Why Incentives Don’t Actually Motivate People to Do Better Work

“Psychology research shows that rewards only yield “temporary compliance”: your behavior might change for a period, but it’ll slide back like so many failed diets. As social scientist Alfie Kohn has observed at the Harvard Business Review, rewards like money, vacations, banquets, and plaques do little in the way of changing people’s attitudes. It’s the same reason why offering incentives to quit smoking, lose weight, or use a seatbelt are terrible strategies for making long-term behavior change.

“Incentives … do not alter the attitudes that underlie our behaviors,” Kohn says. “They do not create an enduring commitment to any value or action. Rather, incentives merely–and temporarily–change what we do.”


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