Rewards are the best motivators at work

Employees are more motivated to work because of the promise of reward rather than the possibility of being punished for poor performance. This is the suggestion of new research published in The Accounting Review, which found people do not put in extra effort when faced with the prospect of penalties.

Investigators from Michigan State University (MSU), the University of Georgia and Emory University discovered staff members involved in a bonus programme work harder than those who operate under a penalty system - such as those threatening pay reductions and demotions.

Karen Sedatole, Associate Professor of Accounting in the Broad College of Business at MSU, noted: "Our findings show what carrots work better than sticks – in other words, workers respond better to bonuses than penalties."

Entitled Sticks and Carrots: The Effect of Contract Frame on Effort in Incomplete Contracts, the report also suggested employees working in a rewarding environment tend to place greater trust in their supervisors.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Lea Brindle comments:

This is not surprising in a society based on operant conditioning - i.e. rewarding success - rather than a punishment-based scheme.

"However, money is not always seen a motivator for most employees. Many years ago Professor Fred Hertzberg talked about hygiene factors which, if not present, will affect performance and motivators such as job satisfaction, achievement, recognition to name a few. Hygiene factors operate such that if one is worrying about paying the bills or trying to keep warm in a cold environment (and cool in a warm one) performance will inevitably suffer. These are not punishments per se but rather factors limiting one's potential to perform.

"This is made clearer by Lawler, Portman and Hackman (and developed in the UK by Dr Roland Tarleton) who, in a paradigm shift, suggested that rather than looking at what factors lead to performance, most people want to perform as well as possible and, therefore, motivators tend to be factors that help one to succeed (arguably hygiene factors).  

This study, although obvious perhaps, in my view seems to be going backward rather than adding to our understanding of motivation at work."