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The Trouble with Rewards

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The Trouble with Rewards

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The Trouble with Rewards
Organizational Development & Culture

Alfie Kohn is a lecturer and author whose primary focus is behavior management in schools, in the workplace, and in our parenting techniques. In 1993, Kohn published “Punished by Rewards”. In this work, Kohn listed five main arguments against the use of performance-based reward systems. The arguments against such reward systems are:

Rewards Punish
Rewards Rupture Relationships
Rewards Ignore Reasons
Rewards Discourage Risk-Taking
Rewards Undermine Intrinsic Motivation

On its face, it seems contradictory that a reward would be an unhealthy means to assist the process of learning or behaving. How else would the unpleasantries of learning, of working, or of becoming a well-adjusted member of society be relayed, received, and reacted upon? Following is an analysis of Kohn’s main arguments against performance-based reward systems and whether or not there is agreement or disagreement with those arguments.

Rewards Punish
Again, initially, this thought seemed backward. How is possible that an act that is intended to encourage a particular behavior be considered punishment? However, after analyzing the information, I would agree with this statement. The reasons that rewards punish are:

Rewards punish because they are manipulative.
Not receiving a reward that one expected to receive is no different than being punished. •Coercion destroys motivation.(Gleason, 2008)
Punishment and rewards function in the same way.

A real-life example of where I realized that rewards punish occurred at work. I am a service leader and thus am there to assist and direct my peers in their daily work. As such, I also have the pleasure of solving problems that others do not have time to correct. In one such occasion, I was able to restore a customer’s telephone service in very short order. However, as the order was not mine, I instructed my co-worker who was working on this account...

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