Motivating workers and managers to improve safety performance through rewards has been a contentious element of safety management processes for decades but no-one seems to have got it right. Most bonus/award/reward systems are able to be manipulated. An article in the Harvard Business Review and Australian Financial Review may add another dimension to the discussion by looking at the psychological effects of cash.
Kathleen Vohs undertook research that indicated
“The effect of handling money was quite pronounced—in the four scenarios we tested, the people who handled money reported significantly less pain or social exclusion.”
This may be significant for bank tellers but few others. However Vohs goes on to say that
“Having money make us feel strong. Lacking it makes us feel weak.”
Vohs is an associate professor of marketing so motivations and choice are core elements of her studies. She discusses the marketing implications of the research but says:
“Do you give bonuses to employees? Don’t do direct deposit. It doesn’t have the same psychological heft as a cash bonus.”
“Simply being in the presence of Monopoly money or a screen saver showing pictures of cash made subjects work harder to achieve their goals, even if their tasks were impossible. They were less distracted, more focused, and more productive.”
In Australia most salary is paid through direct debit but in my working life I can remember the satisfaction I received from tearing open a small yellow envelope that contained my salary in cash. That day the office staff would have a payday lunch at a local restaurant to celebrate. That sensation, that pleasure in receiving a salary is no longer possible.
The point of this is not to advocate a return to a cash society but to question some of the non-cash reward strategies that many companies apply in relation to increasing productivity or increasing safety performance.
Recently a large Australian company introduced a reward scheme where employees can be awarded points in acknowledgement of effort, results and other actions. The points can be accumulated and redeemed for a range of gifts. Many employees asked why monetary rewards were not being offered as they have been in the past? The implication was that they valued money over toasters, wine or movie tickets.
In this case, the introduction of a scheme that rewards employees in their non-preferred fashion has reduced the credibility of senior management decisions and caused employees to question management’s understanding of the employees’ roles.
Vohs’ research is ongoing and is worth monitoring for its application in the productivity AND safety contexts. She echoes the interests of many of us when she asks:
“Actually, I love the idea of seeing money’s effect on stress.”