What Science Says About Rewards and Incentives for Employees

As an evidence-based person, I like to see what science has to say about subjects that are important to me. If you’re of a like mind, it may interest you to know that science has long suggested that rewards and incentives for employees can easily backfire. Gifts, trophies, and other types of “extrinsic motivation” can be a bummer instead of a boost — and, if you can believe it, sometimes they actually spread unhappiness.

Which is the exact opposite of what you want.

You may be asking yourself, how can this be? One reason is that extrinsic motivationmeaning rewards that someone else gives you — can rob your job of meaning.

Kazoo designed our employee experience platform around the science of motivation, and we’ve tested it out with more than 110,000 users. So we’re familiar with what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve also created a handy guide filled with science-based tips for motivating employees:

Rewards and Incentives for Employees
View here!

What works? Intrinsic motivation. That’s when you want to do something for its own sake. You know the feeling: when the work you’re doing feels propelled by its own momentum and accomplishing your goals feels good and meaningful.

And it turns out that intrinsic motivation leads to better job performance than extrinsic motivation. Studies show that employees who are focused on outside rewards (even salary!) just don’t have as much fun or bring as much creativity to their jobs.

Intrinsic motivation is a stronger predictor of job performance than extrinsic motivation.

— Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

So, does this mean rewards and incentives for employees are useless? Not at all.

What it means is that successful reward and recognition systems foster intrinsic motivation. Our research shows that systems that enable these four actions support intrinsic motivation:

  1. Give meaningful, positive recognition.
  2. Help employees challenge themselves.
  3. Help your team work well together.
  4. Give people choice over what they do.

And these four actions, in turn, drive business results. So keep them in mind when you’re designing rewards and incentives for employees.


About Kazoo:
Kazoo is a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. By providing tools to connect, reward, reveal and report in real-time, Kazoo can consolidate employee engagement initiatives into one, easy-to-use mobile platform for teams of all sizes. Since launching in 2012, Kazoo has delivered its flexible software to small enterprises and Fortune 500 brands across several industries. Visit youearnedit.com for more information or schedule a quick demo here.