Enterprise Software

Why work incentives don't work

A lot of companies use bonuses and awards to raise employee productivity. But, according to Alfie Kohn, author of the book Punished By Reward: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, As, Praise, and Other Bribes, awards don't work in the long run. Kohn states "People aren't naturally inclined to require T-shirts and trips to Hawaii in order to do their jobs." He adds that such incentives actually end up stifling employees' "intrinsic interest and curiosity." I agree for the most part, but I think there are exceptions in some lines of work, like sales. But in the general office environment, awards could ultimately decrease the effect you're trying to achieve.

An article in Psychology Today, says that "Rewards produce only a temporary upswing in productivity; they are strikingly ineffective at inducing lasting changes in attitudes or behavior."

The article goes on to list the problems with awards:

  • They're manipulative, contingent upon someone else's idea of success, and controlling. Workers who don't get the rewards they've been hoping for feel punished.
  • They deter risk-taking and creativity: Employees stick to easy tasks that allow them to achieve clear-cut goals.
  • They encourage competition, with individuals scrambling for "bonus points" at the expense of cooperation.
  • They make work seem distasteful, something to be done only for the money rather than the intrinsic motivation of a feeling of accomplishment, fulfillment, and satisfaction for a job well done.

What's your opinion about awards and bonuses?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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