How to demotivate your best employees

By Dina Gerdeman via hbswk.hbs.edu   Article

“The researchers studied an attendance award program initiated by managers at one of the five commercial-industrial laundries owned by the same midwestern company. Perfect attendance was defined as not having any unexcused absences or tardy shift arrivals during the month. …

First, employees ended up “gaming” the program, showing up on time only when they were eligible for the award and, in some cases, calling in sick rather than reporting late. Most interestingly, workers were 50 percent more likely to have an unplanned “single absence” after the award was implemented, suggesting that employees who would otherwise have arrived to work tardy on a certain day might instead either call in sick to avoid disqualification or else simply stay home because they would be disqualified from the award regardless. …

Second, and perhaps more significantly, stellar employees who previously had excellent attendance and were highly productive ended up suffering a 6 to 8 percent productivity decrease after the program was introduced. This suggests that these employees were actually turned off—and their motivation dropped—when the managers introduced awards for good behavior they were already exhibiting. …

All in all, the award program actually led to a decrease in plant productivity by 1.4 percent, which added up to a cost of almost $1,500 a month for the plant.

‘Having your top performers demotivated for all eight hours on the job ended up creating a much bigger productivity hit than having the extra five minutes of work from someone who came habitually late’

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that rewarding one behavior sometimes can ‘crowd out’ intrinsic motivation in another.”

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