A new U.K. study has practical management applications as researchers discovered men are more receptive to goals in the workplace than women.
In the research, University of Leicester economists examined the effect of non-binding goals on employee effort. A non-binding goal is when no monetary rewards or punishments are associated with success or failure. Investigators discovered:
- men are more motivated by achieving goals than women;
- goal-setting can generate the same effects on success as monetary incentives;
- having a goal leads to better focus and increased speed to complete a task.
For the study, 109 research participants completed a simple addition task summing up sets of five two-digit, randomly drawn numbers over five minutes in one of three groups:
- control — no goal was given;
- low goal — to achieve 10 correct answers;
- high goal — to achieve 15 correct answers.
Investigators found participants within the two goal groups scored more correct answers, attempted more questions and had greater accuracy during the tests. However, there was no significant difference between the two goal groups, showing that having a goal is more important than the specific value of the goal.
Lead researcher Samuel Smithers, a Ph.D. student, said, “The focus of this research was to determine how to motivate people. When we are given a goal, we feel a sense of purpose to achieve it; it naturally helps to focus us. The findings demonstrate that setting a goal induces higher effort.
“My research found that women perform better than men in the no goal setting, but men thrive in both of the goal treatments, suggesting that men are more responsive to goals than women. I also found a 20 percent and 35 percent increase in correct number of additions for the medium and challenging goal groups over the control group.
“This is an incredible increase in output without the need for extra monetary incentives. The increase was due to an increase in both the speed and accuracy of the participants in the goal groups.”
In the study, participants were rewarded 25p for every correct answer, but no additional monetary bonus if they achieved their goal, showing that satisfaction for achieving a goal is motivation enough for greater performance.
Research supervisor Dr. Sanjit Dhami said behavioral economics, which adds insights from other social sciences including psychology, biology, sociology, and neuroscience, enriches the classical view of economics.
“Behavioral economics paints a richer picture of human motivations, such as responsiveness to non-monetary goals, relative to classical economics which almost exclusively explores the effect of monetary incentives.”
The current research suggests that gender differences in economic behavior are important and widespread. These results will be useful for policy-makers but also for private firms. Study results appear in the publication Economics Letters.