The motivation of a person and it’s causes is something that has been an intriguing topic for us humans since the very start of time. Motivation was and is the key element needed and searched for, if a person is to accomplish a task in its most efficient form. Despite motivation being talked about only in the context of jobs and studies, its actually a requirement of achieve any simple task, and therefore, motivation is necessary to sustain life. One of the first motivation theories to ever be presented is philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s Carrot and Stick Approach to Motivation.

The Carrot and Stick Approach to Motivation Theory was first presented during the Industrial Revolution and is considered as the more traditional type of theories. It is a part of Process Theories of Motivation, which basically deals with how motivation occurs in organisms.

Bentham’s theory basically states to reward the individual in case of performance and give punishments in case of non-performance for maximum motivation and productivity levels to be observed.

Story Behind the “Carrot” and the “Stick”

The “Carrot” and “Stick” Theory basically got its name from an example of a donkey on which the whole theory itself is built. In essence, in order to make a donkey work or move forward, a carrot is presented in front of it, and still if it fails to move, it is jabbed from behind with a stick as to make it work forcefully.

Despite the fact that this theory brings a picture of abusive power and control, here in the story the carrot is the reward while the stick is the punishment. If the donkey accomplishes it’s task of moving forward and working then it will receive it’s reward (performance) and if it fails or doesn’t comply, then it will face immediate punishment through the stick (non-performance).

Application On Individuals:

Reflecting on the story of the donkey and the basis of the theory, we realize that the Carrot here refers to Rewards, while the Stick refers to Punishments. Thus, we realize how it can be applied to employees, students and even your own self!

Examples of Application:

a) In Work Spaces:

In work spaces Bentham’s theory can be applied by rewarding an employee if they accomplish a task – example: promotion – (carrot) and punishing them if they fail – over time duty with no payment – (stick).

b) In Parenting:

In the case of parenting, Bentham’s theory can be applied by rewarding your child if they accomplish a task – example: added pocket money – (carrot) and punishing them if they fail – assigning dish washing duty – (stick).

c) On Students:

Bentham’s theory can be applied on students by rewarding them if they accomplish a task – example: extra five minutes break – (carrot) and punishing them if they fail – taking away five minutes of break-time -(stick).

d) On Yourself:

This theory can also be self applied by rewarding yourself on the accomplishment of a task – example: letting yourself watch an hour of TV after learning a chapter – and punishing yourself if you fail – cutting down break time – (stick).

Common Types of Carrot and Sticks in Work Spaces


As previously discussed, Carrots are basically described as rewards to be awarded in the case of performance. The most common carrots in work places include:

a) Payments or salary.

b) Paid vacation.

c) A car through the said job.

d) Health insurance.

e) Job safety.

f) Recognition.

g) Respect.

h) Position.

i) Status, etc.


As previously discussed, in the theory Sticks basically refer to any punishments in the case of non-performance which are used as a tool to motivate the individual to accomplish the given task. The most common type of Sticks in work spaces include:

a) Over time unpaid work.

b) Extra work.

c) Penalties.

d) Loss of job.

e) Transfer to non-preferable working conditions, etc.

Conditions Applied to Carrot and Stick Theory

The Carrot and Stick Approach to Motivation is seemingly simple and easy, however, despite popular belief, there are some conditions to be applied whilst following the method to motivation. The conditions are as follows:

a) the stick is only effective in modifying an undesirable behavior if the individual choose the alternative desirable behavior.

b) Without the above condition being fulfilled, the undesirable behavior will only be suppressed for a short term and will reappear again in the future.

c) The stick is the most effective when it is presented at the time of the performance of the undesirable behavior.

d) The authorities are to make sure that the stick is properly managed and administered. It should not become a reward.

f) With the overuse of any one factor, the method may collapse.

Overuse of Carrot or Stick:

The Bentham Carrot and Stick Motivation Theory was presented and stated to rule side by side, i.e both rewards and punishments being administered where needed. Most theorists begged the question: Do both the factors produce the same results?

For this, firstly, lets take a look at the effect of the factors individually.


The stick as previously mentioned, is the punishment factor, i.e, if the individual fails to put in effort, a punishment would be carried out to make them move forward or work again. In other words, through the punishment, the individual will choose the alternate desirable behavior. But how does this work exactly?

Basically, an individual has a task in front of them and when they feel their motivation lacking, a lower production rate will be observed as the individual will stop performing. For this, the punishment factor comes in: Through the advent of something undesirable, the individual will get to work again and will be less likely to not perform again as they wouldn’t wish to receive the undesirable element.

The Stick factor on its own is a short-term fix. The individual is bound to revert back to his undesirable behavior soon.


The Carrot, as previously mentioned, is the reward factor, i.e, if the individual succeeds in accomplishing a task, a reward would be presented to them which will act as a major motivation during the performance. In other words, through the reward, during the performance, the individual will keep on putting in effort to reach the goal as they will be motivation by the thought of a reward in the end. Here is how it works:

Basically, an individual has a task in front of them and during the process of its accomplishment, they are bound to feel demotivated as well. Here the reward factor comes in: the promise of a reward after its succession will motivate the individual to keep on putting in effort and succeeding.

This factor on its own is a long-term fix. However, the individual will be demotivated at some point or the other, which is why any of the factor on its own cannot produce the efficient amount of motivation, but rather would bring a rise in production level if both the factors are to work together.


19 year old undergraduate Psychology student, with an immense love for food, journals and cool socks.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.