Rewarding responsibility: Moving towards an era of positivity
We live in a world where responsibility is an often-celebrated idea but enjoys little enforceability in everyday life. From reiterations on keeping the country clean to maintaining work ethics, individuals engage in umpteen lapses, as evidenced by the staggered results of any mission to inspire responsibility. Part IVA of the Indian Constitution lists out fundamental duties which lay out worthy behaviour to be upheld by citizens but these duties are not legally binding, since a genuine realisation of these can be attained only with their voluntary obligation by citizens. In such circumstances, it is consequential to ask what can be done to ensure that duties are fulfilled and responsible behaviour is ensured across the spectrum. The answer, importantly, might lie in what motivates all of us to go through our daily grinds— reward.
Incentives and rewards are good sanctions to instill responsibility and drive behavioural change, as they do not merely acknowledge nation and organisation building manoeuvres but also incentivise conscientious and sensible performance. To employ a psychological analysis, positive reinforcement or the introduction of a desirable or pleasant stimulus after a behaviour, reinforces it, making it more likely to reoccur. Similar to how punishment is oriented towards curbing socially unacceptable acts, rewards and acknowledgements can go a long way in consolidating and sustaining socially worthy manoeuvres. This can be instilled in organisational structures, our social cohesion, polity and general existences.
A study conducted by Forbes found out that employees whose bosses recognise their accomplishments with praise are 63 per cent more inspired to give their best effort at work. Praise is a good thing to attain at the end of the day, but consider pushing the envelope to include aspects like flexible working, promotions, bonuses and training and development. These can bolster people's motivation to deliver the furthest their potential allows and simultaneously deepens the commitment the organisation has towards them and vice-versa, creating a symbiotic relationship.
To think of the world of parenting, as a noted publication reports, Calgary mom Lonnie Starling was struggling with her eight-year-old son's behaviour and responded with tremendous amounts of praise for good behaviour, leading to the temper tantrums tapering off. "When he does something good, we kind of go overboard. We make a huge deal of it—if he's helpful with things around the house, when he shovels the walk," explains Starling.
This is also a break from an obsolete and negative culture of existence and work. Heidi Lynne Carter notes that while the traditional management style is to focus on pointing out mistakes and what is wrong and issuing a punishment instead of finding what's right and rewarding it, when positive behaviors are rewarded it increases their frequency. It inspires people to do their best, boosts confidence and substantially enlarges their participation and investment in the larger missions they are part of.
Governments control vast amounts of resources to positively reinforce competent and prosocial behavior within its population. They can provide tax deductions, cash benefits, credits for starting a new business, inventions and innovations, conserving energy, doing volunteer work, or exceptional social advocacy and contributions. In fact, even during the response to the pandemic, regimes could have rewarded good behaviour with acknowledgements and benefits, which could have been instrumental in checking the viral spread in the beginning.
This was exemplified by bars offering free beers in Ohio for people who chose to get the vaccine. Adam Strickland, the taproom manager at the Cold Garden Beverage Company offered a free drink upon showing proof of vaccination to his customers, remarking, "Hoping that people go get vaccinated, it's the only hope to get the pandemic under control."
Richard H Thaler in a The New York Times article about making good citizenship fun speaks of the example of China. He notes, over in mainland China, lotteries are used for a different purpose: tax compliance. As in many parts of the world, China has a thriving cash economy, and it is common for small businesses like restaurants to evade paying sales tax. To combat this behavior, the government printed up special receipts that are supposed to be given to restaurant customers when they pay. Cleverly, each receipt includes a scratch-off lottery ticket, giving customers an incentive to ask for a receipt.
These campaigns derive from a positive approach, where instead of chastising people for doing the wrong thing, the focus is on rewarding them for doing the right thing. This is where the difference lies— we use our resources to deepen a community and spread awareness, instead of singling out people for offense. From governance to the workplace to personal lives, this approach can animate magnanimous breakthroughs. Therefore, it is time to build a world with a positive communitarian ethos and incentivising responsibility can achieve spectacular outcomes.
(The author is Founder Upsurge Global and President of SAHE (Society for Advancement of Human Endeavour))