The price of pizza: can it really get employees motivated?

  • Blog
  • 21st September 2016
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Here’s some food for thought: if your boss turned to you at the start of the week and, as a reward for your hard work, promised you at the week’s end either a small cash bonus of £100 or a free pizza, which would motivate you the most? The cash bonus? That would make sense, right?

Well, apparently not! A study by psychology professor Dan Ariely has shown that we are in fact more likely to be motivated, engaged and productive at work if we’re rewarded with pizza, or praise, instead of money.

In his experiment, Professor Ariely split the workforce of a factory in Israel into 4 groups, and at the start of the week promised each group a different reward for their efforts. The first group were promised a cash bonus; the second were offered free pizza; the third were promised a ‘well done!’ text from their boss, and the fourth group were to receive no reward at all.

During the first day, the groups offered pizza and a celebratory text saw the greatest increase in productivity – respectively, by 6.7% and 6.6% – whilst the group offered a cash bonus managed a measly 4.9%. By the end of the week, the cash bonus ultimately cost the company more and lead to a 6.5% fall in productivity.

At H&H we’re all for being rewarded with pizza – but by the end of the experiment it was found that the praising text actually motivated the workers the most. But why?

Simply put, receiving praise and appreciation makes us feel good. Being praised releases dopamine, which stimulates the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. This is inherent even from childhood, as research has shown that babies as young as 36 months old are more likely to overcome challenges when they receive praise from their parents.

Within the workplace, praise works best purely because it’s a heartfelt expression of appreciation. Financial benefits are redundant because they come hand-in-hand with our jobs, so we expect them. Since we don’t always expect appreciation, it has a much greater impact.

81% of us say that we’d work harder for an appreciative boss. But only a small number of us are actually praised on a regular basis.

So wouldn’t you agree that it’s time to dish out the pizza and ‘thank you’s?