What works: Pat on back or money?

This post first appeared in DNA India on 25th May, 2017.

Most organisations have some sort of a rewards and recognitions programme. Often these two programmes are linked with recognitions increasingly being linked to rewards. However, research shows that rewards and recognitions are two different phenomena, and creating recognition programs without understanding this can lead to disaster. An article titled “Rewards and Recognition in Employee Motivation”, shows that rewards and recognition represent two fundamentally different mechanisms of human motivation. Simply put, a reward is given in return for a work well done. Rewards establish an instrumentality or a “means to an end”. Say, rewarding a child for chores done shows the child a way to get the reward.

A recognition, however, is an acknowledgement, a special notice or attention of something accomplished. The latter is about noticing and honouring, which is best exemplified by recognitions given on the field of battle for soldiers. The notion of “instrumentality” is missing from recognitions since soldiers don’t carry out an action based on expected rewards. While rewards are based on extrinsic motivators, recognitions come from intrinsic motivations.

So what does it have to do with motivating employees? Organisations need reward programmes for specific behaviours driven by extrinsic motivations and recognition programs by those driven by intrinsic motivations. Furthermore, organisations base their rewards and recognitions programme by asking the question “How do we motivate employees?”. This is then translated into “what motivates employees” and from that to identifying factors that can be used to motivate people. Rather, the authors suggest that the appropriate question to ask, given that there are two human motivational elements at play is, “How is this behaviour motivated?” or “Which motivational framework, intrinsic or extrinsic, is at play here?”.

One last implication of the intrinsic/extrinsic motivational difference is that recognition programs actually help to strengthen the bond with the organisation; something rewards can simply not achieve. Thus organisations should not expect any increased loyalty from their employees for being offered rewards. On the other hand, with a recognition program in place, organisations can expect to see their employees aspiring for excellence in their activities and continuous improvement, purely because it activates their intrinsic motivational centres.

Interestingly, recognition programs now exist that combine the act of recognition with rewards. The idea is to expect changes in behaviour by rewarding people who recognise others in the organisation. The success of companies that do this suggests that perhaps the external motivators for recognising people can have an impact on behavioural change. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony?

Image Source Credit: https://soapboxhq.com/engaging-motivating-employees-reward-vs-recognition

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