Last week we looked at whether or not performance-based pay-scales are fair (or worth your time). I was going to come right back and list some actual studies about this, but it’s been one of those drama, drama, drama weeks around here (blah). But today, I’ve got some research. However, first a recap.
I’m not on board with strictly performance-based pay. It’s far too variable and a little shoddy in my opinion being that it’s so hard to correctly and fairly prove performance. Most of our reader who commented on this post were also not on board with pay for performance. On that note though, if you visit work-at-home parent sites or writers forums you’ll see that plenty of people are willing to write for low-paying sites who base pay on some sort of performance (i.e. revenue, traffic, etc.). But if these writers are happy with performance-based pay is a whole other question.
Many studies show that performance based pay doesn’t work while of course on the flip side performance-based pay comes out ahead, but only in specific job categories. Some of the studies…
More Work for More Pay? Why Performance Related Pay Doesn’t Work – this piece points to various studies that say performance based pay doesn’t work, including a study by Frederick Herzberg who found that factors contributing to a higher level of satisfaction on the job include achievement and recognition, opportunities for advancement and growth, level of responsibility and the work itself. Factors that contributed to dissatisfaction were things like problems with the boss, supervision, company policies and work conditions, relationships with peers and salary. However, while a poor salary resulted in dissatisfaction at work a higher salary did not have a positive effect.
The Pros and Cons of Performance-Based Compensation (pdf) focuses on pay for teachers, but it’s very interesting all the same. Many of the cons can be easily applied to any job, writing included. The authors of this study take the position that most of the problems with performance based pay can be overcome, but if you read the study, you’ll see that many of the ways to overcome problems with performance pay are tricky, costly and take far too much time. In an interesting side note Obama is all for performance-based pay for educators (which I think is a bad idea considering teachers can’t choose their students).
Research by professor Sam Bowles of the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute notes that paying for performance can actually reduce worker motivation and overall productivity.
What about motivation? A major argument I hear from clients regarding the pros of performance-based pay is that it will motivate writers / bloggers to work harder to promote a site or write better pieces. I’ve personally worked for sites and clients who do pay partially for traffic and it’s not the best motivator. People who like to promote and use social networking will do so and bloggers who don’t like to promote won’t. Pay doesn’t usually play a huge part – especially when many of these clients pay very little in terms of traffic bonuses. It’s usually not worth the time to a writer to spend all that time promoting a post or site when the payout could be very low anyhow.
Studies show that happiness among employees related to bonuses is short-lived and will not continuously motivate individuals. If you start looking around, other studies show that money rarely provides motivation to work harder.
Most importantly when it comes to performance-based pay is how the pay structure is set-up. According to one Inc. piece, “A well-structured incentive program can dramatically boost productivity and provide workers with a sense of shared responsibility. A haphazardly designed program, on the other hand, can make a bad problem even worse.” Frankly, most of the pay-for-performance situations I’ve seen from writing clients have been haphazard, which may be where the problem lies. It’s hard to institute a logical and fair pay-for-performance rate for writers and bloggers.
What does motivate writers if it’s not performance-based pay?
I’m just one blogger, so I can only note what motivates me and what I’ve seen motivate my blogger pals; reasons such as…
Job security – this is hard to come by in the blogging for a living world so if my job feels secure I’m more likely to write good pieces and promote than if my client is continually making site changes and firing people. While I never assume that job security is 100% I do feel better when my client’s not all over the place making weird business changes every five seconds – if a client does act like that I tend to put more time in elsewhere, at sites I trust more.
Fair pay – fair, not bonus pay is a big motivator for me and many other successful bloggers I know.
Steady pay – I’ve taken jobs that pay less but that do pay a decent set amount monthly rather than jobs that promise BIG rewards but no steadiness. As a blogger I’m in a super unsteady career, so I take any steady I can get as a good thing. My bills are set, so unsteady unreliable pay is a big non-motivator for me.
Pain-free clients – some clients are just way less trouble than others. I’m willing to take a little less pay if the client isn’t a total pest all the time.
Those are the perks I like. Those are the perks I’ve heard my pals say they like. I rarely hear any blogger say, “Wow I’m so flipping excited to know that I MIGHT get a bonus this month and MIGHT be able to pay the rent.” Maybe pay or pay based on outside factors you can’t control just don’t motivate.
What motivates you to write better pieces, promote well and in general do a better job for a client?