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What’s a key way to motivate your employees to work harder and more productively? Personalized perks. What’s more, according to research by Carnegie Mellon University professor Denise Rousseau, perks work not only on top performers, but also on poor performers. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently reported on Rousseau’s findings.

What can you learn about offering personalized perks to your employees?

First, Rousseau reports that individualized deals, or i-deals, are common: She’s never found a workplace in which fewer than 25 percent of workers had them. What are i-deals? They’re non-monetary perks tailored to what the employee values. For instance, an i-deal for an employee who’s not a morning person might be getting to come in 20 minutes late every day without getting any flak. For a mom, an i-deal might be getting to attend her kids’ school performances even if it means taking the occasional afternoon off. For a status-conscious staffer, it might mean a bigger office than his or her job normally warrants.

While you might think such specialized perks would spark jealousy, in fact, Rousseau found, they do just the opposite. Employees throughout the companies recognized the perks as warranted, typically by seniority or high achievement. And employees at all levels of accomplishment—even the poorest performers--become more engaged and more committed when they get i-deals of their own.

I can vouch for the power of i-deals because I’ve used them for years as a manager. (It’s nice to see something I believe in getting academic validation.) How can you make i-deals work for you?

First, Rousseau says, i-deals always involve tit for tat. If someone always gets to come in late, that usually means they also stay late. Clarify what’s being exchanged for what by writing it down.

Writing down i-deals is also important because, Rousseau cautions, it’s important to avoid any taint of secrecy. Keeping i-deals out in the open prevents resentment from breeding.

To keep deals out in the open, you may want to go beyond writing it down to making an announcement, sending a group e-mail or generally letting others know the terms of the deal. I’ve found this helps a lot, because many employees will seek the same kind of deal when they don’t know the terms—but when they know the full story, they’re often less eager for the deal.

What i-deals boil down to is a management idea that, for me, is just common sense: Treat employees as individuals, not as cogs. Recognize their differences, their strengths and what motivates them. When you treat people like people, and not like pawns in a chess game, then and only then will you build a true team.