Saying “Thank You” to Employees Is Worth It’s Weight In Gold

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

Eliminate the competition?

Have you ever wondered why groups become so competitive, or what could possibly cause the atrocities that occur when a central government, tribe, nation, or other group chooses to attack another group, and get rid of them?  In the most recent issue of the journal Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, McPherson and Parks (2011) provide a provocative look at this topic.  The findings are not only important for understanding much of the conflict that we see in the world today, but I believe they are also applicable in the business world.  First, we will review the findings, and then we can apply them to workplaces today.

Multiple contributors to aggressive, and sometimes dangerous, competitiveness are evident such as potential for loss of resources, difference in values, perceived threat to in-group values, perceived in-group superiority/perceived out-group inferiority, and challenge to status.  These findings are well documented in other studies, and McPherson and Parks (2011) take it further with results indicating that groups are more inclined to eliminate an individual or other group than individuals are, and will make the decision to do so much faster.  No surprise that those with less connection with the other group(s) or individual(s), higher levels of competitiveness, and those scoring higher on Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) are the quickest and most likely to try to dominate what they perceive to be the lesser group(s) or individual(s).

So what does this mean for business?  In organizations, especially in large, diverse organizations with a workforce that increasingly is spread around the globe, understanding the way that issues such as this work can assist in reducing inter-group issues.  This means being aware of healthy lines and boundaries for competition, but understanding that each group has needs for resources, and making those available as equally as possible.  It further means helping groups to understand the interconnectedness between each other, and the collaborative ability available for use when recognized.  Organizational and group leaders either can function as warlords, encouraging conflict and negative actions, or can be a peacemaker contributing to the collaboration and understanding of equality between groups.


McPherson, S., & Parks, C.D. (2011). Intergroup and Interindividual Resource Competition Escalating Into Conflict: The Elimination Option. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 15(4), 285-296. doi: 10.1037/a0024938

Too much of a good thing

We’ve all either heard or been told that we should “stick to what we know” or “do what you’re good at”, but is this always the best advice?  As discussed in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research from June of 2011, there is a movement in the field of positive psychology that says that we should focus on our strengths and ignore, or pay much less attention to, our weaknesses.  The concept is often referred to as “strengths-based development”.  This idea of focusing on what we are good at isn’t a new one, but there are some drawbacks that we need to be aware of.  By ignoring the areas that we are weakest we may put ourselves in the position to make serious mistakes in those areas, or to simply never improve, which is exactly opposite of what development is about.  It’s also possible to become so focused on the areas that you are strong in that you actually overdo the performance in those areas.  Take for example someone who is a great communicator.  Communication as a tool is an excellent component to work on and develop, but if you overuse that skill, no one will want to listen to you no matter how good the communication is.  Another excellent example is the person who has drive and work ethic.  These are traits that anyone would be happy to have strength in, but overdone these can come across as workaholic or overbearing, and worse can lead to things like burnout, or alienation from friends, family, and even co-workers.

So what is the answer?  It’s not really an either/or dichotomy, but instead it’s a combination of the two.  That means focusing on what we are good at and enjoy, and improving and strengthening those areas while challenging ourselves to grow and develop and experience things in the areas where we are weak.  It means finding projects and learning opportunities that constantly take us out of our comfort zone in what we like and what we don’t, and changing our paradigm to understand that we need to develop 360 degrees.  The most successful and respected people of the world have generally gained many different experiences and perspectives, and can see and speak with those perspectives which allow them to be insightful, innovative, creative, masterful, and global in the way that they act and interact.

What are you doing to strengthen what you like and are good at?  How are you challenging yourself to grow and develop in new ways or in areas that you are weak?  As a manager or supervisor, how are you doing the same for your people in both ways?


Kaiser, R.B. & Overfield, D.V. (2011). Strengths, Strengths Overused, and Lopsided Leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(2), 89-109. doi: 10.1037/a0024470