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Study: Immediate rewards improve motivation

(stockasso / Depositphotos.com)

(stockasso / Depositphotos.com)

Your employees’ motivation — or perhaps that of your customers — can be increased by offering immediate rewards, rather than delaying them, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled “It’s About Time: Earlier Rewards Increase Intrinsic Motivation”.

Kaitlin Woolley, assistant professor of marketing at Cornell University, found that giving people an immediate bonus for working on a task, rather than waiting until the end of it, increased their interest and enjoyment. Moreover, people who got an earlier bonus were more motivated to pursue the activity even after the reward was removed.

“The idea that immediate rewards could increase intrinsic motivation sounds counterintuitive, as people often think about rewards as undermining interest in a task,” Woolley said in a statement. “But for activities like work, where people are already getting paid, immediate rewards can actually increase intrinsic motivation, compared with delayed or no rewards.”

In one of Woolley’s five studies, the researchers found that the timing of a reward may matter more for intrinsic motivation than the size of the reward.

In another study, an immediate bonus for completing a task led to an almost 20 percent increase in the percent of people sticking with the task after the reward was removed compared with a delayed reward.

The work suggests that a series of smaller, more frequent bonuses could motivate employees more than a larger end-of-the-year bonus. The finding could also help marketers trying to persuade customers to make more purchases.

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