What Motivates People More Than Money, According To Research

Photo: Bernardo Naves / Shutterstock
group of girl friends, one holding credit card up

Eric Andre has a prank comedy movie called Bad Trip on Netflix.

And you know what the people who unwittingly in his candid camera-esque antics didn't miss out on? Free pizza!

Asked how he managed to find so many eager "castmates" willing to have footage of their reactions used for his film, Andre explained, "We’ll go on Craigslist and say, 'Hey, we’re opening a new zoo and we need people to check out this zoo for the first time. We’ll give you free pizza at the end of the day,' and you’ll get 40 people to show up..."

"You’ll see a lot of free food or food-adjacent things off in the peripheral in the movie," he continued. "It’s just a way to corral people into the proper location so that we can pull our pranks."

What motivates people more than money, according to researchers?

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It seems Andre knows something many of us may not have consciously realized to be scientifically true.

One thing that motivates people more than even money is, indeed, free pizza!

Do you like free pizza? Of course, you do!

If someone helps you move, you give them pizza and beer for their trouble. Where do you go for kids' birthday parties or after their little league games? You go out to pizza. If you're having the gang over for the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, oftentimes you're going to serve pizza.

Pizza is a fairly cheap way to feed a lot of people, and pizzerias usually deliver, so you don't even have to go anywhere to get it. You can dress it up with fancy ingredients or just go with a plain cheese pizza. Either way, it's satisfying and delicious.

Pizza is great because you can eat it by yourself walking down the street or you can share it with a big group. But as good as pizza is, is it a great motivator when it comes to your job?

This is a resounding yes according to Duke University professor Dan Ariely, author of the book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations.

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Ariely conducted a 2016 experiment at a factory in Israel, the results of which showed that offering free pizza as a reward increased employee productivity by 6.7%.

The second best motivator, coming in at 6.6% was compliments from the boss.

In the experiment, three-fourths of the factory's workers got one of three messages at the start of their workweek promising a different reward if they completed their work, which involved producing a certain number of computer chips per day.

The possible rewards included a cash bonus, a rare compliment from the boss, and a voucher for free pizza.

Workers who didn't receive a message or offer of a bonus were used as a control group.

After the first day, pizza proved to be the top motivator with a compliment from the boss (a text saying, "Well done!") coming in at a close second.

Surprisingly, the worst motivator was the cash bonus — which to be honest, wasn't very large, at only about $30, and only increased productivity by 4.9% when compared to the control group.

On the second day, those with the money bonus performed even worse than the control group.

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Things leveled out over the next few days, but for the week overall, the cash bonus ended up costing the company more and resulted in a 6.4% drop in productivity — not the results anyone in management was hoping for.

Even if the cash reward wasn't that much, couldn't they have purchased a number of pizzas for themselves? Does the thought of pizza take away people's skills of logic and reasoning?

Over the course of the week, the productivity spurred by pizza and compliments did also slow down a little.

And by the end of the week, their productivity level was closer to the group with no incentive at all.

If the pizza reward hadn't been a voucher but a delivery to the worker's home, Ariely thinks the results would have been further skewed in favor of the pizza bonus.

Ariely says, "This way ... we not only would give them a gift [pizza] but we would also make them heroes in the eyes of their families."

"Many of us are facing burnout. One of the best remedies against burnout is the feeling of being appreciated. This is harder to demonstrate in the virtual world. How has your company shown appreciation for you, or how have you demonstrated this for your employees?"

We will never underestimate the power of free pizza again.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.