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those scores aren't deserved. In academia, for example, high grades on
examinations are a prime way to increase students' satisfaction scores,
one of the significant ways in which merit is determined in academia.
Another way is to have a party or to say excessively nice things about a
class before the survey is given. I've known instructors who even tell
stories about the personal problems they have to gain sympathy from
students and improve satisfaction scores. As one might guess, these
devices cause great unhappiness among workers who eschew them and
who feel that they thereby miss out on valuable raises and promotions.
In Support of Merit Pay
On the other hand, it is demoralizing to good workers to see poorly per-
forming workers receive the same salary increases. It tends to lower the
quality of their work. Why work so hard if the rewards aren't there?
Applying the same salary increases to everyone fails to encourage the
acquisition of new skills. As one of the participants in a workshop I gave
recently said about merit pay, “We have a merit pay system. You get a 2%
raise if you're outstanding and a 1% raise if you're terrible. What kind of
merit system is that? I'm leaving social work because, hard as I try at
work and much as I am told I do a terrific job, I'm not rewarded for my
work. My husband who works in business got a 15% merit salary increase
this year. Some of his co-workers got nothing. It's a tough world out
there. The ones who perform should get the rewards.”
Another student said, “I've been at my agency for 5 years. During
that time I got a total of a 5% salary increase. It's nothing. Before I came
they had a merit system that increases a person's salary for really good
work up to 10% a year, but the workers rebelled and they bagged the
program. The good workers left because they wanted to feel rewarded for
their work. We're left with mediocre to poor workers. I just took a new
job and the response from the agency was, too bad, we'll miss you. They
didn't even bother to ask why I was leaving.”
Recognizing the impact of inequitable salaries for exceptional work-
ers, Van Ark (2002) reports that “dissatisfaction with performance apprai-
sal systems is another of the most common complaints heard among
human service workers” (p. 10). The options for workers are either to
move into administration, where the rewards are better even though the
work itself may not be satisfying, or to “continue their excellent service
delivery without any tangible recognition, which only contributes to
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