Mon, Apr 16, 2012
Years of research unequivocally supports the conclusion that traditional employee motivation programs actually decrease the overall morale and productivity of a workforce. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned human resource professionals continue to spend their resources attempting to create motivational programs that, while they make sense intuitively, do far more harm than good.
When I refer to traditional reward-and-recognition programs, I mean those that make a presumably desirable incentive contingent on some level of performance. I also refer to these as “dangling carrot programs.” Sample carrots include financial bonuses, gift cards, desirable parking spaces and extra vacation days. Among all programs, “Employee of the Month” stands out as the most counterproductive.
The trouble is, they require you to keep winding up the employee to get the desired uptick in behavior. While you may get short-term changes in effort, it doesn’t last because the behavior is driven by the extrinsic reward and not an increase in the intrinsic value of the task to the individual. In fact, there is an inverse relationship between the value of the reward and extent to which an individual takes pride in their work.
The mentality is, “I’m only doing this for the money.” Consider, for example, that many people are more engaged and work harder when doing volunteer work than they are when they are working at their “real” job. So, giving high levels of discretionary effort has to do with more than just monetary compensation.
Reward-and-recognition programs are intended to increase an organization’s overall level of employee morale while simultaneously increasing productivity, but dangling carrot programs do just the opposite.
Imagine fitting employees into one of three buckets: Top performers, average performers and poor performers. Now, when you put a program into place, who wins? The top performers! What is the impact on the poor performers? None or negative; the program is just another example of their “loser” status in your organization.
The real problem comes about when average performers decide to increase their level of discretionary effort, but fail to “win” because they just can’t measure up to the top performers. Typically, this situation leads to disgruntled and less productive employees who swear not to bother working harder than need be because no one notices and they certainly don’t get anything extra out of it.
By the way, it becomes progressively more difficult over time to get employees who lose motivated again. Do you really want to have to worry about dangling carrots every day and every time you want your employees’ best effort?
What do you think? Are traditional reward programs ever successful?