Job success is hardwired into employees from birth, study finds

Social pressures or rewards such as bonuses made candidates work harder. But rewards did not improve performance, according to a new study.

Hard work will only improve your career performance so far, according to a study.

Academics from the Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management and the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia carried out a study in which 30 financial managers’ brain activity was measured while they performed a series of computer-based tasks.

Three different exercises surveyed their ability to assess information under different time pressures and types of distractions.

The results showed that social pressures or rewards such as bonuses made candidates work harder. But rewards did not improve performance.

Professor Dr Frank Hartman, professor of management accounting and management control at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, said that if basic biology limits our ability to improve at certain tasks, we need to think more imaginatively about how we measure and reward work performance.

“Businesses need to recognise where performance limits may lie and avoid frustrating employees when results do not reflect best efforts.

“Organisations should take care that performance assessments accurately capture the efforts of workers, both to measure whether targets and incentives are effective and to ensure that individuals are rewarded fairly,” Professor Dr Hartman said.

Dr Ian Selby, Director of Research and Development at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), added:  “Modern companies have a large set of incentives available to them, yet many keep reaching for two in particular: exerting pressure from above, or incentivising through bonuses. In many cases these tactics work, but as this research indicates, sometimes these are simply the wrong tools for the job.”

He compared the tactics to a builder trying to make an entire house just using a screwdriver and a hammer.

Managers who participated in the study were from 24 to 52 years old with nearly 13 years of work experience on average.  They had an average of 17 years of education, and most of them held a master’s degree in business, economics, accounting or finance.

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