Monday, 25 January 2010

Motivational blah

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about pay and motivation. On the bus home tonight it struck me how little pay affects how I work, let alone how hard, and I can't believe that this isn't true for lots of folks.

To get into this first a very basic take on the framework I think I am using to approach work. I think I have a sense in my head of what the broad objectives are for my job. Then below this are a set of broad tasks that I am required to undertake, and below that sit the day to day stuff that needs doing.

In terms of motivation I sense that the things that drive me to work are either pure enjoyment (because I like getting stuck into a particular task) or a slight sense of dread (can't think of a better word) that if I don't get moving I will not be delivering what I understand to be 'doing the job properly'. But broadly I am using the above framework to judge how I am doing and whether I need to do more. I do not consider the financial arrangements of the job. (As an aside I would add that when I worked at the TUC I also felt a very strong responsibility to try and work in a way that I thought was genuinely of benefit to union members. I'm not claiming that's what I actually did (!) but a broader sense of responsibility was a definite factor in how I approached the job.)

I can honestly say that in none of this does the amount I get paid even enter my head. Going further I can't see how my pay could be structured in a way that would actually get me to do my job differently, because a) I can't see how you could measure some of this stuff in order to tie rewards to certain bits of it and b) I think I would carry on largely as before in any case.

Just as a quick example, in a previous job I was offered a reasonable bonus if I recruited someone for a given role within a short space of time. We quickly interviewed two people who I thought could have done the job well, but neither wanted it. After that I was unsure about other candidates and as a result didn't appoint someone within the timeframe so no bonus. So did the incentive of the bonus work or not? In theory I could have appointed someone I wasn't convinced by to get the money, but I didn't. In practice I think it was simply a dumb idea to tie a bonus to a task like this, but hey.

In fact when I think about it what I get paid has far more importance in my non-work life (making sure the mortgage is paid etc) than in influencing how I work. Maybe if bonuses were a bigger part of it that would make a difference, but in reality I don't think so. I'm interested in the finding that tying rewards to tasks can actually make performance worse, because I think this is exactly how I think I have reacted in such a situation. Instead of simply trying to reach the best decision/do the best job the overhanging knowledge of the incentive makes you second-guess yourself.

Anyway, enough blah for now, but this is a topic I'll be returning to, you lucky people.


Tom said...

How much would what your peers got paid have affected your attitude to the job? I think part of the problem with bonuses in the city was the publicity associated with them meant that a) traders expectations went up, b) their bargaining position was stronger.
Traders were always in a stronger position than most when it came to pay/bonus remunerations because they could point to much clearer profit figures than most people - "I made you £14m last year so I want £2m." If you work in sales elsewhere, overheads are much higher as a proportion of revenue, and if you're back office, it's hard to point to an absolute figure for "added value".

Simon said...

Your argument is good as far as it goes, but -

(1) The bank employees eligible for the big bonuses are as a rule fiercely competitive; they are motivated by the need to 'win' the biggest bonus, as much for the implied recognition as the money. In this respect it is only the relative pay (versus their peers), not the absolute pay, that matters.

(2) The huge sums known to be paid to some individuals are - for the employers - an effective soul-harvesting lure. They offer the tempting prospect that if you devote every waking thought to work, neglecting family, friends and outside interests for 20 years or so, you can maybe retire obscenely fat and happy. No sane individual would sacrifice the best years of their life to a bank without such an inducement. The benefit of this to society at large is questionable!

Tom said...

I just saw this ( and it looks relevant to this post. Anecdotally, it rings true - I know when I have felt I'm not achieving anything at work, my motivation has gone through the floor.