One Simple Way To Improve Employee Morale

January 21st, 2014

At a TEDx conference in 2012, behavioral economist Dan Ariely presented an eye-opening experiment that reveals our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.

His experiment tested three groups of people, paying them to edit a simple page of text.

  1. The first group wrote their names on their papers, and when they handed in their work the administrator would scan the page visually, nod once, say “uh-huh,” and then put the page in a stack face down.
  2. The second group did not write their names on their papers, and when they handed it in, the administrator would look briefly (without scanning it), say nothing, and then set it face down on the stack.
  3. The third group also did not put their name on their work, but when they handed their papers in, the administrator did not look at it. Instead, the administrator put the work directly into a paper shredder.

The study found that participants in group one were willing to work for much less monetary gain than those in group three, signifying, not surprisingly, that people care about whether or not their work matters.

What was most interesting about the experiment, however, was how the people in the middle group reacted.

It turns out that people who felt their work was ignored had almost the same reaction as people who saw their work shredded. Simply looking at the work people turned in, reviewing it for two seconds and saying “uh-huh” nearly doubled worker satisfaction. What’s more, with even the slightest bit of recognition, employees were willing to work for far less financial gain.

This data points toward the importance of employee recognition. What’s more, it shows us that it doesn’t take a lot to keep our employees motivated and engaged. A simple head nod, and a word or two are enough.

So as we manage our workers in this busy, fast paced world, keep in mind that your feedback matters to your employees. Remember the simple head nod and pair it with the frequent use of “uh-huh.” It is the one simple thing a supervisor can do to improve morale and keep productivity high.

To see Dan Ariely’s presentation in its entirety, click here.

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