The use of tangible rewards to motivate employees is common in North American organizations. However, there is considerable variation regarding the nature of tangible rewards used with some firms offering hedonic items (e.g., wants) and others offering utilitarian items (e.g., needs). We use two studies to examine the effects of tangible reward nature on employee mental accounting and effort. In Study 1, consistent with predictions, we find that hedonic tangible rewards are mentally accounted for separately from utilitarian tangible rewards, and that hedonic tangible rewards are more likely categorized separately from regular earnings than are utilitarian tangible rewards. In Study 2, as predicted, we find hedonic tangible rewards lead to greater effort than utilitarian tangible rewards. Collectively, results from our two studies demonstrate the motivational benefits of offering performance-based hedonic tangible rewards rather than utilitarian tangible rewards and offer new insights regarding the mental accounting mechanisms underlying these effects.

Data Availability: Data are available on request.

JEL Classifications: C91; M41; M52.

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