Do Workplace Motivational Posters Really Inspire Employees?

A University of Iowa College of Business professor says motivational posters with inspirational messages that adorn many of our workplace walls often do little to motivate or inspire employees. Ken Brown, a U-I professor of management and entrepreneurship, says for a poster like that to have real impact, it has to be bundled with what managers are actually doing day-to-day to keep members of their staff working toward a common set of goals.

Brown says some workers may mock the posters as confirmation their leaders are completely disconnected from what’s really going on in the workplace.

A business called offers de-motivational posters, with sarcastic messages like: “The glass is half-empty: Deal with it.” and “Adversity: That which does not kill me delays the inevitable.” Brown says he’s never bought one of the Despair posters, but he’s tempted, as he finds them hilarious.

Of course, some people like the original posters, with photos of pole vaulters or pouncing panthers. Brown notes he can have two students sitting side-by-side for a lecture and one may think it’s the worst class ever, while the other may say it was a fascinating, life-changing experience.

Brown says his research finds people who are naturally upbeat tend to react positively to employee motivation techniques, while those who aren’t, don’t.


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