Researchers at the Rotterdam School of Management conducted an extensive study of 1,800 suggestions deposited in employers’ online suggestion boxes over a period of 12 years.
The resulting paper, A Radical Approach to Radical Innovation, shows that employees who have their ideas rejected initially are more motivated to submit further suggestions in future.
The trend continues until employees submit an average of 27 ideas, at which stage they are likely to give up and not submit any more.
Employees who enjoyed more immediate success were less likely to come back with new or different ideas.
Lead researcher Dirk Deichmann said the most innovative HR departments strive to create an environment where there are no negative consequences when employees submit ideas that are then rejected.
"That creates a climate where people feel safe and where they can experiment," he explained. "They don't think that if they submit an unsuccessful idea it might come back to them in a future meeting with their line manager."
Deichmann suggested HR managers offer focused feedback to employees whose ideas are unsuccessful in order to encourage them to continue contributing.
"It's important to go back to these employees and say that you should focus more on certain criteria," he said. "Focusing only on the reasons something has failed in the present is necessary, but it doesn't really help people with their future submissions."
Managers who fear employees may become demotivated if their ideas are rebuffed too often can relax – a recent report has suggested that rejection may actually improve workers’ motivation.