Positive & Negative Reactions to Employee Incentives

Employee incentives should be designed to push employees toward greater productivity, not to spoil them.

Employee incentives should be designed to push employees toward greater productivity, not to spoil them.

Companies rely on different rewards systems to boost employee productivity. They offer bonuses, work-at-home opportunities and personalized parking spaces, all in the name of nudging their workforce to go that extra mile. Organizational leaders face greater challenges in their quest to motivate and inspire employees. In times of economic downturn, many workers are carrying extra responsibilities and receiving smaller pay increases. Positive and negative reactions to employee incentives offer clues as to what works and what doesn't in today's workplace.


Incentive initiatives don't have to be expensive to have a positive impact. Some companies flex their creative muscles and design rewards that are low cost, in addition to being fun and easy to maintain. HRWorld.com describes an employer who lets people get comfy and cozy by kicking aside their loafers and heels so they can work in their stocking feet. At another company, executives push a coffee cart through offices and serve morning beverages to their staff. As they distribute free java and juice, leaders get to hear what's on workers’ minds while employees enjoy one-on-one moments with senior management.

Understanding What Motivates

Negativity toward an incentive campaign can be an indication that organizational leaders neglected to do their homework. For example, WashingtonPost.com described a business owner who recognized a long-tenured staff member by presenting her with a fur coat. The employee was visibly disappointed when she received her expensive gift because she is a lifelong vegetarian. And not only did she not approve of the choice in rewards, she was disappointed that her boss didn't know she supported animal rights during the 25 years that she had worked with him.

Knowing the Logic

Workers need to know the rationale behind any employee motivational program. Employee incentives that evoke negativity and confusion could end up swaying workers to start brushing up on their resumes. For instance, most employees can appreciate the logic behind a call to action to push sales records by another 10 percent. However, if the company's products are not selling well because nobody wants them, sales bonuses won't inspire the sales force to work harder, CBSNews.com reports. Likewise, many medical communities offer incentives to doctors who increase their patient loads. Those plans can backfire if physicians believe that more clients will force them to spend less time with their existing patients.


Happy employees don't always result in higher productivity, BusinessWeek.com warns. Contented staff members sometimes become so complacent and reluctant toward change that they lose their spirit of innovation. Yet, successful organizations undergo constant change and challenges in order to grow and survive. Negative reactions to employee incentives may be a sign that a company's workforce has been allowed to enjoy their status quo for too long. A reward system must induce employees to wrestle with complex problems and issues, not to cling to their comfort zones.

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