Rewarding can boost employees’ creativity, study

Enhancing employee creativity.


In a first of its kind of study, scientists from Rice, Tulane University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and National Taiwan Normal University, determined the effectiveness of rewarding employees. In addition, scientists systematically examined the effects of reward choice in a field experiment conducted in the context of an organization-wide suggestion program.

Appreciation is a significant human need that should never be ignored, as employees will respond positively to any appreciation that comes their way. Appreciating their work rises their satisfaction and increases productivity too.

Jing Zhou, a co-author of the study, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management and Psychology at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business said, “Organizations spend a lot of resources and exert a great deal of effort in designing incentive schemes that reward the employees who exhibit creativity at work. However, this study has shown that the effort may be a bit misplaced. Instead of discovering one reward type that is particularly effective at promoting creativity, what is more effective is to provide the employees with the opportunity to choose from several reward types if they submit one or more ideas that are among the top 20% most creative ones.”

Scientists conducted a quasi-experimental field study of an organization-wide suggestion program and a follow-up laboratory experiment to examine the effects of choice of rewards on employee creativity. The quasi-experiment was conducted at a company in Taiwan over several months. In the second experimental study, there were employees from 12 organizations in Taiwan. The second study aimed to replicate the first study’s results and compared the results with a control group.

As hypothesized, the results of both studies showed that choice had positive, significant effects on the number of creative ideas employees generated and the creativity level of those ideas. In addition, the quasi-experiment also showed that creative self-efficacy (CSE) mediated the effects of reward choice.

Workers in the study were given a range of options: a financial reward for the individual employee or their team, a self-discretionary reward such as prioritizing select days off, or a donation the company made to a charity selected by the employee. Those choices had positive, significant effects on the number of creative ideas employees generated and the creativity level of those ideas.

It was also found that rewards pointed toward helping other people, like making a donation to a charity, maybe particularly incredible. However, elective rewards that advantage those in need of less creative employees may lower creativity and should be avoided.

Scientists noted“We also found that the choice of rewards fostered creativity by raising the employees’ belief in their ability to be creative. Alternative rewards also had a powerful impact on boosting employees’ creativity who earlier had scored high on an assessment of creative personality characteristics.”

Zhou co-authored the paper with Greg Oldham of Tulane, Aichia Chuang of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Ryan Shuwei Hsu of National Taiwan Normal University.

Journal Reference:
  1. Zhou, J. et al. Enhancing employee creativity: Effects of choice, rewards, and personality. DOI: 10.1037/apl0000900
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