Better Pay Promises Gives Better Performance Makes Shirkers Workers

Promises of better pay gives better performance even for jobs that aren’t eligible for the higher rate. At least that’s the story that some social psychologists from the Netherlands have for us. We’d better keep this information out of the hands of the Business Schools or we’ll be seeing even more jam tomorrow, but not today, than we have at present.

The Utrechies who did this study were Zedelius et al and their paper is in the Public Library of Science this week (1). They bribed 91 undergraduates with promises of big bucks if they listened to tones in one ear or the other and pressed a button to say if it was on the right or left. Speed and accuracy was the way to rewards, but only every other tone was eligible for a reward.

Everywhere speed on the line was of the essence. The reward value of the task was flashed briefly – it could be a 1-cent job or a 50-cent job. Then a brief tone was played and there was a short time to press a right or left button to indicate which ear it was played in. This was then repeated, but only this second tone counted for payment of a job well done. If the button press was wrong or it was pressed to late, there was no payout.

Results, results are all that matter, of course. And there was a trade off between speedy button pressing and thinking time to ensure accuracy, but remember too much thinking would result in time out and nothing to take home to feed the kids.

Well, bigger promises improved performance. The participants were geared up and concentrating. As a result they performed better with the non-scoring intermediate task as well as the one that would deliver a 50-cent payout. They relaxed and became shirkers not workers for a 1-cent job.

At 1 cent a time there’s not a lot of trickling down going on. They would have sore thumbs before they earned one beer.


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