Learning & Development

Rewarding Good Work with More Work

It’s great to be recognized for a job well done, unless that recognition comes in the form of more work. Employers and managers should be careful to structure formal and informal incentives to encourage hard work, not discourage it.


Rewards Matter

When an employee completes a difficult project successfully or goes above and beyond, you might expect that employee to be in line for a promotion, pay increase, or bonus. Indeed, these kinds of positive reinforcements are often used to reward and promote hard work.

Less formal and less tangible forms of rewards are perhaps more common—a pat on the back and a “good job” from the boss. While these gestures don’t necessarily put more money in an employee’s pocket, it’s still nice to be recognized and feel appreciated.

But Be Careful

But a small, financially meaningless reward isn’t the worst thing that can happen as a result of a job well done. Unfortunately, many bosses—whether consciously or subconsciously—reward good work with more work.

Consider, for example, a team of five employees who perform the same general job duties and report to the same team leader. If four of the five members do average work at best and one team member always goes above and beyond, which team member is most likely to get assigned important and challenging tasks? Often, these difficult tasks get assigned to the person who does the best work.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Managers are always crunched for time, and they are judged on their teams’ performance. Therefore, it’s quick and relatively easy to lean on proven performers. However, over time, those high-performers might feel they are being punished for their good work while others are rewarded (with lighter workloads) for doing just enough to get by.

Don’t “Punish” Good Work With More Work!

Managers should be conscious of this tendency to unwittingly punish good work with more work. Avoiding that tendency requires a bit of an investment—either increased compensation for those receiving more work or additional time and resources to improve others’ performance so they can effectively share the load. If no investment is made, it can result in top performers’ leaving in the long run.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.