Behavioral economics challenges traditional views about motivating and rewarding employees.
Recent studies reveal surprising truths about what motivates workers.
- New research shows that simply feeling acknowledged is what motivates workers best.
- Surprisingly, monetary rewards are not motivating, but seen as compensation that is owed. Rewards that are treated like transactions, like earning points to obtain a prize, also don’t generate good will or motivate workers.
- The monetary value of a reward is less important than the spirit with which it is given for creating lasting good will.
is a kind of
Dan Ariely, Duke University,
James B. Duke Professor
of Psychology and
“What makes us feel
good about our work?”
Traditional employee rewards quickly lose their impact due to “adaptation.”
- Dopamine is the “feel-good” neurotransmitter triggered by the anticipation of something pleasurable. It’s why you experience joy when planning a vacation or cooking a special meal. Dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.
- When something becomes status quo, and is no longer novel or special, anticipation fizzles and dopamine levels drop. The thrill is gone. This is called “adaptation,” and it’s the reason your employees seem not to care about another company sweatshirt, or free “Tuesday Taco” luncheon.
is about the pursuit of happiness rather than happiness itself.”
Dr. Robert Sapolsky
“ ‘Maybe’ is
Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky
John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor at Stanford University Biological Sciences, Neurology & Neurological Sciences, and Neurosurgery
“Dopamine Jackpot: Sapolsky on the Science of Pleasure”
“Variable rewards” are the antidote to adaptation.
- When rewards are variable – when the value or timing fluctuates – recipients don’t know what to expect. Adaptation doesn’t occur.
- The uncertainty of the reward produces especially high dopamine levels irrespective of the ultimate value of the reward, which is unknown.
- “Maybe” is a powerful emotion – it’s the reason that millions of people buy tickets for lotteries they have virtually no chance of winning. With variable rewards, the possibility of receiving something wonderful produces nearly the same dopamine levels as actually receiving it.
- The impact of variable rewards is increased with the element of surprise.
- Being exposed to unexpected stimulus intensifies emotion by as much as 400%. It feeds the “novelty bias” that causes sensory processing to favor something new and triggers a release of noradrenaline for intense focus.
- In an instant, surprise captures attention while imprinting on memory for lasting impact.
“Surprise stops us in our tracks, it plugs us into the moment, it intensifies our emotions.”
Co-author, “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected”
“Taken by Surprise”
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