Learning & Development Asia 2024
Fair treatment boosts employee performance, but not for the money-motivated, research shows

Fair treatment boosts employee performance, but not for the money-motivated, research shows

However, researchers cautioned that motivating the 'materialistic' employees using extrinsic and individual rewards may, in actuality, have more adverse consequences on the organisation.

Treating your employees fairly at work will ensure they flourish, thus boosting the team’s performance, according to new research by Emlyon Business School.

However, it was added, this is not the case with employees who are money motivated. In fact, according to the findings, fair treatment was found to not have any positive impact on these employees' performance.

The research was carried out by Thierry Nadisic, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Emlyon Business School, France, alongside his colleagues, Professor Russell Cropanzano from the University of Colorado, Professor Jessica F. Kirk from the University of Memphis, and Rébecca Shankland from Grenoble Ecole de Management, France. The researchers wanted to understand whether organisational justice – policies and managerial practices that ensure that employees are treated fairly – had an impact on each employee’s ability to flourish within their roles.

To do so, the researchers administered questionnaires to more than 1,000 people that matched the demographics of the French population – in terms of gender, age, region, and social and professional background. These individuals were asked about asked whether they feel confident and capable, their behaviours at work, their level of materialism, and if they felt they’re fairly treated at work.

*While the data is based on findings in France, HRO believes it remains relevant to our readers in Asia.

As derived from the responses, participants who believed they were treated fairly within work were much more likely to flourish within their position, noting that they were motivated to actively pursue common goals and work collaboratively and effectively when they felt that they were fairly treated. In particular, through fair wages, recognition, and the ability to express their views and be treated with respect and empathy.

This fair environment also meant that employees were more likely to support and help each other, as opposed to focusing purely only on themselves – likely due to the fairness creating a more secure, respectful and team-focused environment, rather than competitive and individualistic, which fostered performance.

On the other hand of the spectrum, the research found that employees who cared more about personal benefits such as money, social status, and self-image were less likely to thrive in a fair work environment.

Elaborating on this, Professor Thierry Nadisic said: "It’s always been the assumption that a fair environment in work is a ‘win-win’ for organisations, who are able to help all employees flourish as well as getting the best out of them.

"However, our research shows that this assumption may not always come true. In fact, when people are more materialistic or money-motivated, this approach could not actually get the best out of all employees."

Extrinsic rewards may not be the best option

While the above was so, the researchers cautioned that motivating these employees (deemed as 'materialistic') using extrinsic and individual rewards may, in actuality, have more adverse consequences on the organisation, thus stating that it may not be a good alternative.

It was highlighted: "These individuals may indeed wish to have greater relative rewards and status whatever the level of their contributions - which can be damaging to the wider team.

"Emphasis on extrinsic rewards can also motivate people to engage in non-ethical behaviours that can be damageable for the company since they send the signal that the ends justify the means."

Materialism, the researchers added, seems to be "something of a 'lose-lose' tragedy": materialistic employees are less pleased with their lives and may even harm work organisations when one tries to appease them by giving them what they ask.

To avoid this, employers were encouraged to continue focusing on creating a fair company and team environment, and to tackle or even reduce the level of materialism of their employees by using adapted recruiting, training, rewards and management policies and practices.

ALSO READ: The case for workplace fairness – Why SMEs should care

Photo: 123RF

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