This blog does a good job of summarising the research showing that gratitude and acknowledgement are more powerful motivators than money. I see this frequently in the teams I work with where members want to focus on what's going wrong. The brain is designed to look for threats and take action and it seems that corporate culture's obsesion with continuous improvement overlooks how people are motivated.
Gottman's research supports the requirement of 5:1 positive to negative comments in a relationship that will stand the test of time. This research applies to the office as well.
What's so interesting about giving and receiving acknowledgements is how poor people are in receiving them, and how unskilled they are in giving them. Powerful and meaningful acknowledgement needs to highlight the qualities of the person, and not their output. It's harder than we think, but more rewarding than we realise.
Researchers from the London School of Economics found that financial incentives can backfire when it comes to motivating employees. An analysis of 51 separate experiments found overwhelming evidence that "incentives may reduce an employee's natural inclination to complete a task and derive pleasure from doing so." Appreciation is a much better motivator. A study by Glassdoor found that 80% of employees would be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss, and 70% said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly.