It’s Important to Keep Employees Motivated. Here’s The Best Way To Do It.

And guess what? It won't cost you a thing.

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Who doesn’t love pizza?

That’s the question Dan Ariely implies in his upcoming book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. In the book, Ariely, a behavioral economist, recounts a week-long experiment in which employees working at a semiconductor factory were promised one of three things if they were able to assemble a certain number of chips per day:

  • A cash bonus of approximately $30
  • A voucher for a free pizza
  • A complimentary text message of “Well done!” from the boss

A fourth group, serving as the control, received nothing.

Interestingly, a number of major outlets have reported on this study, correctly pointing out that pizza was the top motivator on day one–increasing productivity by 6.7 percent over the control group. This is somewhat surprising considering the cash only motivated a 4.9 percent increase…and actually resulted in a 6.5 percent drop in productivity for the week overall.

But what caught my attention was what turned out to be the biggest motivator of the week:

It was the compliment.

Why Praise Matters

I’ve written extensively about the ability commendation has to motivate others.

Decades ago, Dale Carnegie expounded on the power of praise in his classic How to Win Friends and Influence People:

There is one longing–almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep–which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls “the desire to be great.” It is what Dewy calls the “desire to be important.”

…William James said: The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” He didn’t speak, mind you, of the “wish” or the “desire” or the “longing” to be appreciated. He said the “craving” to be appreciated.

When you commend and praise members of your team, you satisfy a basic human craving and provide motivation as a byproduct–as was highlighted in Ariely’s experiment.

And just think: If the promise of a simple text message from the boss can increase productivity, can you imagine what real, sincere and authentic praise would do?

For example, imagine if you were approached by a colleague or team leader and heard the following:

“Hey, _____________, do you have a minute? I’ve been meaning to tell you something. I know I don’t say this enough, but I really appreciate what you’re doing here. The way you handled that (project, client, problem)–it was great. I could really see your (specific quality you possess) in action, and how much it benefits the company.

Keep up the good work.”

Sound motivating?

Remember This

To be clear, I never encourage flattery–or praise that you don’t really mean.

But everyone deserves praise for something; as a leader, it’s your job to figure out what. To look for the good, to see the potential, and to bring out the best in them.

Your employees will value that a heckuva lot more than pizza.

I guarantee it.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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