Social reward: the psychology behind workplace recognition
The notion that reward and recognition are non-essentials in the workplace is long gone, but many organisations still lack an engaging reward and recognition programme. Interestingly, humans have part of our brain which is in charge of reward-processing – the striatum. This, in turn, feeds motivation, reinforcement, decision-making and perception.
While the striatum responds to primary rewards (things we need to survive, such as food and shelter) it also responds to social reward. Social reward can be broken down into three areas:
Competence – our ability to produce specific outcomes from our environment
Autonomy – our ability to experience choice in our behaviour
Relatedness – our need to feel secure and connected with others socially
Relatedness is the aspect HR teams should be most focussed on when considering reward and recognition. This element of our reward-processing proves that maintaining social connections – both in and out of the workplace – is more than just a ‘nice-to-have’. It is a psychological, physiological and cultural necessity.
Evolutionary psychology dictates that social reward is such a necessity because its development dates back to the Stone Age, when forming groups and being included was essential to survival. Now, employers know that people produce better work when they’ve formed good social bonds with colleagues – and science backs this up.
Seeing others happy makes us happy
Social media has, in the last decade, short of taken over. Naturally, this impacts the workplace and our interactions with all technology – as both employees and consumers. A surprising element of reward shows that our striatum responds more to witnessing social reward among others (even when it doesn’t involve us) than our own reward.
Similarly, there is evidence that people also get more satisfaction from giving social rewards than receiving them – this has been dubbed ‘prosociality’. In fact, in studies, the positive effects of giving social recognition were longer-lasting than those who received the recognition.
These results explain the success of newsfeed functions in social apps – a feature included through the ‘Wall of Fame’ social feed in our OneHub | Reward and Recognition app. Newsfeeds, timelines and social feeds present others’ lives to us; not only informing us of updates from people we care about, but also providing gratification through others’ social reward. The ability to ‘like’ or comment on these happenings brings employees into a connected, positive environment of cultural alignment.
The joy of mindless scrolling (aka social cognition)
The recent proliferation of social media is likely, in part, due to what is called default social cognition. Default social cognition is our state of thinking about others, our relationship with others, and others’ relationships. When our brain is at rest, not focussed on a task or activity, this is the state that we all default to in some form or other.
Default social cognition explains the universal success of social media. The acts of checking social media as a habit or picking up your phone without thinking have become a natural ‘default’ activity for social media-users. This is because they feed that social cognition we are craving.
Social media is unique in its ability to make figures like politicians, industry-leaders and influencers feel reachable, approachable and ‘like us’. Much of social media’s engagement is peer-to-peer, and even the interactions which are not (such as following celebrities) feel as though they are peer-to-peer. This is a huge part of social media’s success.
OneHub | Reward and Recognition are peer-to-peer social apps; they allow anyone in the business – teammates, new starters, managers, even CEOs – to recognise others across the organisation. This places everyone on a level social field and makes the whole business feel approachable and familiar; whatever job level someone is, whether they’re in a different team, a different office, or even a different country!
But this dimension of peer-to-peer is not the only one. While recognitions (and rewards, if enabled) can be given and received both ways, the positive effects are also felt on both sides. In fact, research shows that those who are recognised for doing favours are twice as likely to help someone in the future – and that’s anyone, not just the person who thanked them! Harnessing these aspects of prosociality and social media in workplace environments can affirm collaboration and unite workforces in a shared culture of gratitude.
Why reward and recognition must be social media-inspired
All of these psychological elements – social cognition, relatedness, the striatum – feature within everybody. Naturally, our own personalities and preferences mean these aspects of our brain present differently from individual to individual, but it’s crucial to consider these when considering reward and recognition.
With human-centred, socially-focussed workplace technology like OneHub | Reward and Recognition, organisations can leverage the power of social media within business contexts. Using a social media steer, these apps fulfil the default social cognition we crave (particularly at work between complex activities). They are the perfect work-oriented social hit for that need.
By introducing workplace systems that purposefully harness these aspects of psychology and design-thinking, organisations can encourage employees to make gratitude and recognition habitual. This in turn feeds positive workplace culture and behaviours into everyday work-life; ingraining your values and building recognition, motivation and loyalty into your organisation from the ground up.