Whether it be in the office or at school, people tend to think financial incentives would make them or their team work harder. If only you could get paid directly for putting in that extra effort, and perhaps your overall performance would improve as a result of the additional motivation. And sometimes, especially when the reward is big enough, that is what happens. The opportunity to earn more money for improved performance presents itself, and thus, performance improves.
For young people searching for jobs today, it’s almost impossible to avoid the companies trying to lure them with office perks like game rooms, massage chairs, and yoga classes. And all these things sound fantastic, especially when you’re fresh out of college dorms, where forty people are sharing three showers and you can hear your next door neighbor snoring through the wall. Silicon Valley is particularly notorious for providing employees with a swath of benefits and perks from free meals and snacks every day to in-house barber shops and dental offices. Companies like Facebook and Google draw in thousands of new employees, largely by offering an array of perks that appeal to the generation who have come to expect convenience and comfort.
Younger generations tend to receive a fair amount of criticism for their obsessions with instant-gratification-based systems like social media and video games. There’s this idea that somehow, older generations were wired to be more patient while technology has fundamentally corrupted the young mind beyond repair.
Most of us are familiar with the differing priorities among departments in an office and how that can impact the inner workings of a company. While management may be more focused on developing practices that increase productivity and profit, human resources is typically focused on employee well-being. In the hit TV sitcom The Office, Michael and Toby’s tumultuous relationship demonstrates this dichotomy - it’s one we have seen time and again. It isn’t without reason that this parody exists; oftentimes, new managerial practices can have trade-offs that are detrimental to certain aspects of employee well-being, whether it be psychological, physical, or social well-being. Rather than argue one set of priorities is more important than another, it’s more important to recognize that happiness, health, and human relationships are related, and their optimization leads to better overall outcomes for company success.
You’ve most likely heard the commonly-held belief that work-life and personal life should be distinct and separate. Why should it matter if you enjoy being at work and interacting with your coworkers as long as you can go home and relax at the end of the day? Well, since happiness has become an increasingly popular area of scientific inquiry, more and more research has been produced demonstrating just how important basic happiness can be in many areas of our lives, including at work. We’ve all seen it; disengaged, unhappy coworkers tend to slack off while those who are happy are willing to put in more effort throughout the week, proving how attention to their happiness is one of the keys to an effective and successful company.
Intuitively, one might assume that monetary incentives would be the most effective reward system; people want money, therefore monetary rewards should increase effort and maximize productivity. Despite this common assumption, research shows that higher rewards don't always lead to more employee effort. Paradoxically, one study found the opposite actually happens, a phenomenon known as "incentive reversal."
You know that “warm glow” you feel when you demonstrate an act of kindness without expecting anything in return? Well, a team of researchers discovered that that particular feeling is quite different than when you expect a reward for your kind act.
Our brains are designed to be social. And social relationships have always been at the heart of our survival and our happiness. From humans’ earliest days, we have relied on one another and helped one another and our bodies evolved to reward us for these acts of kindness. Kindness is one of our biggest strengths as humans and was crucial to our survival as a species. In fact, Dr. Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, the lead of a recent study published in NeuroImage, shared that “the decision to share resources is a cornerstone of any cooperative society.”