Heres an important gamification concept dealing with rewards and external motivators – the overjustification effect. If you aren’t familiar with this concept it can be summarized pretty simply as follows.

Person A enjoys an activity, finds it somehow personally engaging. Person A might even say the activity is internally motivating. The activity could be anything from playing video games to staying late at school to create game inspired lesson plans.

Person (or group) B offers Person A an external compensation or reward for completing that internally motivating experience. For example, that gamer is paid to join an eSports team or a teacher is paid to create engaging game inspired lessons.

Overtime, Person B decides that they no longer want to compensate (provide an external motivator to) Person A for the activity.

Person A then feels that the previously engaging activity is now no longer internally motivating. The gamer no longer wants to put in extra hours. The teacher no longer wants to put in the extra hours making game inspired lessons.

My school district is now requiring teachers to electronically sign in and out of the building to better monitor our contract hours. I’m sure this is a fairly common practice but it has been bothering me and I have been struggling to understand why. I think it’s the overjustification effect.

During summers as an undergrad I was a factory worker. At the end of every day us wage workers filled out time cards tracking our day in 15 minute increments. I was compensated based on my production within those 15 minute windows. I have nothing but respect for factory workers and am the proud son of a Steel Workers union member. It is hard work! My experience in the factory did inspire me to stay in college so I could be a professional where time cards tracking my physical labor would be replaced by management that valued my critical thinking and creativity.

With the professional work of a teacher I am a salaried employ. I would love to be more highly compensated but at the very least I felt that all of my time is valuable – it’s all compensated and not managed by a clock. The students follow the clock and are coming on tume. I need to be ready even if its past 3:30. I check my email on the weekend. I respond to student Remind101 texts at dinner time.

It’s a weird mental switch though hearing that the district is requiring me to electronically sign in. They are putting me back on a time clock. The illusion that all of my time is valued is and that all of my time is compensated has been removed. With this time card my employer is signaling that they only care a out and are only compensating me from the time I have signed in until the time I sign out.

The part of my career that used to be internally motivating but also compensated suddenly has the compensation removed. Suddenly I no longer have desire to work late. Suddenly I no longer have the desire to plan lessons or grade papers after the kids go to bed. The overjustification effect hs kicked in.

Of course maybe that’s all this ever was – an illusion of professionalism in a blue color job. Maybe I’m just exhausted from preparing to teach in a pandemic. Maybe I’m tired from being asked to drain myself of energy every day “because the kids deserve it” while also knowing that teacher appreciation is a week with a slice of cake. I miss the illusion.