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real issue, the quality of their work with clients, often gets pushed back
and other less important indicators are used to determine merit pay; it is
not unusual for workers to argue for more merit pay for those aspects of
the work for which they are most effective even though they may be of
secondary importance; and that accountability-driven workplaces that
focus on measuring effectiveness are real turnoffs to professionals. As
Kohn (2003, p. 48) notes in discussing the reasons why new teachers leave
In 2000, Public Agenda questioned more than 900 new teachers and almost
as many college graduates who didn
t choose a career in education. The report
concluded that, while “teachers do believe that they are underpaid,” higher sala-
ries would probably be of limited effectiveness in alleviating teacher shortages
because considerations other than money are “significantly more important to
most teachers and would-be teachers.
Two years later, 44 percent of adminis-
trators reported, in another Public Agenda poll, that talented colleagues were
being driven out of
the field because of
unreasonable standards and
Kohn (2003, p. 51) believes that the following reasons explain why
merit pay does not work.
1. Control. People with more power usually set the goals, establish the
criteria, and generally set about trying to change the behavior of those
below them. If merit pay feels manipulative and patronizing, that's
probably because it is.
2. Strained relationships. In its most destructive form, merit pay is set
up as a competition, where the point is to best one's colleagues. It cre-
ates terrible tensions and leads to lowered morale and job turnover.
3. Reasons and motives. The premise of merit pay, and indeed of all
rewards, is that people could be doing a better job but for some reason
have decided to wait until it's bribed out of them. This is as insulting
as it is inaccurate. Dangling a reward in front of workers does nothing
to address the complex, systemic factors that are actually responsible
for poor service to clients.
4. Measurement issues. It's an illusion to think we can specify and
quantify all the components of good client services, much less establish
criteria for receiving a bonus that will eliminate the perception of
5. Manipulating outcome measurements. One of the sad facts of
merit systems is that certain behaviors on the part of the person being
evaluated can improve scores on effectiveness ratings even though
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