Ask Ariely: On Punctual Pals, Valuable Voters, and Empowered Employees

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Hi, Dan.

I have a dear friend who is always late. I love spending time with him, but I can’t help feeling miffed when I’m kept waiting at a noisy bar, twiddling my thumbs and checking my watch. He often turns up after a half hour with an elaborate excuse about the subway system or a snafu with his dog. His wonderful company usually makes me forgive him, but this pattern of wasting my time is really frustrating. What can I do?

—Charles 

Unfortunately, waiting around for your friend to show up is probably reinforcing his behavior. I would suggest setting a strict deadline and sticking to it, though this might cause some friction initially. When you make an appointment, warn your friend that you are only going to wait for 10 minutes; if he doesn’t show up by then, leave. Over time, this should teach your friend to be more punctual, which will help his relationship with you—and maybe with others as well.

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Hi, Dan.

Many of my friends and coworkers say they care about voting, but their spotty track record suggests otherwise. How can I convince them to go out and vote in the upcoming election?

—Georgia 

My guess is that your friends are not lying to you—they do care about voting, and they may even plan to vote. But on Election Day, they get derailed by other obligations. To change their priorities, I would try to make the voting process a social event. Invite your friends and coworkers to meet at a bar or restaurant near the polling place, and when they show up, tell them that you’re buying beer only for people who have already voted. Encourage them to go to the polls in small groups and come back quickly. By combining fun and personal accountability, you’ll make voting much more compelling.

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Hi, Dan.

I work for a tech company, and our performance reviews are coming up soon. The reviews are used to determine who will get a bonus. Unfortunately, my performance is usually in the middle of the pack, and I have yet to receive a bonus. I understand the logic for giving bonuses to the most productive employees, but I can’t help feeling disappointed, and my motivation is suffering—which makes my chances of getting a bonus even lower. Do you think that bonuses are a good way of motivating employees?

—Kayla 

Bonuses are a more complex topic than most people think, and it’s certainly not the case that they always lead to better performance. A few years ago, my colleagues and I worked with a large company that gave its top employees weekly bonuses, which could make up as much as 30% of their income. Obviously, the good employees got the bonuses week after week, while the not-so-good employees got nothing.

By changing the way that performance was calculated, we enabled average employees to earn bonuses from time to time. The result was that the company’s overall productivity increased. Why? Because the motivation of middle-of-the-road employees makes a meaningful contribution to the bottom line. A good incentive system has to take into account the fact that feeling valued and acknowledged is important to everyone.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.