Rewards may destroy improvement efforts in our companies


In the book, Punished Rewards, Alfie Kohn states, “Rewards do not require any attention to the reasons that the trouble developed in the first place.” He explains how rewards ignore the root cause of the problems. In general, we believe rewards will get others to do what we want.

As parents, if our child is screaming and crying, will we simply offer him candy? This will keep him quiet, but we are not trying to understand what is causing the problem.

How about when the child is in school, will we offer him something nice to improve his grades? Will we punish him if they do not get any better?

Several companies work the same way, when they want to something done, managers offer bonuses to their employees. But, what is wrong with this approach?

“Rewards make us forget what are the root causes of the problems”

These tactics are just a form of bribing people, so that they will do what we want them to do. When we do not explore the possible root causes of the problems, we will never get any real solutions to the issues. It is as Alfie Kohn says, “Rewards are not actually solutions at all; they are gimmicks, shortcuts, quick fixes that mask problems and ignore reasons. They never look below the surface.”

In fact, Freudians have defended this very viewpoint for decades. They believe that this kind of behavioral therapy only addresses the symptoms, instead of the deeper problems. (Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards p. 60).

Offering rewards is a common practice in many companies, they promise incentives to departments, in order to increase in their performance. Even though the administration will see a short-term increase in productivity, the improvement is artificial. The underlying problem, causing the lack of productivity, is not addressed at all. Employees will work extra hours just to achieve the bonus, and then do not care about additional improvement efforts.

As soon as companies issue rewards, in order to increase productivity, employees will always expect incentives in the future. This means that any future improvement efforts will be destroyed, because administration continually has to bribe its employees with bonuses or rewards.

We live in a society where companies only look at the bottom line, and just care about quarterly results. This makes managers impatient for results, and therefore they commonly use rewards programs, to motivate employees to increase production in organizations. Unfortunately, the use of this reward system will never help companies understand the underlying problems. As a result, long-term improvement will never be possible. If companies continue to use this approach, then I am sure we will have the exact opposite outcome of what we want: fewer and fewer employees will care about actual improvement efforts.

This blog post is part of my new book that I am writing: Get Rid of Performance Reviews, if you are interested in the topic please subscribe as a Beta Reader and receive the 1st part for free right HERE.

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