When Incentives Don’t Work, The Great Withdrawal

A company I worked for, just like another company I turned down an opportunity to work for, had incentives for meeting goals or sales targets. Obviously nothing new to many. Often you could make a bonus or a commission percentage of your sale, which wasn’t bad either. But the things that struck me were the incentives/rewards for being the top seller.

Both companies offered a cruise for the top sellers and one company offered (or at least showed) their top sellers sports cars as an “enticement” of sorts. I remember the supervising salesman asking me if I wanted to go on a cruise. I didn’t answer immediately and he looked at me, most likely noticing my look of displeasure. I don’t remember if I told him that I got enough of a cruise when I was deployed in the Navy, but I am sure that I told someone in the other company the same thing. I consider a cruise with members of the corporate office a negative incentive. (I think a sportscar is not a good reward. It can become a money vacuum and it isn’t practical for certain people, including yours truly).

I also thought that actual “tools” or “instruments” made more sense in the long run , especially for the “boots on the ground” folks.

Hard segueing to negative incentives, I had known someone who was largely immune to negative incentives/punishments onboard my ship. The sailor in question would do every mundane punishment designed to push a non-conformist into a conformist. He would hear every spiel designed to emotionally blackmail him into submission, but the powers that be were never successful. He just didn’t care. He would bounce back after being punished. The sailor held no ill will. I admired him.

In the long run, I noticed similarities between my different workplaces. The negative incentives didn’t work for many. Many different people didn’t care about the positive ones, (including the chance for promotions or praise). There was also an increasing amount of people that were losing a human incentive to work. This was not out of laziness but out of having nothing tying them to the job.

A few have overcome “money” or at least their mental disenfranchisement has. People are falling out the workplace, not due to sloth but due to they feel that the “protestant work ethic” or American dream arguments are false. The incentives can’t overcome soul sickness or malaise. Or in my case, bad marketing and falsehoods couldn’t overcome logic/reason/practicality.

I had felt that there were few incentives to keep me in a certain workplace, especially after when the low hanging ones were pulled away. The idea of letting the workforce buy into the business was shutdown. I was never home to spend the money that I earned and I find that smart people can see through a working schmuck flaunting possessions. There wasn’t professional development, actual worthwhile training, or an opportunity to work elsewhere. In the end, there was getting fired as a negative incentive. It wasn’t that bad. I found out that I was better off doing other stuff.

Some believed in working toward a cruise, sportscar, or a Shawshank Redemption style “shitty pipe dream”. I believed in logic and reason instead.

Thank you, Red. It is not just a shitty pipe dream when you let go. They don’t have to own your mind.

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4 Responses to When Incentives Don’t Work, The Great Withdrawal

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