Do Threats Improve Worker Performance?

July 27, 2012  |  

A group of academics, trying to tackle the country’s education problem, have suggested that the merit pay system we have in place for teachers needs to be changed.

The study, led by Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt, proposes that teachers get paid a lump-sum bonus amount with the threat that if they don’t reach certain goals, they’ll have to pay the money back. “Rather than tap into teachers’ ambition, they’d tap into their anxiety,” writes The Atlantic. The tactic is called “loss aversion.”

The academics conducted a study with kindergarten through eighth grade teachers in a low-income Chicago community participating. They found that those teachers who were at risk of paying back their bonuses if the students didn’t excel actually “over performed.”

Of course, this doesn’t definitively prove anything. But The Atlantic recommends that education reformers keep an eye on this sort of practice. And if it happens in one job field, it could happen in others.

Do you think this is the best way to motivate teachers specifically, and workers in general?

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