With companies often designing employee reward systems with the goal of increasing employee effort and performance, a key consideration is why employees often react differently to the same reward system. A study in The International Journal of Human Resource Management sought to understand the role that happiness and sadness can play in how workers value effort and reward. The study found that happy individuals are more likely to exert efforts for future rewards, while sad individuals tend to seek rewards without extra effort.
Key Topics: Effort; Reward; Happiness; Sadness; Motivation
Title of Reviewed Article: Happy workers value effort, sad workers value reward
Researchers: Jen-Shou Yang (National Yunlin University) and Ha Viet Hung (Nha Trang University).
Publication: The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 2017, Vol. 28 No. 11, pp. 1591-1624.
Setting the Scene
Studies have shown that employee reward systems influence the level of employees’ motivation and performance (Dineen & Williamson, 2012). Such employee rewards can take many different forms, but regardless of the form and value of rewards, a crucial determinant of the motivational and performance effectiveness of them is employees’ attitudes towards them (Weibel, Rost, & Osterloh, 2010). Employees must value rewards in order for an incentive system to be effective.
Employee affective states (i.e. the experience of feelings or emotions) have been shown to have an impact on an individual’s valuation of effort and reward (Forgas, 1995), and have been observed to influence workplace behaviours such as task performance (Isen, 2001), collaborative behaviour (Staw & Barsade, 1993) and problem resolution (Gasper & Zawadzki, 2013).
In order to further understand the connections between affective states and employees’ valuation of reward and effort, the present study sought to examine how the valuation of effort and reward is influenced by the affective states of happiness and sadness.
How The Research Was Conducted
The study used 321 undergraduate participants. Following an emotion induction process, participants rated their current feelings, which were then used by the researchers to assign participants into happy, sad, and neutral categories. Participants were then asked to rate their preference for jobs which had differing trade-offs between expected effort (time and mental effort) and reward (total level of salary and compensation).
Key Findings and Practical Implications
The findings of this study confirmed that the affective state of individuals influences their valuation of effort and reward and offer insight into why workers behave differently when offered the same incentive system.
The findings indicated that sad people value rewards more than happy people. Furthermore, sad people were found to seek rewards regardless of whether they are short-term or long-term rewards, but were nonetheless reluctant to exert more effort for rewards. Happy individuals, on the other hand, were found to be more long-term reward oriented than their sad counterparts, exerting more effort for long-term rather than of short-term rewards, believing long-term rewards to have the greater value.
The results are consistent with research that found states of sadness elicited a preference for high-reward options and high-salary jobs (Raghunathan et al., 2006). Similarly, the finding that happy people value efforts and long-term rewards support the idea put forward in previous studies, that happy individuals exhibit more kind and helpful behaviour (e.g. Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005) and sheds light on why happy workers may achieve higher performance levels in comparison with sad workers.
The findings of this study have various practical implications. They suggest that performance-based pay systems and goal setting as motivational tools are likely to be more suitable for happy workers than sad workers, as sad workers do not value the relationship between effort and reward as highly. The results further suggest that sad workers are likely to stay with organisations because of high compensation levels, while happy workers remain because they feel they can exert effort for future returns.
The results give a window into the importance and value of happy workers to organizations. As such, the creation of a happy work climate is essential and can benefits both organizational and employee wellbeing.
Source Article: Yang, J-S., & Hung, H. V. (2017). Happy workers value effort, sad workers value reward. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 28(11), 1591-1624.
Published by: Taylor & Francis Group
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