Want happier employees? Just make the clocks run faster

I heard two news pieces recently that I think have  implications about the nature of work and compensation. (At the end of this posting, please do NOT mess with the clocks in your office.)

First, a research piece in Psychological Science by Aaron Sackett ran an experiment to see if one could reverse the adage, “Time flies when you’re having fun” into people believing they were having fun, if time  felt like it was flying.

And guess what? It worked.

Professor Sackett ran a series of experiments where the same task was administered, where each participant was told that the task took 10 minutes, but the researchers varied the actual time given for the task. People were told the task was 10 minutes, but was in reality only 5 minutes assumed they were enjoying themselves more than other test subjects.  (Yes, they took away cell phones and watches.) Our minds are compensating for the discrepancy in our internal clocks, translating it into enjoyment.

Listen to the radio piece here

Next observation:

Daniel Pink has a new book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. coming out in a few days. I have no advance copy of it, but I have it on order from Amazon now.  If you’ve read the War for Talent or Work Sucks , it sounds like some of the ideas will be familiar to you, but it punches home to a mainstream business audience that the way to motivate people is NOT a $10 gift card.  I enjoyed this quote from Mr. Pink in the interview:

“There’s a lot of research that shows that if you apply a contingent, external rewards on something that’s inherently interesting, you can actually extinguish someone’s interest in that activity. There’s a famous study where a whole group of kids who liked to draw, and if you brought them in and said if you draw I’ll give you a shiny certificate, the kids would draw, and then two weeks later they were no loner interested in drawing – that this intrinsic motivation is very fragile, and a lot of times these external motivators can dampen it.”

Can I get an amen?

Listen to Daniel Pink’s interview here.

I’m thinking the next time I hear, “Let’s come up with a new incentive package”, I may plunk down the money to buy everyone in the room the book first 🙂

Happy New Year everyone.


Jeremy Shapiro is an executive in HR at a leading financial services firm, working on talent analytics. Formerly a Senior Vice President of the Hodes iQ Talent Management Suite at Bernard Hodes Group and is a co-author of the HR metrics book Ultimate Performance. Jeremy has coached hundreds of companies in recruiting and HR technology solutions across industries and sizes. Jeremy is a frequent speaker and author on HR technology topics and HR Business Intelligence topics, such as SHRM, IHRIM, the Human Capital Institute, HR.com and more. He is a frequent contributor to articles and whitepapers on HR Business Intelligence. Jeremy holds a Masters of Science in Information Systems from NYU and a B.A in Economics from Rutgers University. Specific topics of research include HR metrics, talent management technology, and next generation recruiting technologies.

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2 comments on “Want happier employees? Just make the clocks run faster
  1. michael says:

    A while back, there was an article in the NY Times about athletes, where they could perform better if the difficulty of their task was hidden from them. For example, a coach raised the bar higher for a pole vault jumper, and the athlete was stunned to find out the bar was as high as it was. This athlete had trouble when attempting to jump that height, after knowing the true height.

    The same can be true about being able to accomplish difficult goals at our jobs.

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Talent metrics and human capital analytics galore.                                                                        

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