The irony of a “work hard for rewards mindset” | Global Franchise
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Thursday 8th June, 2023

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The irony of a “work hard for rewards mindset”


The irony of a “work hard for rewards mindset”

Did you know that most employees will work harder to avoid losses than to chase a gain that’s packaged in the form of a reward? While counterintuitive to most, let’s explore what’s behind this surprising claim

Think back to your early developmental years. It’s likely that some memories find you feeling good about mastery of tasks that came in the form of praise for having accomplished some type of developmental milestone. Learning to walk, read or having demonstrated appropriate behaviors came with admiration that provided you with feelings of confidence and autonomy. You were motivated, worked hard and were recognized for your efforts (or not).

To this day, you seek the same, an innate desire to feel seen and valued. Cross-culturally, this is a normal and healthy part of the human condition. Everyone deserves it.

The irony is that this type of recognition is actually not a reward. It’s the result of intrinsically motivated hard work that you’ve chosen to engage in, simply for the desire of the task, personal meaning and perceptions of success.

In contrast to self-directed behaviors that lead to some form of acknowledgement, rewards are both externally determined and transactional. According to the Cambridge Dictionary a reward is defined as: something given in exchange for good behavior or good work, etc.

Science has confirmed that rewards eventually cause people to lose interest in the task once the reward is removed. This contrasts with intrinsically motivated behaviors that lead to desired change, persistence, growth and ultimately, a sense of personal accomplishment.

Rewards by their very nature narrow our focus, internal drive and ambition; whereas our values and working in alignment with them, leads to a greater sense of purpose and meaning. When we create and define our own rewards, our motivation, and job satisfaction increases.

So, why do we choose to work harder to strengthen an external system of rewards?

While we may achieve monetary success, we find ourselves stressed and feeling under-appreciated and at risk for impaired emotional and physical well-being.

The paradigm shift in thinking

Prior to the pandemic, social unrest, and other factors that contributed to economic uncertainty, our internal operating principles led us to believe that a “churn and burn” lifestyle would lead to success. Stress and burnout were silently acceptable. Why? Because that’s the price paid to earn the desired rewards. We subordinated our personal values in lieu of an opportunity cost, disguised as a compulsive belief that working harder will bring us closer to our dreams. Let’s explore this from a present-day perspective. Regardless of which region of the world in which you live, chances are, that if asked whether your work values and priorities have shifted in recent years, it’s likely you’d find yourself in agreement with the much of the global workforce. Many have revisited former meanings associated with both, a “work hard” mindset and personal definitions of success.

Across the globe, the pandemic changed how we think about and engage with the practice of remote work. The situation varied widely, depending upon a country’s socioeconomic standing and availability of critical infrastructure. For those countries that could accommodate flexible and systematic changes that allowed employees the option to work off-site, the fallacy of the churn and burn lifestyle and its associated rewards became replaced with priorities that were informed by personal values.

In fact, the experience of remote work helped define a collective employee voice. This voice expressed that former incentives and rewards related to perks and compensation were becoming replaced by wishes for flexibility, purpose and meaning. As a result, feelings of confidence and autonomy emerged, just as they did during our early developmental years. Personal values moved to the top of the priorities list. This honeymoon brought forth a call to action for companies around the world. Yet, the time period for remote work became extended and three-fourths of employees in the United States and close to one-third in the Asia Pacific region described symptoms of burnout, while European nations reported significantly elevated levels of pandemic fatigue. Simultaneously, numerous governmental bodies were providing temporary financial support, which allowed the workforce to continue their contemplation of work-related decisions.

The emergence of a new work-life dynamic

Welcome to the “The Great Resignation, a pivotal moment in time in which employees reconsidered how much and where they want to make their contributions. As a new workforce dynamic emerged, companies struggled with issues of supply chain, increasing financial burdens and responding to the needs of a diverse talent pool.

Employees awoke to the fallacy of a churn and burn mentality for external rewards, replacing it with expectations that companies become more humancentric. In response, companies began to align themselves with the values of their talent pool. For example, mentorship, sponsorship and affiliation programs formerly seen as ‘nice to haves’ suddenly became the ‘must have’ in order to meet employee expectations for connection and support. In transformational ways, the perception of loyalty shifted from employee to employer.

Today’s employees seek connection, meaning and value from their contributions. While they continue to seek security, stability and an ongoing drive to succeed, for many, their definition of hard work and rewards have changed. Aligning corporate values with what is of central importance to employees brings forth a new era of engaged employees who persist. The days of a churn and burn mindset have ended, as have the rewards, which are now defined by employee experience.

Key takeaways from work-life balance

• Our concepts of satisfaction and motivation warp as we become older, and associate work with external rewards

• It’s an entirely normal element of the human experience to want to be seen and recognized for your competency

• There are the behaviors we direct ourselves to engage in for the desire to undertake the task, and there are behaviors we engage in strictly for the external rewards

• We willingly worked within a ‘churn and burn’ lifestyle for the promise of rewards, and accepted burnout and work-related stress as the price to pay for those rewards

• People would sacrifice their personal values in the belief that hard work would eventually bring them closer to their dreams

• The Covid-19 pandemic changed this, and people were no longer willing to pay the price for those rewards, but instead wanted rewards that were associated with their own personal values

• Employees are less interested in perks and monetary rewards but wanted more flexibility, meaning and purpose

• Employees have forced companies to be more ‘human-centric’, and responsive to their personal needs

• Employers are finding that mentorship, sponsorship and afiliation programs are becoming non-negotiable for many employees in the workplace when they were once simply optional extras

• Ultimately, the days of ‘churn and burn’ are over, and employees have shifted the mindset in many corporate environment to place the employee experience on par with the rewards employees receive for their work.

The author

John Kutac is the CEO of Compatmatch, the data-driven business that can use algorithms and data to connect people, from roommates to mentors and mentees.

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