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Putting a face to a name makes a huge motivational difference

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

Recent research has found it is very important to connect people’s work with outcomes. When people know their work has a meaningful, positive impact on others, they are happier and much more productive than those who don’t make a connection.

How can a link best be established? Put one group in front of another. Put a recipient in front of a provider, and the beneficial change will happen.

Just being aware of the impact your job has on others can help with motivation. Task significance is a key driver. Studies by Professor Adam Grant from the Wharton Business School in the University of Pennsylvania found even minor face-to-face contact can reinforce that significance. He conducted studies among engineers, salespeople, managers, customer service representatives, doctors, nurses, medical technicians, security guards, police officers and life guards and fire fighters, and found the same broad results.

A couple of examples:

  1. In a 2007 study, a group of call center workers whose job was to raise funds for a university, interacted with a group of scholarship students who received funding generated by those workers. A five-minute, face-to-face chat between the two groups gave the workers an opportunity to discuss the students’ studies with them. The result: the workers who had met the funding recipients raised twice as much money as a group who didn’t. Even the minimal, brief contact with beneficiaries can enable employees to enhance their motivation.

  2. Employees at a career guidance center were motivated to help people more after they met face-to-face with the individuals who they were helping to write job application letters and documentation.

But what if people work in technology industries and don’t have much contact with outsiders? Obviously that is more difficult. But this can be overcome.

An example: a pharmaceutical firm prepares mail-order prescriptions established a system where staff pharmacists rotate periodically into regular pharmacies where they interact with customers. They also began attaching photos of customers to their mail order files to humanize the names on the medical forms and help to minimize processing mistakes.

Professor Grant says, “Everybody has an end user.” In some cases, the end users are internal – internal ‘customers’ – and so the individual can connect with their ‘customers’ on a regular basis.

Even when employees don’t have a direct end user for their outputs, Grant notes that they can use corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility activities as a substitute. “One option is to give people the chance to take responsibility for personally meaningful, important community service that can be sponsored by the company so they feel they make a difference to the recipients.”

The implications for public relations practitioners? We can participate in this process by helping to humanize the contact between workers and recipients. We can communicate about it beforehand, and can highlight many case studies from the workers’ point of view and the recipients’ point of view. Avenues to do this can include the corporate intranet and website, internal and external newsletters, corporate blogs and many human interest publicity opportunities in local and regional media (assuming the recipients are happy for their story to be told widely). Appropriate staff events and presentations could be held as well.

This is a low-cost, win:win:win situation. Employees gain more satisfaction and interest in their job, the employer gets more productivity and the recipients get more support from the process.


  1. Knowledge@Wharton newsletter, 17 February 2010.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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