Why Employee of the Month Programs Don’t Really Work

As a total-time college student and a half-hearted retail personnel in the 1990s, I labored in the course of my getaway breaks at a bath products retail outlet. Our storage area was small, and we shared place with the neighboring outfits retail outlet.  Each time I went to the split home, I had to pass their staff of the month board.   

Yr right after yr, getaway right after holiday, I observed it was the identical worker. As pointed out in their list of leading performers, no other employee came close to her devotion for providing pre-teen fashions. The board boasted her revenue numbers, shown her corporate awards and pictures of her with the company’s leadership receiving plaques and certificates.  

The staff ongoing to shatter product sales information. Inevitably, the board shifted to exclusively tracking the all-star as she competed nationally to outsell staff at other destinations. A cartoon thermostat depicted her stop objective, and the increasing paper mercury confirmed her soaring development. It was amazing, but I experienced to speculate — was it worth it for any other staff to even try? They’d by no means reside up.   

Worker of the thirty day period courses are generally attributed to psychologist B.F. Skinner and his thought of behaviorism. In his do the job, Skinner instructed that optimistic reinforcement, this kind of as a reward or acknowledgement, strengthens a wanted habits. Fulfilling staff for many years of provider or superb general performance was considered to be a way to improve the ideal actions.  

Social scientists, nevertheless, are significantly understanding about social comparison and how it motivates habits.  Social comparison takes place in equally own and experienced options, and it can be manipulated to enhance productiveness at perform. But experiments have also discovered that the wrong set-up can have disastrous implications for the company —and the staff held up as a shining case in point.  

Up and Down  

Students have long regarded as social comparison as portion of the human practical experience. In the 1950s, the notion grew to become a lot more operationalized as scientists regarded how social comparison functioned and what it meant to the unique. Leon Festinger was credited with coining the time period in 1954 in his function examining how teams connect and come to arrangement.  

Festinger theorized that social comparison happened in smaller groups when a particular person desired to consider their thoughts or qualities and did so by internally comparing them selves to some others. With social comparison, a man or woman sought information about how they associated to the group, and when compared themselves with someone who was comparable or experienced related characteristics, a system afterwards called similar-level comparison.   

As other students analyzed the idea, they identified there were predictable conditions in which men and women compared themselves with others. Downward comparison, for case in point, was typically observed in scenarios in which a individual felt threatened and deliberately selected a comparison goal who they considered much less capable.  Extra recently, studies have discovered that social media end users upwardly examine when they have interaction with consumers they deem as individually or professionally thriving.   

Whether upward or downward, inspiration for social comparison is attributed to a motivation for self-improvement or self-analysis, both of those of which add to a person’s feeling of self-well worth. And it is centered on a person’s travel to comprehend who they are with respect to a shaped group.  

Each and every group has its individual lifestyle, and since social comparison is a cultural construct, scientists discover that some teams, particularly workplaces, nurture social comparison. But the repercussions really don’t generally operate as intended.   

‘I Sense Bitter’ 

Different corporations use social comparison, these kinds of as personnel of the month honors, to inspire upward social comparisons. Businesses also use staff rankings to encourage competitive behavior or present competitive benefits packages. That way, the maximum carrying out personnel earns recognition that some others do not.  

Studies have identified that envy can inspire productivity, but it can also trigger unfavorable feelings that lead to reduced productivity and sabotage or assaults on the staff held up as a purpose product.   

In one particular analyze published in 2007 in the Journal of Used Psychology, participants had been requested to consider about their workplaces and upwardly review on their own with an personnel of their decision.  They had been then questioned to fill out a questionnaire regarding their inner thoughts toward the worker such as, “I feel bitter” or “I at times come to feel hatred toward X.”  Participants then finished a questionnaire as to how usually they engaged in hostility or attempts at sabotage against the other personnel. The review uncovered that feelings of unfairness and envy exasperated the participant’s hostility toward the other personnel. They admitted to slowing down the target’s correspondence, talking about them powering their again, and actively striving to induce them challenges.  

Social comparison also lessened personnel goodwill. A single review adopted financial institution tellers who were being up for a marketing but dropped the chance to a different worker.  Prior to losing the posture, the lender tellers rated the other employee as equally likeable and related to by themselves.  Soon after the promotee assumed their new part, the rankings fell and emotions of dislike increased.   

So would the all-star personnel I noticed in the nineties have been issue to sabotage?  Did she inevitably have to consume lunch alone?

Not just. Rather, her employer structured a overall performance competitiveness, which scientific studies find can spark envy. As a substitute of incentivizing staff members to upwardly evaluate on their own and aspire to do far better, workforce are far more apt to engage in counterproductive behaviors at operate, such as making an attempt to undermine the focus on. The result is that company-sponsored social comparison can lead to staff members getting rid of have confidence in with each other.  Not astonishingly, scientists endorse businesses preserve their incentive packages — but maybe keep the rewards them selves quiet.