It’s True: Study Finds Pizza Motivates Employees More Than Cash Bonuses

Startup founders who are strapped-for-cash must motivate their teams to move mountains, but often that can be challenging. Do you have $30, though? Excellent. That’s all you need to make your staff more productive. But don’t give out hard, cold cash. Instead, tell them if they work hard, you’ll buy pizza for everyone.

A productivity experiment has found that pizza was a fantastic motivator for increased productivity. This one was not performed on rats, as opposed to many scientific studies. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely carried out experiments on real people with real jobs whose work performance could be measured by pizza. In his upcoming book Payoff: The Hidden Logic that Shapes Our Motivations, he details the results.

Ariely picked factory workers who assemble computer chips as his lab rats because their level of productivity could very clearly be indicated by their output. The workers were promised one of three rewards if they had a productive workweek: pizza, compliments, or a cash bonus of around $30. A fourth unlucky group, the control group, received nothing.

After the first day, those who had been guaranteed pizza had produced more than the control group by 6.7 percent. And here’s what’s even more shocking. Those who were promised a compliment — which was simply a text message from the boss that said “Well done!” — were neck-and-neck with the pizza group at 6.6 percent. The worst motivator? The cash bonus group, whose productivity increased only 4.9 percent compared with the control.

And then things got even more bizarre. Over the course of the work week, the productivity of the workers who were promised a cash bonus sharply declined. “For the week overall, the cash bonus ended up costing the company more and resulted in a 6.5 percent drop in productivity,” reports Science of Us. “From the employer’s perspective, a cash bonus is worse than offering no incentive at all.”

So the incredible takeaway from Ariely’s work? Don’t worry if you can’t match Google salary and perks. Instead, work on communicating to your employees that you value their hard work. Get a pizza delivered to say thanks. And while you’re at it, pick up a lovely cheese pizza, just for you. Your productivity will thank you

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