Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pay people fair and well

As a teacher who believes students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information, and like Nick Jaworski's post from yesterday, I am often faced with the following challenge:
Don't we all work for pay? How many adults would continue with their jobs if they didn't get paid? Rewards work!
Comparing the use of rewards and bribes such as gold stars, grades and praise to salaries and wages is to confuse rewards with compensation. We all understand that money is necessary in order to live life - but that doesn't make it sufficient.

Most people understand that money can't buy us happiness, and I think most of us understand that those who spend their lives obsessively chasing money at the cost of their families and friends will find that their is never enough money to fill the void.

When people are asked what is the most important characteristics of their own job, money is consistently listed below things like purpose, autonomy, support and progress. And yet when we are asked what we think others' priorities are we place money at the top.

It's likely because of this paradox that most people have a hard time understanding what Frederick Herzberg meant when he said:
Just because paying people inadequately can be demotivating doesn't imply that paying people better will be motivating.
While it's true that people need to be paid that is not the same as saying we can or should use pay as the carrot and/or stick to manipulate those who work for or with us. In fact there is a boat load of research that confirms Alfie Kohn's take on how money should and should not be used with people:
The problem isn't with the dollars themselves, but with using dollars to get people to jump through hoops.

Thus, my formula for how to pay people distills the best theory, research, and practice with which I am familiar into three short sentences:
* Pay people well.

* Pay people fairly.

* Then do everything possible to take money off people's minds.
Money matters but so does motivation, and anyone who is primarily motivated by money is not welcome to educate my children - and I have a feeling you might feel the same way.

I mean, if you were an administrator and you had two teachers - all things being equal - one was motivated by the pay and holidays while the other was motivated by working with children...who would you hire?

In the end if we want children to be motivated to learn or employees to do good work, we would all do well to listen again to Frederick Herzberg:

If you want people motivated to do a good job, give them a good job to do.


  1. Most people, if given a fair baseline salary (a living wage) will work for autonomy, creativity and meaning rather than incentives. It's how the best companies get great work with ethical employees.

  2. You've probably already seen this video, but just in case... Daniel Pink's "Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us" is a classic:

  3. I would add that people need income security as well. Whether a person has a tenured job, or not, they need a sense of job security. It might be as simple as a conviction that if your current position was terminated for some reason, another would be easily available. That sense of security extends to pensions. At the beginning of my career I worked with CUSO in Nigeria. This organization is something like the Peace Corps or VSO (UK). I moved on to Saskatchewan public schools and a friend remained with NGOs in the development. It was a rewarding career for him but he abandoned it. There was no pension and so compensation became more important than the intrinsic satisfactions of his work. He gets dismissed a bit these days, but Maslow had it right.


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