Spreading Cheer: The Motivating Power of Goodwill

ITA Group
ITA Group

Employee handing a coffee to another employee

The idea that companies can do well by doing good has for years drawn the attention of managers and researchers. Human Resource departments and cultural attachés are regularly tasked with finding out the best way to motivate employees. Instead of throwing money at the problem, sometimes it’s the little gestures that matter.

“When we think about true motivation, and particularly in the knowledge economy, I think that they key issue is to think about goodwill,” said social scientist and New York Times bestselling author, Dan Ariely. “What is goodwill? Goodwill is kind of an energy people have that says, ‘No matter what happens, you have credit with me—and I’m going to work extra hard to deliver on that credit.’”

Goodwill by the Numbers

More than two thirds (68.9%) of employees say that they are made happy by goodwill gestures from their colleagues and a further 84.2% state that they return the favor.

This is according to research from CV-Library, which also finds that 91.9% believe that these gestures help them to build relationships with co-workers. And 90.5% said that these gestures make the workplace a more enjoyable place to be.

Further results from this study found the following to be the top 10 gestures that employees say make them happy around the workplace:

Top goodwill gestures that motivate people stats

The Need for Encouragement

While mandatory coffee rounds aren’t likely to be enforced any time soon, simple encouragement can go a long way to make the difference of someone thinking about one of these things and actually acting upon them. Ultimately, the decision is up to them.

“It’s a feeling of commitment, reciprocity, trust—it’s all of those things together,” Ariely said. “And we capture them by goodwill. [Goodwill can influence] to what extent you are going to go out on a limb or stay overnight and do all kinds of things—work on the weekend—to help the company achieve its goal.”

But that’s why you need to be encouraging goodwill within your team; both for the sake of your employees as well as your company. After all, happier workers are more loyal, more hard-working and more productive.

Redefine Your Goodwill Program

Historically, economists and firms alike have banked on the theory that workers are motivated by earning financial incentives and boosting revenues.

“When we think about all kinds of things that we do: recognition programs, reward, salaries, promotion, titles, desks—whatever it is, we must also think about to what extent are we helping, keeping neutral, or even hurting goodwill,” said Ariely.

“And I think if you start examining rewards, not from the perspective of, do people want $10? Because, yes, of course, every time you offer people $10 they want it. If you say, is this creating goodwill, you will come up with very different incentive programs and you will come up with ones that are more long-term compatible, which is the key.”

Meaningful goodwill efforts can build a community of brand advocates and loyal partners who’ll remember your efforts and advocate for you when you need it the most.

“People who feel connected to an organization are likely to stay late at the office to help a colleague on a project unrelated to their work,” said Ariely.

Creating a culture of recognition, trust and goodwill is key to moving an organization forward. Providing opportunities for employees to have purpose, mastery and autonomy will earn organizations the loyalty of their employees while helping them be more productive and engaged at work.

Do Good, Do Well

People want the companies they work for to “do good” and make the world a better place, and to advocate on their behalf, making them feel as though they belong to a larger community or even a grander mission.

It’s even more valuable to make goodwill a regular practice during difficult times, because it helps offset the negativity created by worry. Both the sender and receiver of the goodwill gesture feel uplifted. When a whole workforce practices goodwill, it boosts everyone’s spirits, energy level, and overall morale. The reciprocity of trust and goodwill creates an environment for team members to excel. It inspires people to be innovative and deliver real progress.

Subscribe to get more ideas for motivating others, and check out more expert insights from social scientist and New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely.

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