Smart bosses make presents to their employees

All bosses wishing to motivate their employees to perform even better should occasionally make presents to them. This is the finding of a study by the Bonn-based Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA). In the course of an experiment a Canadian company paid its employees a one-off bonus independently of the performance given before. On the day the present was made the productivity of employees increased by more than ten percent. The longer an employee had already worked with the company in question, the longer the positive effect of the bonus lasted.

The authors of the study explain this finding with a very human trait: whoever is made a present, tries to say thank you according to the motto »tit for tat«. The fact that people tend to be grateful for presents is used e.g. by many charity organizations: To their letters in which they invite people to donate charity organizations often enclose post cards, small calendars or Christmas tree decoration. The small costs for these little things are a good investment given that four postcards sent increase revenue from donations by more than fifty percent. This was found out by academics from the IZA in the course of a field study. In this context academics talk about »reciprocal action« which means that people reciprocate a friendly and fair treatment even if this entails costs to them.

So far only few studies have dealt with the question of whether reciprocal action is also important at the work place. How do employees react if they are unexpectedly and independently of their prior performance paid a bonus by their bosses? Will they try to reciprocate by working harder? These questions were dealt with by Charles Bellemare and Bruce S. Shearer from the Laval University in Québec.

For their experiment these two academics co-operated with a Canadian reafforestation company. Employees working in this company are not paid any fixed wages, but according to the quantity of the trees planted by them. In general they receive 20 cent for each tree planted; on difficult ground they are paid more. Thus, 1.000 trees planted per worker each day result in an average daily wage of about 200 dollars.

The complete scientifically approved study called »Gift Exchange within a Firm: Evidence from a Field Experiment« is available for free-of-charge download. GERMAN