Do bonuses create deceitful employees?

Crossed fingersIn the last four months, we’ve worked with no fewer than 6 senior women who were considering leaving their jobs. Let’s make no mistake, these were jobs where they were getting favourable reviews, where they were well-respected but for some reason or another, their ‘heart wasn’t in it.’ When we unpicked what was missing, there was a dismay  they had risen, but were often surrounded by people they felt routinely stole others credit or who were ‘in it just for themselves’ – particularly when it came to bonus time.  This dissatisfaction was increasingly at odds with how the women wanted to lead and work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, research shows that ‘deceitful’ organisations where this type ‘every man for himself’ behaviour is commonplace, have hugely unproductive cultures.  According to research by D. De Cremer on ‘Self-sacrificial leadership and follower self-esteem: When collective identification matters’ published in the journal of Group dynamics, Theory, Research and Practice in 2006, these organisational cultures are hotbed of problems. De Cremer found employees in deceitful organisations have much less commitment to them. They express greater dissatisfaction, less trust amongst colleagues, poorer performance, higher turnover and an unethical organisational climate.

These types of organisations are much more common in English speaking countries and less so in Northwestern European countries. While these countries have many cultural differences, one key disparity that may be related is the level of childcare provided by businesses and the government. Additionally, family leave is more likely to be shared by both parents, thereby decreasing the chances that new mothers are seen as soft targets in the distributions of bonuses.

If you are looking for a way to foster teamwork and efficiency, get rid of or at least significantly reduce your current bonus offerings. Create smaller spreads in the bonus gap between the biggest winner and the last ‘loser’. It’s vital people don’t have so much to individually gain from fighting for credit and sabotaging colleagues, and can spend time actually working. Only then will your organisation see a reduction in sabotage, politicking and maximisation of effort.

To avoid sabotage amongst colleagues, should we do away with bonuses? And if not, how do we create a smarter bonus system?

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