Motivated to cheat – Part 2

Motivated to cheat – Part 2

Quote: “…the pay regime fostered an aggressive culture in which staff were motivated to cheat.” This was a reference to Volkswagen’s debacle over emissions testing, now shown also to have been prevalent among other car manufacturers. They never used the word cheat. “Cutting corners” perhaps or “bending the rules” but not cheating. Not that.

From the fishmonger thumping the scales to make the catch appear heavier than it really is to the wobbly roulette wheel tilting results in a casino’s favour, competitive business predisposes its participants to make the most of whatever they are engaged in. As personal consumers we are no better. The insurance claim that includes long overdue repainting of the whole house, the health claim that gives a doctor friend a bit more than he would otherwise get – we max out on ‘getting’, even as we sometimes minimise on honesty.

Then along comes a big economic or political issue and we behave as shocked as a sports coach whose protégé has been found drugged. We are all motivated to cheat; some do so more than others. Competition, we are reminded daily, is about winning. Bonus payments are made for results not for integrity. Coming in second, however virtuously, doesn’t count. If a shove in the tunnel isn’t noticed but gives you an advantage on the pitch, go for it.

From the five motivators I gave you on Friday, four can be implemented or encouraged at least in part by an employer. How much an employer will use fear to motivate workers depends on the balance of power. The law of supply and demand works for labour as for everything else. So the ability of your employer to use fear is partly down to how much s/he needs you, which in turn is dictated by how replaceable you are. Security today demands that you must know more than your boss.

Not all employees are in a position to ‘beat the boss’. Those that can’t and are frightened about losing their jobs can be motivated to cheat. And pressure to succeed when applied beyond what is ‘reasonable’ is the motivator. More money to reach the target – or less for failing to do so – is also a motivator to cheat. But incentives work and are necessary to spur people to that extra effort. And pressure works, but how legitimately do we use it?

The paradox is we need to motivate people but can we do that without crushing them?

I’ll consider that on Wednesday.

Good morning
John Bittleston

We offer our prayers and thoughts for Minister Heng Swee Keat
and wish him a speedy and full recovery from his stroke.