Scientists who measured brain activity as people performed tasks say that while it is possible to get people to work harder, it’s futile to try and get them to work better.
Their findings suggest that the human brain has a limit to how well it can perform certain tasks and that perimeter can’t be pushed – no matter how hard bosses might try.
Brain scans revealed that financial incentives and social pressure do encourage people to work harder but have no impact on their overall performance.
According to researchers, this trend was most apparent when participants were carrying out tasks that required vigilance or attention.
Professor Frank Hartmann of Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management said the results should push HR professionals to reconsider rewards and recognition systems.
“If basic biology limits our ability to improve at certain types of work, we need to think more imaginatively about the way we measure and reward work performance,” he suggested. “It may be much more task specific than we are currently inclined to think.”
Hartmann also said that employers risk exasperating their employees if they don’t acknowledge biological barriers.
“Businesses need to recognise where performance limits may lie and avoid frustrating employees when results do not reflect best efforts,” he stressed.
“Organisations should take care that performance assessments accurately capture the efforts of workers, both to measure whether targets and incentives are effective and to ensure that individuals are rewarded fairly.”
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