public, it allows us to relate to the individual and hence increases the appeal to participate in the program.

Using three of the four influences highlighted in the video, the campaign has seen 7 per cent of commuters shifting to the pre-peak hours since the introduction of the scheme, and the scheme has since been extended till June this year.

On the other hand, the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) had set up a kindness popup café to offer customers discounts on a cup of coffee by saying “please” and “thank you”. Relying solely on personal motivation to drive polite behaviour did not sit well with the public, as some felt that basic manners should not be inculcated by way of monetary gain. Thus, although nudges may be well intentioned, it is imperative to consciously review the message an organization is sending through their nudges.

In closing, the efficacy of nudges, like all tools, depends largely on how we utilize them. The video shared four key influences to successfully drive behavioural change, and the class has touched on other influences such as adjusting ease and access, social pressure and bundling—all of which strive to make hard choices easier to make. That said, despite the appeal of nudges, organizations should exercise due diligence and thought when nudging people to a desired behaviour. Notably, organizations should be mindful of the message they are sending through their nudges. However, when effectively utilized, nudges may very well generate the biggest shove.

Kuang, C. (2012, March 26). 6 Ways Google Hacks Its Cafeterias So Googlers Eat Healthier. Retrieved from Co.DESIGN:

Kwara, M. (2014, May 9). Free early-morning MRT train rides to the city extended. Retrieved from Yahoo! News Singapore:

Land Transport Authority. (2013, April 16). Travel Early, Travel Free on the MRT. Retrieved from LTA Main Website:

Law, J. (2014, June 13). ‘Kindness cafe’ sends wrong message. Retrieved from The Straits Times:

Lim, J. (2014, June 20). LTA’s Thoughtful-Me campaign is just waiting to get trolled. Retrieved from

Tyers, R. (2014, April 08). Nudge yourself better: how to become your own Choice Architect. Retrieved from The Society Pages:

Compensating emotional labour

Inspiring article by Sarah Jaffe – The truth behind “service with a smile”

As we have been discussing money as a motivator to work as well as the concept of emotional labour, first introduced by Arlie Hochschild, in this first blog entry, I would like to discuss the question of compensation regarding emotional labour: “To what extent is it fair to compensate efforts resulting from emotional labour?” The article “The truth behind: Service with a smile” by Sarah Jaffe, that inspired me to discuss this question, was published in February 2013 in a left-oriented online magazine called “In these times with liberty and justice for all”. Jaffe mainly argues that low-wage service employees, females in particular, are compensated with too little wage, considering the emotional exertions experienced during the job.

Let me first consider arguments that may legitimize a higher pay for those working and potentially suffering from emotional labour in their daily work. As introduced by Jaffe, employees, especially at franchise outlets i.e. Pret a Manger, are faced by high group and competitive pressure to perform well at their emotional labour. Due to constant checks by mystery buyers, employees learn that by exercising emotional labour to a higher degree, they will directly receive a higher pay, thus being a direct incentive to smile more often. Another argument that Jaffe addresses is fairness: When a worker has to change his or her personality and suppress personal feelings, should this effort not be compensated considering that we are living in a society in which effort is perceived to be positively correlated with reward? Furthermore, the author feels that workers’ pride is largely exploited.

In the previous argument I have addressed the importance of society and culture that leads to the individuals’ perception of fairness, especially regarding compensation at work. It may be true that in an ideal world effort should translate into output, however in reality employees are usually measured by their output. It is next to impossible to measure a single worker’s effort to exercise emotional labour and compensate for satisfaction or dissatisfaction gained from the job. Furthermore, we commonly assume that an applicant knows what kind of requirements to expect from a future job. People working in the service sector, therefore, usually mostly gain satisfaction from exercising emotional labour as their job is of vocational nature. A hairdresser that does not like small-talk with his or her customers should not be compensated for overcoming his/her dislike to talk to customers. In my opinion, Jaffe also neglects that there are also jobs in the higher wage-sector that require emotional labour such as being a lawyer or doctor. Considering this argument, one can see that wage is therefore largely determined by demand and supply of certain labour, rather than the amount of emotional or cognitive labour exercised: a specialised doctor is harder to find than a waiter.

In order to demonstrate a different approach rather than claiming that workers suffer from emotional labour, largely fake it anyways and should receive a compensation for their efforts, I would like to introduce the example of a well-known company and their human-resource strategy: Starbucks discovered what the organization should focus on when offering the “2nd home feeling”: its employees. Their strategy to empower employees and offer many benefits was completely new and resulted in Starbucks leading the ranks of employees’ top choice, indirectly relating to better perceived customer experience. By formulating and implementing a corporate culture, Starbucks employees did not view their work as exhaustive emotional labour anymore but it somehow became a vocational-type of job. The organization did not raise wages to compensate for emotional labour but rather changed their employees’ attitude to make it attractive to behave in the Starbucks way. However, those efforts did not last long as focussing on employee satisfaction is expensive and the company was not able to sustain those programmes in the long run.

Overall, we can evaluate organizations’ efforts that focus on their employees as a positive sign. Those organizations have discovered the mutual goal of achieving customer satisfaction through improved employee satisfaction. There is an alternative to compensating dissatisfied employees with more money: Public discussion will hopefully turn the exertion experienced by emotional labour into satisfaction from motivation gained by living a common corporate culture in the long run.

Is money really everything? When did money become everything?

Following the discussion is class regarding the meaning of money, it triggers a lot of thoughts in my mind. Is money really everything? Do we really work only for money? When did money become everything?

My point of view is that money is not really everything and we do not work only for money. Well, maybe sometimes we do, but not all the time. Let me bring in some examples to justify my thinking.

Firstly, let us look at the comparison between US president Obama and our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. According to Ong (2013),  Mr. Lee receives $2.2M per year as compared to Obama who earns only $500,000 annually. Both took on the position as the leader of their respective countries but look at the disparity in their pay. The main focus probably should be why then is the underlying motivation that pushes Obama to take on his job despite the fact that he is very much underpaid as compared to the rest of the world leaders? Could it be that he has a high need for power? Or just like what he have said when he first ran for the election, that he wanted to solve the problem of income inequality?

Now how about we shift our attention to another occupation, the social workers. Have you ever wonder why are they willing to work in such a stressful environment even when they are compensated miserably?

In response to the question, I went to read stories of others who have become a social worker and the reasons they have given is that the job itself makes them feel proud and rewarding as they make a difference in people’s life. Some even enjoy the challenges that the job brings to them.

From these 2 examples, I want to draw everyone’s attention to see that people do not work just for money; they find meaning for their work. This is just like what Dan Ariely have mentioned in his Ted Talk “What makes us feel good about our work” that people want to make progress and feel a sense of purpose. YES, people work for money but because they need money for survival and pay for daily expenses.  However, it is not the only thing that motivates them to go to their office every day.

In today’s society where competition is strong, people are forgetting who they really are and what is it that they really want in their heart. Just like the story that Professor Audrey has shared with us in class regarding the issue “what amount of money is enough?” The story she mentioned about how people just keep upgrading their houses and cars as they compare themselves with others. There is a Chinese saying that goes “人比人气死人, 何必去羡慕别人”, meaning comparison are odious, why bother envying others. How are we ever going to be content with what we have and be happy of who we are if we do not stop comparing ourselves with others!

So let us all be brave and pursue what we want and not live a life based on other people’s expectations or the societal norms. Life is too short to have regrets and it is definitely OK to make mistakes and it is alright to be different as we are MEANT to be unique individuals.

I would like to end off by sharing an article entitled Top 5 Regrets of the dying by Martino (2013), to trigger some self-reflection.  It was stated in the article that the number 1 regret of the dying is that “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”. If this is not enough to convince you, I would strongly recommend all to watch the Tedx talk titled “How to find and do the work you love” given by Scott Dinsmore. Personally I have taken away two main learning points from him and that is:

#1 Understand myself

No one will do it for you but yourself. Take actions today to find out about your strengths.

#2 Do the impossible

Believe in ourselves. People say they cannot do it because they do not believe in themselves or others say they cannot do it.  Surround yourself with people who believe in you.


Martino, J. (2013). The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying. Huffingtonpost. Retrieved from

Ong, R. (2013). The 7 Highest Paid Political Leaders in the World (2013). Retrieved February, 27, 2015, from Yahoo News Web Site:

Motivation, Life Cycle & the Appropriate Mix of Extrinsic & Intrinsic Rewards

Motivation is the desire that constantly drives a person to work hard towards his/her goal and what actually motivates people to wake up every morning to go to work really arouse my interest. This interest grew much more when intrinsic and extrinsic rewards was introduced to me, and when I personally experience changes in what motivates me to go to study or work. Thus, I would like to share my perspectives and thoughts on this topic.

Motivators throughout my life

When I was young, my family and relatives told me to study hard so that I could get into a better job to earn huge amount of money to lead a better life. So I aimed to work in the banking industry as it have always been said to provide the highest salaries, and thus I studied banking and finance as I was motivated by the extrinsic rewards that I will be able to get in the future. During the period of studies, I realize that I do not really like that industry and does not have any passion in it. As such, I became less motivated to study more about it and changed my specialization to what I have passion in, so I changed to go towards what intrinsically motivates me. Additionally, my life journey leads me to think more thoroughly about what I want from my job such as money to support my family, work-life balance, meaning, empowerment and career advancement. By reflecting the motivators throughout my life and combining with what I have learnt in class, I agree with Ariely that motivation should be the combination of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Yet, the question here is which motivator is more important in today’s world and what is the appropriate combination, which I seek to address below.

The More Important Motivators: Intrinsic or Extrinsic?

As Daniel Pink, Ariely and Kanter have suggested, intrinsic rewards are more important today in the 21st century and I agree with it. According to McKinsey (2009) survey, over 60% of the employees stated that nonfinancial incentives like praise from immediate manager, attention from leaders and opportunities to lead are more effective in motivating them to work harder compared to financial incentives such as cash bonuses, increase in base pay and stock or stock options 60% or less effectiveness.

Mckinsey 2009

Furthermore, I had also found similar results from the employee engagement survey done from my previous internship. The top categories that employees stated as things that can drive them to work harder in sequence are Career Advancement, Empowerment and Immediate Supervision. Having said that, it does not mean that extrinsic rewards are not important. By referring to the Malow’s hierarchy of needs, it is important that people have enough money to ensure their basic needs are met before they pursue for more. In the 21st century, the phenomenon is that people are getting more affluent drives person to seek more intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. This may be why intrinsic rewards is a more important motivator nowadays, but does everyone values intrinsic rewards more than extrinsic rewards?

The Combination of Extrinsic & Intrinsic Rewards

In my opinion, everyone at a different stage of life have different things that are important to them just like what I had illustrated through my reflection of my own life journey. During our class discussion, there are also differences in what each of us values. Thus, I would like to bring in the concept that Warr suggested, that perhaps what motivates us depends on our stage of life cycle. For instance, an employee who have just married might requires more money to support the family and in this case extrinsic motivators may be more attractive to him/her. Therefore, it is important for organization to find out the life cycle stage of the employee to tailor the appropriate balance of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for him/her. So how do we know what is the appropriate balance of rewards? One suggestion I have in mind is that HR should always be clear about each of the employee’s stage of life cycle and communicate to the immediate supervisor, while immediate supervisor should be like their friends to understand through daily communications to find out their needs at that life stage so as to tailor rewards specifically for them.

In conclusion, through my reflection, I think that both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards matter even though intrinsic rewards may be perceived as more important these days. The determination of which is more valued depends on individuals, and this may be due to their life cycle stage in which they are currently at. Thus, it requires much organizational efforts to find out the best rewards combination to be customized for each employees.

So what other suggestions do you have for determining the appropriate mix of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards?


Dewhurst, M., Guthridge, M., & Mohr, E. (2009, November). Motivating People: Getting Beyond Money. Retrieved from Mckinsey & Company:

Kanfer, R., & Ackerman, P. (2004). Aging, Adult Development, and Work Motivation. Academy of Management Review, 440-458.

Palmer, A. (2012, August 30). Study: Money Not a Top Motivator: Incentive Magazine. Retrieved from Incentive Magazine:–Money-Not-a-Top-Motivator/


Using Personality Test for Hiring Process?

Nowadays, I am seeing more and more organizations utilizing personality assessments in their hiring and employee development practices. In fact, about 80% of Fortune 500 companies use personality tests to assess potential and current employees in order to make hiring, team building, and developmental decisions.

Some of the most common and widely used personality tests that we usually see today include Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Caliper Profile, Hogan Assessments, and DiSC. Personally the most common one to me is MBTI, so I went on to do a background check on it. Interestingly, MBTI was designed for women! It was originally developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1940s. They noticed that most women took war-related jobs out of patriotism, yet hating the tasks given. Isabel also observed that many are not using their gifts or talents. Hence she was inspired to create an avenue that allows women to discover what they are good at and using this to guide them into choosing a suitable career path. In sum, it aims to measure the preference in how people actually see the world, see themselves, and make decisions subsequently.

In recent years, psychologists and human resources practitioners have suggested the use of personality testing as a tool to assist in making better and more informed hiring and developmental decisions. Undoubtedly, using personality tests can be really great and helpful. They are easy to use and allow employers to compare a big pool of candidates, they also allow employers to know whether candidates fit the roles, environment and working culture in the company, they are even used to predict the “future leaders” of the company. Personality tests began to grow tremendously, it became the first must-go-through process during a hiring journey.

However, solely using personality test to completely screen out candidates without giving even an interview chance, seem a bit overboard for me personally. Although I do understand that at times it is really difficult to screen and interview 200 candidates. Perhaps group interview and telephonic interview and be put in place to provide more opinions rather than solely dependent on a test.

Personality tests may not produce a true representation of a candidate. Potential employees may simply respond how and what they think the employers wants. For example, an insurance agent is more likely to seek an aggressive salesperson and candidate will try to match up their personality by choosing answer that lead to extroversion or resilience. With detailed job descriptions provided nowadays, it can be easy to identify what specific characteristics the company is actually looking for. In addition to this, it is way too easy to “practise” personality tests using internet. Too many websites are offering proper and reliable personality with very minimum cost or even free. Also, according to a research by Cornell University ILR School, job candidates who fail a personality test the first time often “change their response dramatically on the second test”, despite the fact that personality is known to be generally stable and unlikely to change in short interval. This again signifies how easy for one to change according to what a company wants instead of providing a true characteristics for himself.

In general, personality tests are not the final answer. Although they can help to provide a deeper insight into a candidate’s motives, values, and work styles, they do not give the final verdict on which candidate is the right one for the job. Indeed, the right personality fit is critical for good performance. The type of personality tests used also matters a lot. Some tests are better predictors than others, so it is important to do prior research to secure a suitable test for a particular role. If possible in terms of financing and company support, perhaps a multi-measure tests will be better compared to solely dependent on personality or emotional intelligence tests. As shown by Schmidt, with multi-measure test scoring the highest correlation between test scores and predicted job performance.


However, it is important to keep in mind that personality assessments are not a stand-alone tool. They should be used only in conjunction with other employee screening techniques such as behavioural interviews and references to reflect all of a candidate’s characteristics.






Organisational Behaviour in light of the Singapore Budget

Hi everyone, as we all know, the 2015 Singapore Budget was recently announced and a few of the points that were highlighted reminded me how pertinent organisational behaviour is. The budget especially got me thinking about the attitudes and motivations behind both employees and organisations regarding productivity efforts.

The budget this year emphasised on innovation and productivity in the workplace. I’ll be focussing specifically on productivity in this post.

Increasing productivity

The Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme (PICS) benefits companies as they will enjoy tax deductions or allowances should they engage in any of the 6 activities that has been pre-set. One of the activities are sending employees for upgrading courses for continuous learning and an increase in productivity. However, I feel it’s important to keep in perspective the difference between the benefits that the organisations receive and the benefits that the employees receive and realise that while employees should in theory have a skill that they can takeaway, companies may have the wrong motivations behind sending employees for skills upgrading courses.

There needs to be a measurement or survey in place to ensure that employees that are being sent for skills upgrading want to attend such courses and have a positive attitude towards learning instead of being ‘forced’ by their organisations to attend such courses for the sole purpose of a higher profit margin.

As we have learnt in class, attitudes are evaluative statements or judgements about something, in this case productivity and workshops that are meant to upgrade skills and hence productivity. Employees opinions need to be heard before being sent for such courses and given a choice as to the type of workshops that they will be attending. Allowing employees to choose exactly the skills that they will be upgrading gives them greater autonomy over their work environment. Should organisations have a specific skill that they require to be picked up, a dialogue session first would seem to be more helpful in ensuring that each employee that does go for workshops that will increase productivity goes for them with a positive attitude.

The importance of considering the attitude that employees have towards productivity is paramount when one considers that perhaps an individual feels he/she is already the most productive out of the group or that they will ever be. Sending such individuals without a feedback dialogue to productivity workshops may be counterproductive considering their potential reluctance to learning. On the other hand, an employee may have chosen their current employment by considering person-job fit and not person-organisation fit. Which means that they joined a company with the thought that they would be a perfect fit for the job and are happy with the skills that they have as they entered. Employees should have a say in what productivity measures are undertaken by them and not be ruled by the fact that the organisation would have a higher profit margin and hence everyone needs to go to workshops.


While tax allowances/deductions are motivators to the organisation to ensure employees undergo training to fulfil the PICS requirements, they will not be welcomed by employees that have no control over the workshops, as mentioned above. Why? This can be explained by the self-determination theory which states that the lack of control over the activity that one engages in, undermines his/her motivation in partaking said activity.

Pending what employees value from their work, the lack of control over their working environment could cause a negative effect on their perception of their work and ‘de-motivate’ them from putting in their fullest potential. Which is the opposite of what the budget wants to have happen.

The Singapore budget allows organisations to think about how their profit margins can be increased with schemes and regulations. But, how organisations behave towards compensation towards employees will also have an effect on employee’s attitudes towards the organisation. For example, pay structure is a consideration for many employees. In class we have already discussed money as a motivator. However, organisations in implementing the rules that they will set regarding productivity also needs to be flexible such that they re-look at their compensation structure to ensure it fits with their new rules. Organisations that make use of the piece-rate pay system currently need to realise that employees may have a negative outlook towards workshops as that means hours away from work and hence lower pay. A more appropriate structure perhaps could be skill-based pay that rewards employees based on the skills that they have acquired.

Impact yet to be seen

The effects of the 2015 budget remains to be seen on the behaviour of organisations and the effect on the core of organisations, employees. However, organisations need to take into account the attitudes and motivators of employees before insisting on skills upgrading purely for profit purposes.

Money, Money, Money

Previously, we discussed money as a motivator, explored its meaning and the importance ascribed to money. Today, lets take this discussion further because, let’s be honest, money is a hot topic!

Jessie J goes “it’s not about the money money money…” in the song Price Tag

In fact, many studies support this notion that indeed, not everything is about money when it comes to work. A study aimed at exploring the relationship between pay and job satisfaction also found that employees earning high salaries only reported similar job satisfaction with those who earned much lesser (Judge, Piccolo, Podsakoff, Shaw & Rich, 2010). The same can be said for employee engagement, as research shows that there is no significance difference in employee engagement by pay level (Blacksmith & Harter, 2011). Even in sales organizations, money is not the main motivator for the top performers who earn the highest commission. Rather, it is beating the competitor that drives them. In addition, higher financial rewards actually lead to lower or worse performance. Surprisingly, paying an employee too much have a negative effect on their work performance (Sundheim, 2013).

However, when Meja goes “it’s all about the money….” in the song All About The Money, one cannot help but to think that using money as a motivator has its merits too.

Firstly, money is easily the most ‘far-reaching’ option in the sense that it appeals to every one and motivates the lowest grade employee all the way to the highest-level CEO. Therefore, many companies give out companywide bonuses that apply to all employees every year. It is simple, fast and serves as a good motivator for all. Secondly, money also offers a wide variety of options in terms how to use it. It can be given out as cash rewards, gift certificates, special bonuses, and commissions etc. Hence, money, with its flexibility and versatility, is one of the best options from the company’s point of view (Belcher, n.d.). Lastly, it is noted that money is the only factor that can motivate people to work in a harmful or toxic environment.

After exploring both the pros and cons of using money as a motivator, the only song that resonates with me seems to be ABBA’s “money money money, must be funny…”

Indeed, we have a “funny” relationship with money. As soon-to-be graduates, when someone asks us what do we look for in a job, we will think of career prospect, job nature and salary. While the other factors may change, salary seems to be always a point of consideration. In a world where capability is pegged to salary, one cannot help but to see money as a form of motivation. People like to be paid what they’re worth. We want to be rewarded for our work and also work for our reward. Many a times, reward cannot be separated from money. Money is the easiest way to reward a person and it also provides instant gratification. As compared to things like ‘autonomy at work’, ‘mastery’, ‘creative freedom’ and ‘purpose’, money (cold hard cash!) is much more tangible and visible. It is no wonder that money remains as the most “tried and tested” way to motivate a person.

However, I also do agree that money can only motivate a person to a certain extent. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger once mentioned “money doesn’t make you happy. I now have 50 million but I was just as happy when I had 48 million.” Even though this is an extreme example, it brings out the point that money only works until a certain level before its effectiveness plateau.

Despite all the studies showing that money is not the best motivator, many companies are still using it as the main form of reward and compensation. Therefore, I think the essential question we have to answer is not whether money is a good motivator, but rather: what are some other ways a company can reward or motivate employees fairly?

Personally, I think that even though money is not the main and sole motivator, it is definitely one of the essential components that will keep people motivated. And now, I’m ready to write the next hit single entitled “Money is something but not everything”.


Belcher, L. The Advantages of Using Money to Motivate EmployeesSmall Business – Retrieved 25 February 2015, from

Blacksmith, N., & Harter, J. (2011). Majority of American Workers Not Engaged in Their Retrieved 25 February 2015, from

Judge, T. A., Piccolo, R. F., Podsakoff, N. P., Shaw, J. C., & Rich, B. L. (2010). The relationship between pay and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the literature. Journal of Vocational Behavior77(2), 157-167.

Sundheim, K. (2013). What Really Motivates Employees?Forbes. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from

Meaning and Motivation versus The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Hi class! I have been reflecting on what we discussed in Week 4 about meaning and motivation. I’m referring specifically to the TEDTalk Prof Audrey shared with us by Dan Ariely, “What makes us feel good about our work?” While Ariely’s idea was inspiring I also wondered: “Should the effort one has already put into a project, and thus the meaning that one attaches to it as a result of these efforts, be the primary motivator of a person’s actions?” In my blog post, I bring up an alternative perspective in the form of the sunk cost fallacy, in which attaching meaning as a function of previous effort or hard work might, in fact, be harmful rather than helpful.

At first blush it seems like a beautiful idea, that we not only work harder on our projects, but grow to love them, in the same way a parent does a child. For instance, if we have worked on building the foundations of a new social entrepreneurship initiative (a meaningful direction) for two years (persistence in efforts), with no financial renumeration (intensity of efforts), we would be triply disappointed and crushed if we find that, due to some unforeseen circumstance or obstacle, our project cannot come to fruition. This is because “meaning”, in Ariely’s sense, is crushed.

So what, then, if we find that our efforts have been washed down the drain? Ariely suggests that recognition of effort, as well as the redirection of efforts into some kind of productivity (using an abandoned project somehow to benefit other projects) is a good way of mitigating the loss of meaning. We should still salvage the project, so that we can prove that there was still some meaning in the two years’ of blood, sweat, and tears we have poured into the project. And this would reduce workers’ loss of motivation to try again on future projects.

I would like to contrast this approach with an alternative view, as articulated by Julia Galef on digital knowledge forum Big Think. Galef argues that we tend to attach false – or rather, excessive, or spurious – meaning to a project or thing based on the amount of effort or resources we have poured into it. This is the sunk cost fallacy. To use an example closer to home, we have spent 2000 CORS bid points – and many hours of anxious bidding – to attain a place in a very popular module. You take it, but later find out that the class is not very enjoyable (the curriculum, let’s say, is explored in a way that does not appeal to you). You have the opportunity to drop it and take another class for just one bid point. But something stops you. If you do this, all that effort you expended would go down the drain. And frankly, you do feel a special connection to this seminar, now that you are finally here and have worked so hard to get in.

Galef would say: Drop it! The bid points and effort you’ve spent getting the module are part of a sunk cost, which you should ignore completely.

But what Ariely, on the other hand, might say: Keep the module, because the effort and points you have spent are likely to make you more motivated to work harder for the module and learn as much from it as possible.

Or that might not be what Ariely would say at all. He might say: Drop it, but use your experiences from bidding this round as a lesson for future bidding experiences.

In any case, I think this example unearths a dimension of complexity to the concept of meaning and motivation: how do we quantify and weigh meaning, especially if we are caught between two or more decisions that each bear seemingly equal meaning to us? Is meaning only generated by previous effort, or can it also be based on future, expected returns? What if learning to grow attached to our projects makes us, in turn, rigid and unwilling to give them up when presented with alternative options that might be more meaningful in future?

My personal answer to these questions is that meaning should not be only determined by personal effort thus far, but also by a spectrum of other things like personal values and convictions, and future possibilities and benefits. For instance, one failed attempt at social entrepreneurship could lead, in future, to an enlightened perspective in taking on a banking job in developing countries; though at the point of disappointment one can only see failure, or the crushing of meaning.

Thus, one should learn to look at the big picture, rather than our present or past efforts. In this way, perhaps, meaning – as measured by the fruits of our cumulative efforts over time – can be maximised in the long run.


Referenced Source:

Emotional Intelligence in Organisations

As we learnt in class, emotions are inseparable part of ourselves. Numerous scientific researches show that our emotional brain is much more active than our thinking brain. That is probably why our logical brain that encompasses reasoning and decision-making skills can be subservient to and influenced by our emotions at times. With this flow, it is not surprising that our emotions in the workplace are largely related to motivation and job performance.

So, how far should emotions be discussed in organisations?

There are many other behavioural aspects such as teamwork that affects, a broader term for both emotions and moods, have impact on. Hence, we cannot further emphasise the importance of understanding and managing our emotions in organisations. For the purpose of this write-up, I will focus on the significance of emotions and emotional intelligence (EI) in learning and development (L&D), a Human Resources (HR) area that I am most interested in.

Emotionally intelligent individual has effective awareness, control and management of his/her emotions as well as awareness and understanding of other people. (NealeArnell, 2009) Howard Gardner describes these aspects of intelligence as intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. With greater understanding of deep emotions, you can better manage yourself at work and improve the way you work with others.

Here is a short video on ‘what makes an emotionally intelligent leader’ and ‘what impacts they make on people in their organisations’.

Though the concept of EI is highly applicable to all levels of employees, it is especially useful for managers and HR staff who facilitate L&D to bring about the best in people.

We all know the increasing importance of talent development in this rapidly changing world. Sparrow and Knight (2006) argue that all change should be based on 4 main elements of KASH model- Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Habits. However, most of the time, our approaches are largely driven by transfer of knowledge and skills, forgetting the importance of other aspects that are related to our emotions. I strongly believe that paying attention to EI can effectively improve the effectiveness of the training programmes. For instance, with self-knowledge, you are able to identify areas you think you need to improve or change. These thoughts give rise to positive attitudes towards learning, which once achieved, develops into new habit.

Though the above-mentioned training approach based on 4 aspects has its own benefits in some cases, my thoughts are with Galileo Galilei who once said, “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself”. In contemporary business environment, employees are faced with abstract business problems and are rewarded for creativity and innovation. I personally think that traditional training methodologies focused on passing down knowledge and skills are becoming more irrelevant.  On the other hand, EI coaching provides guidance to solving problems and achieving goals rather than offering individuals model answers. It involves active listening, questioning (non-judgemental), empathy and authentic rapport, all of which require high emotional intelligence. (NealeArnell, 2009)

Despite all the advantages of EI coaching, what could hinder its effectiveness?

Being highly reliant on emotions, interpreting and understanding employees’ emotions accurately would be most important. However, as we have discussed in class, what we feel deep down may not be the same as what we display to others. Another limitation could also rise from the fact that the coachee may not be fully aware of him/herself. For example, while women are generally known to be more emotional and attuned to our inner self, men are more ‘emotion-less’. Is that really true? Watch the video below which talks about men and their lack of vocabulary list related to emotions.

How can we minimise the weaknesses of EI coaching?

As mentioned in the first video, EI can be taught. Though the initial trainings may be costly and time-consuming, I strongly believe that its benefits outweigh the costs. It is all about building relationship, retaining and grooming the right talent to lead organisations’ growth.


I learnt that emotions and moods are essential aspects to understand ‘who’ goes to work and ‘how’ they behave at work. Also, I feel that we should not see ‘emotions and moods’ as taboo in organisations but should acknowledge and manage them appropriately. Especially in L&D, emotional intelligence is the fundamental aspect to ensure employees learn, apply and transfer their knowledge within organisations.



Neale Wilson Arnell. (2009). “Emotional Intelligence Coaching.” Kogan Page.

My OB Journey

The past 5 weeks in Professor Audrey’s OB class had been an enriching and thought-provoking one. Not only have I gained an invaluable amount of knowledge about the different organization theories and how interconnected these theories are in contributing towards the climate and culture of the workplace, I have also further affirmed that the everyday process of ‘going to work’ is not just like any other routine. More often than not, the daily routine which we follow during our personal time can be done mechanically without much thought processing since how we carry out this routine would not very much affect third parties. However, the routine of ‘going work’ everyday cannot be done mechanically because there are elements in the workplace that require us to display a certain degree of behavior intelligence so as to better manage personal behavior and relationships in the workplace, especially in the age of globalization where companies have been witnessing a greater diversity among its employees. In a workplace with people from different nationalities and having contrasting background, it is essential for individuals to be equipped with cognitive cultural intelligence when they go to work, in order to interact and work effectively with their colleagues who have different nationalities. Having vast knowledge about other cultures would allow individuals to be aware of what are the dos and don’ts when communicating and working together with foreign colleagues. Being discerning of other cultures would not only help to mitigate any conflicts that might arise from the differences in culture, behaving according to cultural expectations would also allow foreign colleagues  to feel respected and welcomed. This would create a friendly and diversity-loving climate in the company that would be attractive for potential foreign talents to join. Additionally, I have also understood that people have different reasons that motivate them to go for work and they hope to achieve varying rewards from work. Some people value extrinsic rewards such as pay rise while others may appreciate intrinsic rewards such as achieving self-actualization and esteem. With different motivators, people might, as a result, adopt varying attitudes towards their work to attain the rewards they yearn.

The theories of OB are not just relatable in the classroom context, these theories are also very much applicable in the real world where organizations do apply the OB concepts to enhance the environment and climate in the workplace. I was interning at Singapore Exchange (SGX) for the last 6 months. Unlike other companies which only have a relatively small and enclosed pantry, SGX has an extremely spacious and open pantry which the management named it as ‘Market Place’.

sgx 1                          sgx 2

A marketplace in common context is a ‘place where values, opinions, and ideas are put forward for debate or recognition’ and an open space where people congregate together to interact. Thus by naming the pantry as ‘Market Place’, the SGX management team hopes to use the open pantry as a nudge to promote communication and synergy among employees across division by providing them with a space where interaction can take place easily. With such an ample area in its pantry and even furnishing it with drinks, snacks and fruits, most employees (including the interns like me!) have much incentive to purchase their lunch back to the pantry, instead of having lunch outside. There were around 10 interns in various departments during the time I was interning and despite being in different departments, we often made use of the Market Place as our ‘meeting point’ where we had lunch and breaks together. It was not just the team of interns, full time employees from different departments would also be having lunch together at the Market Place; and sometimes if the management team happened to walk past, they would also join them as well. Through all the lunch-time and break-time interactions, SGX’s employees, regardless of their divisions, are able to forge a close relationship with each other and this would help to create a cordial culture in SGX where relationships amongst colleagues are valued. Additionally, SGX also holds celebrations for festivals such as Christmas and New Year at Market Place as well where all employees would gather for an afternoon of fun and drinks. This further helps to promote a fun-loving and lively culture in SGX which I believe would allow work to be more enjoyable for all SGX employees.

Hence from the design of SGX’s open pantry, it is evident that the management team has cleverly planned to use environmental cues as a driver to advocate interactions among employees in order to attain the goal of building a people-oriented culture within the company. From this, we are able to see how OB’s theory becomes alive in the real world.