Having a regular structure for employee bonuses gives workers a goal to work toward, but a little bit of uncertainty might make rewards more effective, according to the Inc.com article “The Most Motivating Rewards Are the Ones That Aren’t Guaranteed.
Researchers recently tested the hypothesis that people prefer an uncertain reward to a sure thing. First, they asked some college students to try to drink a lot of water in two minutes – one group for the reward of two dollars and the other for the possibility of one or two dollars. Somewhat surprisingly, the group with the uncertain reward was more motivated to complete the task. They also asked people to bid on certain and uncertain items on eBay, finding that those shooting for an uncertain reward focused more on the process of attaining it and spent more money to do so.
The theory is that the uncertain reward makes the task to gain the reward more like a game and less like work. It’s kind of like opening a present. The excitement of finding out what the reward/present is actually ends of overshadowing the value of the item itself.
So, next time you want to incentivize employees, consider how you frame the reward. Instead of the same old bonus structure, offer the possibility of several different rewards. Maybe even make it more of a game, where employees draw from a variety of incentives once they’ve earned it, or even keep the reward a total secret to maximize the intrigue. In general, it’s probably also a good idea to keep the possibility of a total random reward in the back of employees’ minds. Occasionally reward top performers with something out of the blue, and they should maintain the perception of always having something more to work for.