In the business world, we often hear that giving pay increases and other monetary gains is not the answer to increasing workplace engagement, productivity, job satisfaction, and a whole host of other factors. Conventional wisdom has been that providing encouragement and praise is just as good as the tangible rewards. Now, emerging research shows that this really may be the case.
A study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science indicates that when people are provided with intangible, or symbolic, resources such as praise, information, or affection they will be more inclined to return the favor with concrete resources such as money, work, or effort (Matsumura & Ohtsubo, 2012). There are challenges to a study such as this, but as Matsumura and Ohtsubo point out, the findings are supported by another study from 2008 by Izuma, Saito, and Sadato in which the brain shows response via fMRI to these intangible resources in the same way that it does to tangible resources.
What does this mean for leaders and workers? It certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy getting tangible, or concrete, resources or rewards! However, it does indicate that organizations would do well to ensure that they let employees know how much they are appreciated through other intangible means, and they should research and understand better the science behind what makes us happy and feel as though we want to reciprocate.
Izuma, K., Saito, D.N., & Sadato, N. (2008). Processing of social and monetary rewards in the human striatum. Neuron, 58, 284-294. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2008.03.020
Matsumura, A., & Ohtsubo, Y. (2012). Praise Is Reciprocated With Tangible Benefits: Social Exchange Between Symbolic Resources and Concrete Resources. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 250-256. doi: 10.1177/1948550611417016
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