The research, conducted by Stanford University associate professor Chip Heath, found that managers are not as good at judging what motivates their employees as they think they are.

In one test, Heath asked 25 managers of a Citibank call center to rate what motivated the center’s 25 customer service reps, all of whom they knew well. The managers consistently overestimated how important extrinsic rewards (such as pay and benefits) were to these people. Meanwhile, the employees included only one extrinsic reward (benefits) when asked to list the four things that motivated them. What mattered most were things such as feeling good about themselves, being praised when they did good work, and having the opportunity to grow their skills.

The survey has implications for companies that rely on bonuses and incentives without considering more closely what drives each individual to perform, says Heath. For more, see the March issue of Corporate Meetings & Incentives.