David has been working hard to deliver exceptional service. His manager, Sarah, is pleased and wants to recognise his efforts, so she nominates him for an ‘Employee of the Month’ award. David then starts to slack off. He puts in less effort and seems less engaged by the work. Sarah feels frustrated. What did she do wrong?
It seems to be a good idea to reward people when they do a good job. But it can often decrease motivation. Rewarding people is more complicated than you might think. Here are 10 factors to consider when giving a reward:
- Are rewards allocated in a way that seems fair to recipients?
- Do they occur soon after the desired behaviour?
- Do they tend to focus on clear performance standards. i.e Do I know what to do to get the reward?
- Are the rewards matched to the individual? Different people find different things rewarding. Extroverts love a public announcement at a meeting, introverts don’t.
- Most people find the following experiences rewarding: autonomy, respect, connection & belonging.
- Do the rewards feel controlling? This is subtle. For rewards to feel fair, I need clear performance standards but if I feel like I am being rewarded for complying with instructions I will tend to be de-motivated. We value freedom and autonomy highly. A ‘reward’ that is about compliance can make me feel less autonomous. For example, ‘Thank you so much for getting that board paper to me today, I appreciate that you had to stay back last night to get it done‘ is probably rewarding unless the evening before you told me, ‘You have to stay back tonight to finish that board paper’.
- Don’t use extra money to reward behaviours that the person would do anyway because they find the activity enjoyable or because doing it is in some way linked to their values.
- Do help people to make the link between what they need to do and who they want to be i.e. their values.
- Do reward behaviours that will help the person to learn something challenging. When we are just starting to gain a complex skill it is often hard and we need some external encouragement. Once we can do it well then we start to enjoy it for it’s own sake and we no longer need the rewards (in fact they can be counter-productive).
- The best rewards are ‘natural’ - a smile; a thank you; an authentic expression of the impact of what the person did. (Again think: autonomy, respect, belonging and connection).
So what went wrong with David? He had been giving excellent customer service for the joy of it. The award changed that for him. He felt controlled by it. Sarah presented the award at the monthly team meeting and David is an introvert and felt embarrassed. David knew that Connie had been giving a similar level of service but she didn’t get a mention. He didn’t feel that Sarah had been fair and he now felt awkward around Connie. It had decreased his respect for Sarah and his feelings of connection to the rest of the team.
So, give others lots of respect and as much autonomy as you can. Build feelings of connection and belonging. But think carefully when you use bonuses and awards – they are risky!
Sources for this post:
Judy Cameron, Katherine M. Banko, and W; David Pierce Pervasive Negative Effects of Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation: The Myth Continues. The Behavior Analyst 2001, 24, 1-44 No. 1 (Spring)
Edward L. Deci, Richard Koestner, Richard M. Ryan A Meta-Analytic Review of Experiments Examining the Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation. Psychological Bulletin 1999, Vol. 125, No. 6, 627-6