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Grow Your Business Your Team

This, Not Money, Motivates Americans to Work Harder

happy . / Credit: Happy Workers Image via Shutterstock

Trying to please co-workers is a stronger motivating factor than a high salary for some employees, new research shows.

The study by researchers at the University of Iowa found that a sense of belonging and attachment to a group of colleagues is a better motivator for some 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 George Stewart, one of the study's authors and a professor of management and organizations.

To come to their conclusions, researchers examined how members of self-managed teams allotted pay raises for their peers. Using questionnaires, they asked the workers about their level of attraction to the team and their compensation, and asked their supervisors about the productivity of both individuals and teams.

Stewart said the study confirms prior research, which found that pleasing other people is a powerful motivating factor.

"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."

[Having Co-Workers Can Leads to Longer Life]

However, the researchers note this works only when team members get along.  The study found that when co-workers don't care for each other, appealing to team spirit as a motivating factor won't work because there is no team spirit to appeal to. 

It's then that money becomes the primary motivating factor to improve productivity, said Stephen Courtright, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, who recently received his doctoral degree from Iowa and was a member of the research group.

"Teams perform better when there is social pressure from peers to perform well than when peers wave a carrot and stick," Courtright said. "However, the carrot and stick method works pretty well when team members just can't get along."

The study, "Peer-Based Control in Self-Managing Teams," was co-authored by Murray Barrick of Texas A&M University and published in a recent issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.