Can social stroking be better than money?

Social Science
Social reward (smiles, compliments) can be as good for motivation as money.

It’s not a secret that money is one of the most universal motivators to work. It can be called a monetary reward. So, if you want to motivate your stuff you can raise the salary or offer some material bonuses. However, it’s not always effective to use them for motivation.

Another type of reward is a social one. Eric Berne explained the concept of social stroking. When you want to express your feelings to a toddler you can stroke his head. In the same way, you can use social strokes (smiles, compliments) in your communication with adults. Imagine a person who spends extra time at work to help a colleague. He doesn’t get any money or bonus for that. But he will get a gratitude from the colleague and that can be enough. That action satisfies a fundamental need to belong, which was described by Maslow.

Likes which we get in social media may be the virtual form of social stroking. They can also satisfy the need to belong. Remember yourself when you post a photo on Instagram. A like or a comment from a significant other may cheer you up and make you smile. So, for a lot of people, these social strokes are motivators to post photos.

How can we apply it to team management? Contemporary data suggests that social and monetary rewards have the same neurobiological basis. So, social motivators can be as effective as monetary ones. Imagine that your team members get a special digital points for making a task. Points are relevant to task’s difficulty, labor costs and your evaluation of the work. And earned points are visible for others. So, for your team member every digital point would be a kind of social stroking. It would be a motivating system based on social rewards. (That is a kind of system that we’ve built here at Lost.Report).

To conclude, there are monetary (money, luxury) and social rewards (smiles, strokes). They both motivate human behavior. Social rewards have a digital form (likes) which satisfy a need to belong and to be accepted. So, it’s still a question which kind of reward is better. It depends on the context. But they can work better together. And a motivation system based on digital social rewards can be an effective addition to salary and bonuses.


Marina Green

Marina Green

Behavioral scientist

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