It’s impossible to improve performance, claims study

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All that effort you put into getting your employees to improve their performance is a total waste of time – at least that’s what one controversial new study is claiming.

Scientists who measured brain activity as people performed tasks say that while it is possible to get people to work harder, it’s futile to try and get them to work better.

Their findings suggest that the human brain has a limit to how well it can perform certain tasks and that perimeter can’t be pushed – no matter how hard bosses might try.

Brain scans revealed that financial incentives and social pressure do encourage people to work harder but have no impact on their overall performance.

According to researchers, this trend was most apparent when participants were carrying out tasks that required vigilance or attention.

Professor Frank Hartmann of Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management said the results should push HR professionals to reconsider rewards and recognition systems.

“If basic biology limits our ability to improve at certain types of work, we need to think more imaginatively about the way we measure and reward work performance,” he suggested. “It may be much more task specific than we are currently inclined to think.”

Hartmann also said that employers risk exasperating their employees if they don’t acknowledge biological barriers.

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

“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.”
  • James on 14/01/2016 11:22:32 AM

    If an employee is underperforming, rather than to solely blame the employee, let's start with a close look at the culture of the workplace and the management. As frequently part of the solution or the problem itself rests there.

  • Louise Steer on 12/01/2016 2:49:12 PM

    Constant micromanagement, nagging, bullying and threats are not conducive to productivity, yet so many legal "managers" still use these methods to intimidate and control staff. That sick culture needs to change, but there are no real signs of change in most firms.

  • Scotty on 12/01/2016 12:23:31 PM

    Let's all relax and everyone gets a gold star. Who would want to exasperate an under-performing employee?

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