Showcase Underdogs to Motivate Employees

by Katherine Gustafson

2 min read

Motivating your employees can be a complex task. As Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis notes, money isn’t the only thing that can light a fire under people. And, besides, raises aren’t always possible, so it’s smart to pursue other options.

A study published online in September from the journal Media Psychology finds that watching short videos of spirited underdogs doing their best to win fills viewers with hope and increases their drive to pursue their ambitions. The effect lasts up to 72 hours afterward.

“These findings suggest that underdog narratives can generate an emotional fuel that may inspire viewers to invest greater effort in achieving their own important goals,” writes behavioral researcher Abby Prestin, who was a doctoral candidate in communication at the University of California-Santa Barbara at the time of the study. (She is now a Post Doctoral Fellow at the National Cancer Institute.)

The study involved 248 university undergraduates (mostly women) who watched five-minute video clips in one of three categories: comedy, nature, or underdog. The subjects who watched the underdog clips said they felt more hopeful and eager to pursue their own goals compared with the others. The effect lasted up to three days for the underdog-clip watchers, whereas the emotions elicited by the other types of clips proved to be more fleeting.

How can you use this information to motivate employees? Here a few unconventional ideas that might spur your workers to new heights.

1. Hold a biweekly or monthly movie screening. Show films that feature a victorious underdog, such as The Karate Kid, Slumdog Millionaire, and Erin Brockovich. Make sure employees understand that they won’t be penalized for watching the movie vs. grinding away at their desks. Serve freshly popped popcorn to reel them in.

2. Incorporate inspirational clips into your staff meetings. Pepper your presentations with underdog-focused video clips, media stories, or other evocative tidbits. Try sharing these moments from The Pursuit of Happyness, Seabiscuit, or Rudy. Or show this clip about an upstart soccer team in Thailand or this one of an anthem singer inspiring the crowd at Fenway Park.  

3. Run an underdog-video contest. Challenge your staffers to bring in and share inspirational clips, then ask them to help choose the most motivational one. Offer an appealing prize to the winner, such as a gift certificate to a popular lunch spot nearby. And again, bring on the popcorn!

4. Maintain a library of inspirational clips. Catalog the clips stored on your intranet or in another internal file-sharing space to make them easy to access. Encourage staff to take periodic breaks and dip into the library whenever they’re having a “low” or tired moment.

Related Articles

Your Financing Options

Current financing options are broken into three categories: Small Business or High-Growth…

Read more

How to Choose the Right Location for Your Small Business

You’ve done the initial legwork. You know your target market and the…

Read more

Pricing Strategies For Products And Services

Pricing is a balancing act that involves psychology, art and science. You…

Read more