What rewards really motivate your employees?

what rewards really motivateIt’s a fact that in most cases receiving positive reinforcement in the form of praise and rewards releases the ‘happy chemical’ dopamine. And not only does dopamine make us feel good, it enables us to identify incentives and act to move toward them.

In other words, by rewarding your employees for great work you’re encouraging them to repeat behaviours that positively impact your company, because there’s something in it as a result.

Now it’s hard to argue with science. But what is the best way to reward your employees so they give the best of themselves?

Stuff vs. praise?
We are either motivated by ‘extrinsic’ or ‘intrinsic’ rewards. In layman’s terms, stuff (money, experiences, a bike) or praise (thanks, recognition, a shout out). But not every moment of greatness requires a tangible or monetary reward. To give you an example; several Wall Street brokers received $500,000 bonuses as a result of good work. Yet, when one was asked how he felt about it, his response was a surprise;

“Getting the money was great, but it was also a bit of a letdown. What I really wanted to hear was ‘Thanks. You did a good job.’”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that only a small percentage of people earn a base salary large enough that would warrant this kind of reaction, but it’s all relative.

Cash isn’t always the answer.
To echo this Wall Street broker, cash isn’t always the best reward for motivating and engaging your employees. While there’s a perception that cash has a higher value, research suggests “non-financial rewards that are tied to individual performance have the greatest impact on improving overall business value.” To truly reward your employees and create a lasting impression, consider swapping a cash bonus for a holiday voucher or once in a lifetime experience.

Timing is everything.
You can’t reward successfully just on a yearly schedule, it simply doesn’t work that way. Recognition and reward must also be timely and tied to specific results and achievements. According to Gallup; in order to effectively link rewards to business performance, there is a need to recognise workers once every 7 days. So don’t miss those moments; reward your employees’ separate contributions and successes as they happen. By doing so, you encourage repetition of the ‘right’ behaviours.

While there’s no out-of-the-box solution to creating dopamine-fuelled employees, the best rewards for motivation are those that meet each individual’s perception of value.

So if nothing else, you can throw out those branded laser pointers.


Sources: Gallup Research, Psychology Today, the Impact of Rewards Programs on Employee Engagement, Dow Scott, Ph.D., Loyola University Tom McMullen, Hay Group, WorldatWork, The Time for Employee Recognition and Rewards Programs Is Now, Recognition Council, Forum, Incentive Research Foundation, Human Capital Institute – Value and ROI in employee engagement report, Hay Group research project, Engage employees and boost performance

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