Should managers push employees to do more?

by Lauren Acurantes20 Sep 2016
It may be the manager’s job to push employees above and beyond the job description but a recent study suggests that doing so may lead to more deviant behaviours.

While some employees are already “intrinsically motivated” to do more than what’s expected of them in order to support organisational goals, there are others who need outside factors to be motivated, said study authors Kai Chi Yam, Anthony Klotz, Wei He, and Scott Reynolds.

“We observed that employees who feel compelled by extrinsic forces (supervisory demands, formal and informal norms, threat of punishment) to exhibit the admirable qualities of a team player tend to develop a sense of psychological entitlement,” they wrote in Harvard Business Review.

Going on the theory of ‘moral licensing’, the authors surveyed more than 200 work teams in China and the US and found that employees needing external motivations would ‘bank’ their good behaviour to justify their bad behaviour. 

For instance, helping a colleague out or volunteering to lead a new project now would justify making fun of other employees or stealing office property later.

“[Moral licensing] views morality as a kind of bank account. Good acts build up credits which act as a hedge against the debits of future bad acts. So when we behave badly, we still can consider ourselves, on balance, good people. Or, as in our paper, good employees,” they wrote.

“In other words, compliance leads to deviance.”

The manager’s dilemma now, they said, is how to motivate employees and prevent a sense of entitlement?

The authors advised that employers should tailor motivational techniques “to tap into their intrinsic motives, instead of using a one-size-fits-all motivational technique that will feel controlling to many employees [and] develop a work environment in which people are more intrinsically inspired to participate in pro-organisation behaviours.”  

They advised communicating stories of employees who are intrinsically motivated to inspire good behaviour and ensuring that senior leaders model good behaviour without the need for monetary rewards.

“Ultimately, the key to avoiding the negative consequences of moral credentialing is to create a culture that values and emphasises the intrinsic value of good organisational citizenship behaviours,” they concluded.

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