The Foolproof Formula to Motivate Employees and How to Use It

Employee Engagement

When you want to motivate employees to provide better customer service or work more efficiently, what do you do? Offer commissions or monetary bonuses? This is still a conventional way of thinking, even though the research all the way back to 1945 shows that monetary incentives do not necessarily further results and can sometimes hinder it.

The Candle Problem

The aptly named “Candle Problem” demonstrated exactly this phenomenon. The Candle Problem was originally meant as a simple cognitive performance test. Psychology professor Sam Glucksberg took this test and used it to examine how performance is affected by incentives.

Subjects were either offered no prize (low-drive) or money based on their performance (high-drive). Having divided subjects into two groups, they were then told to attach a candle to the wall, with only three materials; a candle, a box of thumbtacks and matches.
When the materials were shown like this:

– participants in the first group (low-drive) usually found the solution after 5-10 minutes. Contrast this to the second group (high-drive), which on average took 3,5 minutes longer to solve the puzzle.

In another version of the puzzle, where the materials were shown like this:

“As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.”

Now, if you require your employees to do tasks that have a simple rule set and a clear outcome, like washing dishes, monetary motivation works great. But if you want creative problem solving, monetary incentives are not the way to go.

So how can managers use intrinsic motivation to motivate and engage employees while increasing productivity?

Luckily, driving employee motivation and engagement is literally our job here at ATOBI, so below we’ve combined the three types of motivation presented by Dan Pink, along with our best gamification solutions.

Intrinsic motivation

The motivation approach suggested by Pink and backed up by social scientists is the idea of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation breaks down into three elements; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


The urge to self-direct one’s life is one of the strongest motivators there is. Translating autonomy into the workplace can be difficult, as some tasks are time-sensitive by their very nature. Yet, a surprising number of daily tasks benefit from being self-directed.

Focusing on autonomy is what Calvin Klein did with ATOBI. Using our social wall and quizzes, HQ encouraged retail staff to re-think their sales methods. They also encouraged staff to share their best sales and service tips.

This was not mandatory nor time-limited. With no deadline, staff had time to think and consider their contributions. While this may seem like a subtle change, it repositioned employee training from mandatory to something staff choose to engage with.


An acknowledged theory claims that it takes 10,000 hours to obtain mastery in a skill. While for some, the expectation of gaining skills is enough, most people need a bigger push to continue to get better. We want to see our progress and feel that we are improving. A way to do this is to make the knowledge progress tangible. Another is to ensure that participants experience small successes every day. This is where gamification comes into the picture. By breaking the learning progress down into understandable and achievable steps, learning becomes easy and fun.

The “Active Journey” element of ATOBI helps motivate employees and show them where exactly they are in their knowledge journey.

The “Active Journey” module shows both completed lessons and lessons to come. Furthermore, it also provides employees with their coworkers’ progress. This makes training a mutual goal, while also encouraging some friendly competition.


What does purpose mean in a business context? Employees want to feel that their work matters, that they are part of something bigger. A great way to tap into this motivational drive is to clearly communicate the company’s mission and goals, as well as explaining each employee’s role in reaching those goals.

This is what Nike did with their ATOBI app. As illustrated below, the dashboard showed both yearly and weekly goals making progress visual. Furthermore, all employees could see how their work contributed to reaching company goals and KPIs.

The “Weekly Goals” element we created for Nike gave each employee a simple way to see how they were doing compared to their goals.

With ATOBI, Nike saw a 149% sales increase in their physical stores. This shows how a simple piece of technology can make monumental and tangible results in physical stores.

If your employee motivation toolbox begins and ends with bonuses, book a demo with us, and we will show you how companies similar to your own engage and motivate the new generations in very effective ways.