Incentive Reflections

Each of the past two weeks, my current employer offered two mirroring incentives. What I’d like to explore in this Blogcat is my differing attitudes to said incentives.

(NB: The following numbers are fudged, but you get the picture)

I currently work in a low-level sales position, and am required to hit a certain goal by the end of each week. However, two weeks ago, my boss incentivized everyone in my company by offering each of us $100 if he/she reached his/her goal by the end of the day on Thursday. Since my salary averages out to $100 / day, I’d essentially get paid double for the same amount of work on that Friday. That week, I definitely found myself working a bit harder to ensure I secured that bonus. That’s why incentives work – the defining merit of Capitalism.

Last week, however, my boss gave us a different incentive, instead offering the day off on Friday to anyone who hit his/her goal by the end of Thursday. In this case, I’d essentially get paid the regular amount for not working at all that day. Again, I found myself working harder to ensure I secured the bonus. But in week 2, I was definitely working harder than in week 1.

I find it very peculiar that I’m more motivated by a day off than I am by the opportunity to double my daily wage. If the magnitude changed, I think my attitude would as well; e.g. I’d rather double my annual salary than get a full year off work. However, with incentives of this particular scope, I’d much rather get paid and not work than to work and get paid more.

I’m very curious why that is. I actually enjoy my job. Even if I didn’t, the main reason I work is to make money. The other reason I work is that everyone else works. While I felt differently in this regard early on in my life, I wouldn’t be happy to collect a paycheck while doing nothing; not only would I miss out on a crucial part of life that 99.395% of people participate in, but I’d be incredibly bored because 99.395% of people would be working instead of hanging out with me.

So what gives? In general, I’d much rather work than not work, both for money and for other reasons, yet the offer of a day off of work is much more tantalizing than the offer of a day of work for more money. It’s very strange.

What it must come down to is scarcity. If I’m making a hundred dollars a day, I’m getting that money fairly frequently. On the flip side, if I had no job and could work a day for a hundred bucks, I’d absolutely jump at the opportunity. In fact, as I’m writing this I remember doing exactly that back in college; some woman wandered into our frat house and offered Griff, Jake and I $100 each if we helped her and her fiancé move out of their old apartment into a new one. In that situation, $100 in profit wasn’t something I saw too often; in contrast is my current situation, in which making $100 isn’t out of the ordinary – there’s no scarcity. On the other hand, a three day weekend, or any time off work, is a true rarity. Between New Years Day and Memorial Day, I have no days of vacation; that’s 5 full months of 5-day weeks. That’s a lot of $100 days, but none with an open calendar. With free days so few and far between, I’m desperate to capitalize on the opportunity to steal a day away from my daily grind.

Fuck. That reminds me. I really need to get back to work.


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