Well, maybe. A new University of Greenwich study reveals that verbal rewards (a.k.a., "good job!" and "thank you") from the boss go only so far to motivate us on the job!
While employees respond well to compliments regarding inconsequential work matters ("I really like how you sharpened these pencils!"), compliments have less meaning to us the more complex a project becomes ("Overall, I like how the first 250 pages are going").
In other words, we're more likely to work harder when we're complimented for small accomplishments, but compliments regarding large scale projects? Eh, stop it boss, because you're making me lose interest in the work!
What is going on here? Who doesn't love the occasional, verbal, "keep up the good work" compliment in regard to a lengthy, in-depth report or project? Being told that we're making good progress should be music to our ears, but the researchers found the opposite to be true for employees. According to ScienceDaily.com:
The research found that individuals reported lower intrinsic motivation if they expected to receive a verbal reward for a complex task -- in other words, they enjoyed the task less, and had a reduced desire to do it.Ahhhhh, now it all makes sense! Simple, repetitive tasks are boring, and so we need a verbal Scooby Snack to get us through them!
For simple tasks, on the other hand, respondents' intrinsic motivation was higher when they expected a verbal reward -- probably because if the task in itself is not motivating, then the extra encouragement is helpful.
Meanwhile, if we're working on a lengthy, involved project, then we may be expecting occasional compliments -- and gushing ones at that! So when a "compliment" (employees' air quotes, not mine) finally rolls off the boss's tongue months into the work, it might fall flatter than a pancake because we were expecting so much more given the scope of the project.
Whew! I'm glad I'm not a mid-level manager who has to figure out how, and when, to issue the perfect compliment to today's workforce. I'm just sitting here writing a book (a lengthy project, in case you're wondering...) and so far, I haven't been complimented for it. Curiously, I haven't lost motivation -- yet. Overall, I do like how the first 250 pages are going.
I will now go compliment my coffee maker so it will continue the boring, repetitive task of brewing my coffee.