Employee bonuses to help others help team performance

Employee satisfaction and work productivity increases when bonuses are shifted from self to others, such as charities or co-workers, a research team at Fuqua School of Business at Duke University wrote in the journal PLoS ONE.

As background information, the authors explained that according to a recent survey, only 46% of U.S. employees are satisfied with their jobs, the lowest recorded level by the Conference Board in twenty years.

However, over the same two decades, Americans have been spending an increasing amount of time at work. This means that workers are becoming more and more dissatisfied more and more of the time at work – not the ideal prescription for a productive and healthy workplace.

In this progressively negative environment, what can employers do to increase employee happiness, job satisfaction, and ultimately their work performance?

Giving employee bonuses to charity

In the first of a series of three studies, bank employees in Australia were handed a 25-dollar or a 50-dollar voucher to donate to any charity of their choice on behalf of their employer.

Those who donated 50-dollar vouchers reported higher levels of job satisfaction and happiness than the employees who either donated the smaller 25-dollar vouchers or donated nothing.

Giving employee bonuses to colleagues

The researchers then carried out further experiments in 11 sports teams in Canada and 14 pharmaceutical sales rep teams in Belgium after being given bonuses.

In each case, one third of the members of each team were randomly selected to receive 20 dollars to spend on either their colleagues or themselves.

In all the experiments carried out in Canada and Belgium, the investigators found that when the participants spent their bonuses on colleagues, the whole team overall performed considerably better than when people spent their bonuses on themselves.

The study authors suggest that eventually the whole team may end up earning more money. The increase in team performance could also raise earnings overall, they added.

In the Belgian experiments on the pharmaceutical sales people, for every ten dollars that were given to team member to spend on their teammates, the team received 52 dollars in sales.

Study leader, Lalin Anik said:

“The results across three studies suggest that a minor adjustment to employee bonuses – shifting the focus from the self to others – can create more altruistic, satisfying, and productive workplace.”