By Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D., is a professor of management and associate dean of the College of Business
Like all organizations, companies in the Ozarks hope to obtain the benefits of increased employee motivation and enhanced productivity by instituting compensation systems that reward individual accomplishments.
However, some researchers have questioned the “do this and you’ll get that” mentality. Although rewards can be successful in changing short-term behavior, there is a price to pay for the overuse of incentive systems in the long run. In this article, I challenge you to consider other options to the traditional reward system.
There are four primary reasons why the overuse of rewards can be problematic in the workplace:
Rewards can damage relationships. Individual rewards discourage teamwork and promote competition between co-workers. Co-workers are not likely to cooperate, especially when rewards are limited. Instead, employees can view each other as obstacles to achieving individual goals. For this reason, managers should consider basing some components of their reward system on group incentives.
Rewards can ignore reasons for substandard performance. Managers can ignore underlying reasons why performance problems occur by hoping instead that, by offering rewards, problems will be solved. Rewards do not provide a basis for solving problems. If substandard performance is due to personal difficulties, or trouble with job structure, merely offering a reward will not solve the problem.
Rewards can stifle creativity. Incentive systems define worker expectations and behavior. If subordinates try something new, there is the potential for failure, which may deprive them of a reward. The goal, in essence, is to obtain the reward, not to succeed at the task. Unless specifically stated, creativity, innovation and challenge are not nurtured in most traditional reward systems. Rewards motivate workers to get rewards.
Rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation. Most people begin their jobs because they enjoy the work. Rewards can undermine enjoyment for the work itself by making the job less appealing. Many research studies support the contention that once a reward is given for a specific task, the enjoyment for the activity is diminished. It decreases the likelihood that workers will experience a genuine interest in what they are doing.
Offering incentives is woven into the very fabric of our society. So, what is a manager supposed to do? Try a new way of thinking about reward systems by creating “authentic motivation.” Allow employees to work in groups and don’t solely focus on individual performance. Creating dual accountability might be the answer whereby workers are accountable at both the individual and group level. That way, workers can focus on their individual performance while also creating a collaborative environment by encouraging a focus on team performance.
There is significant research that supports the notion that increased motivation can result from allowing workers to have control over certain aspects of their work. Workers are more motivated if they feel that their job is significant and they are allowed to participate in some decision-making processes.
Making real choices a part of a job can also foster motivation. A lack of control over one’s work can lead to burnout and loss of creativity. Managers must make a concerted effort to create an environment where workers have a chance to make meaningful decisions about their work.
Every manager desires to have motivated workers. Employers should examine their reward programs and incentive-based compensation systems to determine the messages these systems actually convey.
This article appeared in the November 2, 2014 issue of the Springfield News-Leader. It is available online here.
Elizabeth Rozell, Ph.D., is a professor of management and associate dean of the College of Business at Missouri State University. Rozell also holds the Kenneth E. Meyer Professorship and is director of the MBA program. Her specialties include organizational behavior, leadership and emotional intelligence. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.