The “Hidden Persuaders” blog recently posted a piece by Kira Lussier on the history of motivation in the workplace. In “Motivated or Manipulated? Ernest Dichter and David McClelland at Work” Lussier notes, there is
…a long history of concern with the relationship between employees’ psychological states and the success of the company, or even the economy, as a whole. Focusing on motivation raises questions about the role of psychological expertise in shaping our understanding of the self in corporate culture; and how the line between motivation and manipulation has been negotiated and challenged in the last fifty years. My dissertation research addresses these questions, focusing on the history of psychological techniques in late twentieth-century American businesses. Historians of psychology have traced the rise of psychological expertise in Cold War America, showing how psychologists framed a whole host of social concerns, from class relations to workplace morale, as psychological problems. Their accounts examine the ways that psychologists have been caught up in structures of power, particularly government and military contracts during the Cold War . Many post-war psychologists turned to corporate America to market their expertise, following in a long line of business-oriented applied psychologists, starting with Hugo Munsterberg in the early twentieth century .
The full post can be read online here.