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Offering employees rewards may help boost creativity, study finds

Having a variety of incentives for employees may produce more ideas

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Photo (c) jeffbergen - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Rice University explored the ways that employers can get the most creativity out of their employees

The findings showed that having a rewards system in place was associated with the best creative outcomes. Companies that offered their workers several different incentive options got the best results. 

“Organizations spend a lot of resources and exert a great deal of effort in designing incentive schemes that reward employees who exhibit creativity at work,” said researcher Jing Zhou.

“Our results showed that the effort may be a bit misplaced. Instead of discovering one reward type that is particularly effective at promoting creativity, what is more effective is to provide the employees with the opportunity to choose from several reward types, if they submit one or more ideas that are among the top 20% creative ones.”  

What sparks creativity?

The researchers conducted a two-part study to determine how workplace reward systems can impact employees’ creativity. In the first study, employees at a company were offered to choose one of three rewards: a donation made to a charity of the employees’ choice, monetary compensation, or getting priority for days off. The workers then went about their usual routines, but they prioritized the generation of creative ideas.

The researchers learned that incentivizing creativity was a successful way to generate fresh ideas in the workplace. When employees felt like their ideas were being supported and encouraged by their bosses -- so much so that they would be rewarded for them -- they were more likely to think outside the box. 

The study also showed that the rewards system prompted the employees to come up with more ideas than they had been before the incentive program. Those ideas were also more creative than they previously were.

In the second part of the study, the researchers expanded their reach to a dozen companies to see if the results held up. Ultimately, the findings were the same; employees’ creativity increased when a rewards system was in place. 

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