What Seinfeld Teaches Us About Motivating Employees


Anyone who survived the 1990s is undoubtedly familiar with the sitcom that helped define the era and pave the way for other sitcoms to build the 90’s cultural landscape: Seinfeld.

Although the show’s namesake, Jerry Seinfeld, is the main character, the unforgettable Cosmo Kramer is perhaps the character who brought the most laughs. In one classic scene, Mr. Kramer has signed up for a charity walk, wherein the organizers want him to wear a ribbon. Here’s how the conversation goes down:

KRAMER: (To organizer at desk): Uh, Cosmo Kramer?

ORGANIZER: Ok, you’re checked in. Here’s your AIDS ribbon.

KRAMER: No thanks.

ORGANIZER: You don’t want to wear an AIDS ribbon?


ORGANIZER: But you have to wear an AIDS ribbon!

KRAMER: I have to?


KRAMER: Yeah, see, that’s why I don’t want to.

This scene not only offers some classic Seinfeld humor, it also teaches a lesson for managers – telling someone that they have to do something is the quickest way to make them not want to do it.

cosmo kramer GIF

Here are a few strategies to motivate your employees the right way:

Be An Example

Want your employees to be more productive? Promote productive employees to management. When leaders set an example, employees follow suit. Furthermore, managers with a mindset of helping employees succeed are more likely to be helped by employees when they need a little extra work done.

Instead of telling an employee that they have to stay late, managers who demonstrate a history of staying late when necessary are more likely to have employees volunteer to stay after hours to help finish a project. When an employee makes a reasonable request, such as a request for time off to see a sick relative, even if it’s during the busy season, your managers should hear them out. Flexibility and compassion shown to employees will not quickly be forgotten.

Develop People’s Skills and Interests

Giving people the option to learn electively helps them find ways to remain challenged at work. When employees can develop a new skill and then apply it, the result is higher productivity, engagement, and a newfound sense of motivation.

Instead of using force to direct employees, empowering them with learning provides new challenges while also giving them the tools they need to produce high quality work on their own.

Be Human

Being human means eliminating this phrase from your lexicon:

“I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them.”

This phrase, and any variation thereof sends the message that you’re inflexible and unwilling to compromise. Of course, rules are almost never arbitrary, but be careful not to misinterpret the spirit of the rule as it applies to specific situations.

Consider context when making decisions. For instance, if a high-performing, long-tenured employee makes a mistake for the first time, limit how much negative feedback you give them. They have the experience to know when they’ve made a mistake, and showing that you trust them by not over-managing their mistakes will increase their confidence in their own standard of work.

These are just a few techniques that managers can use to help develop a much happier workforce, more productive workforce. With a few changes in management strategy, you can foster productivity in any team.

cosmo kramer mind blown GIF

Want more tips on developing managers by establishing a learning culture in your organization? Check out our free, on-demand webinar to learn the 6 ingredients for a successful learning culture.


Training & Development Industry Researcher | Derek researches, discusses, and writes about the impacts of employee learning on organizations and individuals. He regularly interviews L&D and HR professionals, sharing their insight on trends and best practices that help organizations create stronger training programs, and help to grow their employees and their business.