Throwing money at people has always been thought of as the great American motivator, but new research suggests that while lining the pockets with cash is nice, pleasing other people is a lot better.

While that might sound like a load of employer propaganda to most folks, researchers from the University of Iowa say that it is true. They have discovered that a sense of belonging and attachment to a group of co-workers can motivate a person more than money.

“Peer pressure is a strong motivating force, and workers’ willingness to please people who mean something to them is often a stronger motivating force than financial rewards.” said study leader George Stewart.

By exploring the ways that members of self-managed teams rationed pay raises for their office cohorts, and by asking workers about their level of attraction to the team and their compensation, researchers say that the study indeed confirms that pleasing others is a intense motivator.

“We all have a social need to be accepted, to identify with a group and be a part of it,” Stewart said. “So much so that peer pressure from team members is more effective than money in prompting strong performances from workers.”

Unfortunately, this type of motivation only appears to work in places where employees are getting along. The study found that if co-workers did not enjoy being around each other there was no positive level of team spirit for them to be attracted to. At that point, money trumped the team.

Overall, researchers say that teams perform better when there is social pressure from peers to perform well rather than when peers wave a carrot and a stick.

However, study leaders were quick to point out that the carrot and stick routine is super effective when employees cannot get along.


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