The incentive is viewed as something that motivates a person or employee to perform his tasks or duties. The basic study of the entire incentive structure is the main point for studying all economic activities. Incentive assignments are designed in the context of employee's competition, decision-making, and collaboration. Economic analysis is necessary for societies to highlight the major differences within the incentive structures faced by people who participate in collective endeavors.
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One of the management challenges is to maintain the motivation of the collaborators to ensure that their performance and productivity result in the achievement of business objectives by the expectations of the owners, shareholders, and other interest groups. Motivation can be intrinsic "”completing a task for the satisfaction it provides (Albrecht, 2016) - or extrinsic when an activity is carried out as a result of influences such as rewards, punishments, and incentives.
There is a debate about the effect of extrinsic incentives on motivation. Authors such as Alfie Kohn (1993) and Daniel Pink (2009) propose a new motivational model based on intrinsic motivation. They question extrinsic rewards, administered under the figure of incentive plans, arguing that they undermine the motivation, creativity, and performance of workers, mainly in cognitive or intellectual tasks. Their conclusions are based on laboratory studies carried out with children or students exposed to situations outside of work and in very short periods (mostly in minutes). However, they have not ceased to create a stir among professionals involved in designing compensation and benefits strategies about the role of incentive plans as elements of the total reward.
What would happen, for example, with incentive plans for the sales force or managerial incentive plans? Should extrinsic rewards be discarded and consider only intrinsic rewards such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose, as Pink suggests? Is it true that extrinsic rewards decrease the motivation and therefore the performance of the workers since they divert the focus towards the achievement of the incentive instead of the fulfilment of the work? Are intrinsic and extrinsic rewards exclusive? From another perspective, it is argued that extrinsic rewards are not detrimental to intrinsic motivation and that "total motivation is a function of external plus internal motivation, and extrinsic motivation cannot be overlooked" (Gerhardt, Ledford, and Fang, 2003: 19).
Pink (2009) cites in her book the experimental study carried out by Harry Harlow and his collaborators in 1949, who subjected eight monkeys to the task of putting together a puzzle for two weeks. The study showed that the monkeys managed to solve the puzzle and did it in less and less time, without any extrinsic reward. They did it for the satisfaction of completing the task, which produced an intrinsic reward. Later, by offering the monkeys food as a reward for solving the puzzle, the researchers observed that performance decreased: they made more mistakes and solved it less frequently. They concluded that persistence in completing the task was as much or stronger an impulse than biological impulses or even extrinsic rewards.
Edward Deci (1971) investigated the phenomenon of motivation through an experiment with 24 psychology students, divided into two groups: twelve in an experimental group and twelve in a control group. The task consisted of assembling a puzzle in three sessions of thirteen minutes each. In the second session, the experimental group received an incentive, and in the third, the incentive was removed; furthermore, printed models of the different configurations they were to build were placed on a table, as well as magazines and newspapers. During the thirteen minutes, the participants had eight minutes in which they could freely choose which activity to engage in (assembling the puzzle or reading the magazines and newspapers), observed by the researcher through a one-way mirror located in an adjoining room.
The results showed that in the experimental group, performance increased when the incentive was introduced in the second session but decreased when it was removed in the third session. In the control group, to which no incentive was administered, performance increased from the first to the third session. Deci (1971) concluded that extrinsic rewards decreased intrinsic motivation since the performance of the experimental group was lower than that of the control group. The findings of this type of research - although unrelated to real work situations - have served as the basis for the idea that extrinsic rewards have a detrimental effect on motivation.
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