Examining performance-related bonus and autonomous motivation: self-determination theory in a work organization, PhD conference (part of the 3rd annual Birkbeck Business Week), Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK, 25 June 2012

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 1 January 2013

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Hewett, R. (2013), "Examining performance-related bonus and autonomous motivation: self-determination theory in a work organization, PhD conference (part of the 3rd annual Birkbeck Business Week), Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK, 25 June 2012", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 12 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/shr.2013.37212aaa.014

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Examining performance-related bonus and autonomous motivation: self-determination theory in a work organization, PhD conference (part of the 3rd annual Birkbeck Business Week), Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK, 25 June 2012

Article Type: Resources From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 12, Issue 1

At the PhD conference, I talked about my research, which focuses on the impact of performance-related bonuses on motivation. The research draws on self-determination theory, a theory of motivation that emphasizes the importance of high quality, not just quantity, motivation. This higher quality motivation, known as autonomous motivation, is when people put effort into work because they enjoy or value what they are doing. More autonomous motivation has been related to greater performance, engagement and wellbeing.

A controversial theory

Despite the obvious application for this in workplaces, the theory has been relatively neglected in work psychology and most of what we know and understand about autonomous (better quality) motivation comes from education, health or sport psychology. But interest for the theory is growing; in 2010 Dan Pink used it as the basis for his book; “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us,” which became a best seller in the US and Europe.

The book draws on self-determination theory and its most controversial claim; that introducing rewards to tasks which people previously found interesting can reduce their autonomous motivation by making them feel controlled. This then has detrimental effects for outcomes such as performance, engagement and wellbeing.

Testing the theory

My research tests this suggestion for the first time in relation to real workplace rewards. A group of workers in one organization was surveyed before and after the annual pay and bonus review to find out about the quality of their motivation. All of the employees were eligible to be considered for a bonus, but only half would expect to receive one.

The research findings broadly suggest that individuals who were previously autonomously motivated (because they enjoy or value their work) were less so after they received a higher bonus. This is less true of those receiving a smaller or no bonus. The context of the bonus also seems to be an important factor; with job autonomy and managers who encourage their staff to be autonomous both reducing the negative impact of bonus on autonomous motivation.

The research also confirmed that more autonomous motivation did relate to productivity, engagement and wellbeing. The conclusion, then, is that bonuses can reduce interest or value in the work and be negative for employee attitudes and performance, but job autonomy and autonomous managerial support can reduce this.

Rebecca HewettPhD researcher and HR professional.

For more information

Visit: www.bbk.ac.uk/orgpsych/research/phd/RebeccaHewett