by Roy Saunderson, MA, CRP | September 12, 2018

Effective use of employee incentives can be a difficult task and must be tailored to the needs of your company, the culture, your employees, and the objectives to be achieved. There are a lot of negatives out there about incentives. Rather than dwell on the negatives, let's examine some Top 10 Ways for Overcoming Problems with Incentives by preparing to use them more carefully.


1. When incentives cause people to lose interest in things. Revisit your incentive program to ensure it's designed properly and with the right intent. Communicate what is important and positively reinforce the right behaviors.

2. When incentives are said to lead to unethical behavior. Focus more on the actions and behaviors that lead to the desired outcome versus the outcome itself. Ensure leaders emphasize accountability for moral actions and lead by example.

3. When incentives are said to extinguish intrinsic motivation.
 Harness the intrinsic motivation of individuals to keep them engaged and on task for the long haul. Allow the reward to occur unexpectedly for the results or final outcome.

4. When incentives are accused of diminishing performance levels. Focus on the task at hand by highlighting the purpose of the task and how it will benefit the end user. Let the reward be a given without making such a big deal out of it. 

5. When incentives reportedly impact the level of creativity. If a person's job requires a variety of creative solutions, why not incentivize people for the maximum number of ideas generated rather than just one major idea alone.

6. When incentives supposedly create short-term thinking. Spread out the payment of incentives on an incremental basis using a variable payout structure. Draw upon a long-term, final incentive as the project is successful over time.

7. When incentives are seen as being addictive in nature. Pay people well enough in the first place and give incentives as a bonus shared by the team and not individually. Highlight your vision and values as a higher point of meaning.

8. When incentives reportedly don't last over time. To overcome the quick-fix mindset that leads to only temporary compliance, contractually arrange over a longer time frame how the employee will maintain performance results. 

9. When incentives negatively affect employee relationships. Plan in more collaboration, inclusion, and teamwork to achieve desired performance results, rather than individuals fighting for supremacy. Share the wealth collectively.

10. When incentives are seen as a management pacifier. Never use incentives to abdicate responsibility. Managers still need to treat employees well, and provide positive feedback and coaching, as well as using incentives wisely.

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is the author of "Giving the Real Recognition Way." The Vistance Institute chief learning officer at Rideau Inc., Saunderson provides consulting, learning, and thought leadership services focused on helping leaders and managers give real recognition the right way. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter (@RoySaunderson) and at his AuthenticRecognition.com blog.