Researchers have looked into the increase in productivity that comes out of giving low-wage workers a small cash bonus or a physical token of appreciation, such as a nice water bottle or an inscribed tchotchke. As it turns out, people respond much more strongly to the small physical gift in terms of improved productivity, even when, if given the option to choose a bonus, people usually choose cash over a gift. The findings point to the fact that when it comes to incentivizing, the thought really does count. This does not necessarily scale, however; giving a Wall Streeter a new luxury car probably won’t go over better than giving a cash bonus of equal value. But it does offer interesting insight on what makes people willing to work harder.

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