Is Pizza the Key to Workplace Productivity?

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Oh, pizza. You vexing vixen. You mealtime minx. You saucy (cheesy, crusty) food fatale. Is there nothing we wouldn’t do to devour you, piece by piece?

Researchers have found that the promise of pizza can prompt people to be more productive at work — even more than cash incentives can. In an experiment outlined in his forthcoming book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, and highlighted in New York magazine, Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, offered workers at an Israeli semiconductor manufacturer one of three incentives for completing a certain amount of work in a given day: a cash reward, a voucher for a free pizza or a big pat on the back from the boss. (Some workers served as the control group and received no promise of a reward at all — poor schlubs.)

So what happened? Those who were offered pizza outperformed those who were offered cash. In fact, on day one of the study, the pizza-motivated workers outperformed all the other groups, increasing productivity by 6.7 percent over those unlucky workers just chugging along in the control group. Those offered a rare compliment from the boss (via a text message) were just behind, with a 6.6 percent higher productivity than the control group; those offered a cash bonus (about $30), increased productivity only 4.9 percent over the control group.

But in the study’s subsequent days, the cash-bonus-motivated workers’ productivity sank — and they actually were 13.2 percent less productive than the control group on day two, ultimately buoying a bit and plateauing at about 6.5 percent lower than the control overall.

Meanwhile, the pizza- and compliments-motivated workers settled in at just above the control group, in terms of productivity — with the compliment-motivated workers performing the best overall. Still, New York magazine notes, Ariely believes that if workers had been promised a pizza delivered to their home for hitting their productivity goals, the pizza group would have outperformed the compliments group.

“This way … we not only would give them a gift, but we would also make them heroes in the eyes of their families,” the author wrote, according to New York.

Pizza and admiration? Definitely a winning combo.

Photo courtesy of iStock