Punished by rewards

I started reading Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn (thanks to Rachel for the tip!). It’s (another) very interesting and relevant book. The book discusses why the use of rewards and punishment as means of motivating people doesn’t work. It’s very readable, but it also has a thorough scientific basis. Although I’ve read about one third, I really recommend it.

Together with Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations by Robert D. Austin, it has profoundly changed my view on rewards and reward systems in organisations (and in other contexts like raising children and schools). A large number of studies that have been conducted in the past 30+ years show that using rewards to get a lasting change in someone’s behaviour, often results in the opposite effect.

This week I read two articles in the newspaper about using rewards. The first was a proposal to reward good traffic behaviour. The other one was an idea to use performance-based pay for civil servants. After reading the books, I see them in a different light: using rewards will only make both situations worse…