The issue of Incentives Programs in the Workplace in Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work by Alfie Kohn – Article Example

Download free paperFile format: .doc, available for editing

The paper “ The issue of Incentives Programs in the Workplace in Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work by Alfie Kohn" is an inspiring example of an article on management. Kohn, in his article, attempts to explain why incentive plans or reward systems fail to work in most organizations. The advice given to most people and managers makes them believe that reward systems can work better for them. Most of the organizations in the United States have implemented programs with the aim of motivating employees through compensation. The belief that individuals will perform better in the workplace if they are rewarded has not been thoroughly examined.

However, there are findings that indicate the failure of these incentive programs due to various reasons (Kohn 2). Research indicates that rewards are effective in securing temporary compliance. Just like punishment, rewards do not effectively produce lasting change in behavior and attitudes. Individuals go back to their old behaviors when the rewards run out. Psychologists regard incentives as extrinsic motivators and they state that they do not change the attitudes that accompany people’ s behaviors. Incentives do not develop a lasting commitment to any action or value.

Rather, they simply and temporarily change what individuals do. In regard to productivity, research shows that rewards do not produce better work. Thus, there is no correlation between performance and pay (Kohn 3). The main reason why most executives continue relying on the incentive programs is that few individuals have taken the step to assess the link between incentive programs and problems associated with workplace morale and productivity. The author asserts that rewards only buy temporary compliance (Kohn 4). Kohn gives six frameworks that give the exact cost of the incentive programs.

Firstly, the pay is not a motivator. Though individuals are very concerned with what they get as salaries, this is not an indication that money is the motivator. There is no solid basis that when people are paid more, it will motivate them to perform better at work. Secondly, rewards punish. Just like punishment, rewards are manipulative. In both situations, individuals are being caught (that is if one is found doing the right thing he will be rewarded if he is caught doing the wrong thing he will be punished).

The managers are making people feel controlled in the workplace instead of making the environment suitable for progress, learning, and exploration. Thirdly, rewards destroy relationships. Employee relationships are destroyed when they scramble for rewards. Cooperation and organizational excellence are destroyed when individuals are forced to compete for recognition or rewards. Individuals who cannot win feel worthless and the more these awards are exposed, the more destructive their effect can be. Additionally, competition for limited incentives among the employees can make them view each other as a hindrance to their success.

Fourthly, reasons are ignored by rewards. For the managers to solve workplace problems, they must know what caused them. Each problem in the organization requires a different response. Reliance on incentives to improve productivity does not address the problems and cannot bring about significant change. At times, managers usually use incentive systems as an alternative for providing workers with what they require in order to do a good job. Research shows that paying for performance hinders the capability of the managers to manage.

Fifthly, risk-taking is discouraged by rewards. When individuals are motivated to think about what they will receive for getting involved in a task, they will less likely explore possibilities or take risks. Some of the individuals will participate in illegal and unethical behavior because they want to benefit from the incentive program. Studies show that people will tend to minimize challenges when working for a reward (Kohn 6). Lastly, interest is undermined by reward. Like punishment, rewards undermine the intrinsic stimulus that leads to optimal performance. The employee becomes less interested in the work when the manager keeps on emphasizing on what the employee can receive for good work.

It is important for the manager to recognize the psychological factors involved in motivating an employee (Kohn 7). The article thoroughly explains why incentive programs fail in the workplace. The author succeeds in explaining the concept because the emphasis is on why incentives have failed in the workplace. The framework further explains why incentives in the workplace cannot work. One may ask what the managers can do to make sure the incentive programs succeed in the workplace.

The main strength of the points made by the author is the use of research findings to support his arguments. Reference has been made to several research studies. However, there are no conclusive solutions given to the failure of incentives in the workplace.  


Kohn, Alfie. “Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work.” Harvard Business Review (1993): 1-8. Print.
Download free paperFile format: .doc, available for editing
Contact Us