The key to building a successful company is to keep employees motivated. To achieve this, many companies are utilizing their own employee recognition programs to boost worker morale. According to psychological research, the human brain can respond in powerful ways to workplace recognition. Here are five psychological theories that help explain why these types of programs work.
1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow’s famous theory is most often illustrated as a pyramid. According to the theory, people’s most basic needs must be satisfied before they advance up the pyramid to more complex needs. Physiological needs, like food, water, and sleep, form the base of the pyramid, and an individual wouldn’t be able to motivate themselves to pursue higher needs until their basic needs are satisfied.
In the workplace, employers can use Maslow’s model to break down how the company can satisfy its employees’ basic needs. Workplace achievement is a higher need, and an employee must feel fulfilled in their personal safety, security, and sense of belonging before they can advance to satisfying their need for workplace recognition.
2. Gestalt Theory
Gestalt psychology emphasizes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In short, the brain is biologically predisposed to creating strong associations between two events that happen close together. According to animal studies, behavior becomes more predictable if there is an expectation of a reward. This may explain why receiving a physical reward, such as employee of the month plaques, is a tried-and-true method for keeping morale up in the workplace.
3. Herzberg’s Motivation Two-Factor Theory
The two-factor theory posits that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are each affected by their own set of variables rather than being two extremes of the same continuum. For example, poor working conditions will contribute to job dissatisfaction, but good working conditions don’t affect satisfaction in the same way. Similarly, recognition and achievement can help foster a sense of satisfaction but won’t decrease any lingering dissatisfaction.
According to Herzberg’s research, the maintenance factors that contribute to dissatisfaction must be resolved before employees can become self-motivated. These maintenance factors include salary, relationships with coworkers, and workplace policies. Meanwhile, a culture of recognition is an important aspect of helping employees feel satisfied at work. Every company must mitigate dissatisfaction and foster satisfaction to create an atmosphere of productivity.
4. Daniel Pink’s Theory of Motivation
Business writer Daniel Pink identifies autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the three pillars of workplace motivation in the twenty-first century. Instead of traditional incentives, like a hefty paycheck, the modern worker seeks fulfillment from internal forces. Taking time to recognize employee achievement is a great way to satisfy this internal drive. With this in mind, employers can keep their workforce motivated by giving employees the power to make their own decisions, the opportunity to improve their skills, and a purpose that aligns with their values. Doing these things will increase an employee’s overall sense of well-being and appreciation, which will subsequently benefit their work performance.
Gamification is a term used to describe the process of turning simple, banal tasks into a game. It’s a popular tool for online marketing or classroom learning, and it can be harnessed to foster healthy competition in the workplace. Gamification is effective because it provides rewards for small achievements, especially if there is a visual element involved. For instance, a company may opt to hold a contest to see which department gets the most positive customer feedback, keeping track of the final numbers on a scoreboard for everyone to see. By turning work-related tasks into a game, you can help keep employees engaged in their work and facilitate some team-building, as well.
The Power of Recognition and Reward
If psychology has revealed one thing, it’s that every individual has a desire to learn and succeed. However, their motivation to pursue that desire will depend on how well their other needs are being met. By providing opportunities for showcasing skills and recognizing employees when they go above and beyond, your organization can promote a culture of productivity and high achievement among your employees.