Final Exam – Question 9 (Tyrone)
According to Alfie Kohn, what are the problems with incentive plans? In other words, why does he suggest incentive plans cannot work?
According to Alfie Kohn, rewards succeed at securing one thing only: temporary compliance. When it comes to producing lasting change in attitudes and behavior, rewards like punishment are strikingly ineffective. Once the rewards run out, people revert back to their old behaviors.
Extrinsic motivators do not create an enduring commitment to any value or action. The more cognitive sophistication and open-ending thinking required, the worse people performed when working for a reward.
Studies have found slight or even negative correlations between pay and performance. The absence of such a relationship is interpreted as evidence of links between compensation and something other than how well people do their jobs. Studies reveal that higher pay does not produce better performance. Rewards buy temporary compliance, so it looks like the problems are solved.
The fundamental flaws of behaviorism itself doom the prospects of affecting long-term behavior change or performance improvement through the use of rewards.
The six point framework that examines the true costs of an incentive program are as follows:
  1. Pay is not a motivator – when people are asked directly, pay typically ranks 5th or 6th. There is no firm basis for the assumption that paying people more will encourage them to do better work. Just because too little money can irritate and demotivate does not mean that more and more money will bring about increased satisfaction, much less increased motivation.

  1. Rewards punish – rewards have a punitive effect because they are manipulative. The reward itself may be highly desired, but by making that bonus contingent on certain behaviors, managers manipulate their subordinates. Not receiving a rewards on had expected to receive is also indistinguishable from being punished. The more desirable the reward, the more demoralizing it is for an employee to miss out.

  1. Rewards rupture relationships – relationships among employees are often casualties of the scramble for rewards. The secret way to destroy cooperation and, therefore, organizational excellence, is to force people to compete for rewards or recognition or to rank them against each other. When employees compete for a limited number of incentives, they will most likely begin to see each other as obstacles to their own success.

  1. Rewards ignore reason – relying on incentives to boost productivity does nothing to address possible underlying problems and bring about meaningful change. Managers often use incentive systems as a substitute for giving workers what they need to do a good job. Pay for performance actually impedes the ability of managers to manage.

  1. Rewards discourage risk-taking – whenever people are encouraged to think about what they will get for engaging in a task, they become less inclined to take risks or explore possibilities. The number one casualty of rewards is creativity. People tend to lower their sights when they are encouraged to think about what they are going to get for their efforts.

  1. Rewards undermine interest – contingent payment system tends to undermine intrinsic motivation.