Wednesday, July 17, 2019 | ePaper

Getting a bonus at work

  • Print


Marylène Gagné Ph.D.
Did you get up on this (hopefully) beautiful Monday morning thinking about the money you will make this week? While some go to a job they love doing, others do it mostly for the money. Even for those who love their job, being paid probably plays at least a small role in why they keep going to work day after day. After all, we have bills to pay, we have to pay the rent or the mortgage, and we need to put food on the table. But how much of a role does money play in how you perform at work?
Someone close to me recently got quite a nice yearly bonus for doing work that "exceeds expectations". He was quite pleased about it and appreciated the recognition, but when I asked him if getting this yearly bonus changes how he does his work, he said "not at all". He is just conscientious and tries his very best to attain the best outcomes for both his clients and the company he works for, and when he does, he feels good about it. He says as long as he gets paid well and fairly, not necessarily contingent on meeting very specific targets, he'll do the best work he can do.
This testimonial fits quite well with results my colleagues from Norway and I got when looking at what happened after the introduction of a bonus system in an Norwegian insurance company. In this study, we surveyed over 600 sales employees over a two-year period to see how the introduction of quarterly and yearly bonuses based on selling insurance (we're talking of an average of $20K/year in bonuses with no decrease in base pay!) changed their motivation, their work efforts, and their desire to continue to work in the company. We found some surprising things.
First, employees did not feel that they had a lot of influence over their sales performance, so did not feel they could influence how much of a bonus they would get. Selling insurance is not just a matter of effort and skill, but also a matter of being in the right place in the right time. Second, the bigger the bonus, the more employees became extrinsically (money) motivated, while meaning and enjoyment for the work decreased. They did report putting a bit more effort because of the bonus, but not a whole lot more. However, the bigger the bonus, the more they wanted to leave!
Did they want to leave because they now thought they were a "hot item" and could get better jobs? Or was it the decrease in meaning and enjoyment that drove them out? Or the stress it created because of they didn't feel in control of it? We don't have information about whether they thought they could get something better elsewhere or if they felt more stressed. We do know that the decrease in meaning had an influence on them wanting to leave.  What's more, the company reported increases in unwanted behaviors, such as stealing clients from colleagues and keeping customers warm to boost quarterly bonuses. The company had to introduce monitoring and policies it didn't need before. And the icing on the cake is that the company did not experience an overall increase in sales. Those who sold more prior to the plan sold the same after, but now they were getting a bonus for it.
One thing for sure, we saw employee motivation shifting from being meaning and enjoyment based to being money based. And we know motivation based on meaning and enjoyment are related to better performance and well-being at work. So before overhauling a compensation system, it's very important to think about how it will affect the quality of employee motivation.
(Marylène Gagné, Ph.D., is Professor at the Future of Work Institute at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. This post was co-authored with Courtenay McGill).

More News For this Category

Strong Leadership

Dr. Jennifer Verdolin :With so many potential presidential candidates flooding the field, I was pondering what qualities embody a great leader. I wondered if there was a way to discern,

Old Home Near the Himalayas

Sadman Tasin :Nepal is a third world country in the Asia. After the 2015 earthquake, the country is trying to overcome the effect and developing gradually with time. The country

Invisible Generosity

Susi Ferrarello, Ph.D :I have the most generous friend, but she really does seem to know it. On the opposite, she seems to be always so grateful for the things

Is It Getting Better?

Is It Getting Better?

Charlotte Markey, Ph.D :In the age of social media and endless photoshopped images of beautiful people, is body image for the average person improving or getting worse?  Are people

Preventing Failure

Preventing Failure

Gleb Tsipursky :When was the last time you saw a major project or critical process fail? Such disasters can have devastating consequences for high-flying careers and successful companies. Yet

How To Deal With Bad News

How To Deal With Bad News

Neel Burton, M.D :Your partner cheated or walked out on you. You've been fired. Your house has been burgled. You've been diagnosed with a life-changing condition. Bad news can

Women's Mate Choices Across Cultures

David C. Geary :I'm sure that many men throughout the ages have been and will continue to be perplexed by women's preference for one man over the other, especially if

Integrity In The Workplace

Sam Louie :I'm always amazed at the level of sacrifice involved when I hear stories of whistleblowers (such as films like The Insider or Icarus) or employees standing up to

The Power of Feeling Known

Nancy Colier :Pam was crying tears of happiness and relief, but also sadness. The man she'd been dating for six months had asked, "How do you feel about what's happening

The Truth About Failure

Laura M. Miele :I often write about not giving all children in athletics medals and why I feel that way. It's about failure! It is about what failure means