"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fear and incentives

Whilst reading Chris Dillow on incentives, I was reminded about Mr Letwin's remarks a while ago about the need for the discipline of fear amongst public sector workers. I was wondering what kind of world does he live in where fear of losing one's job necessarily makes people behave well, by which we mean in this context: more productively?

I was also wondering what kind of world does he live in where public sector workers don't already fear for their jobs? Being more productive is not necessarily, or even usually, the thing that will get one noticed by management - particularly in jobs where productivity is rather difficult to quantify. As a consequence, workers - in my experience, teachers - will focus on more general matters as well as trying to ingratiate themselves to their managers.

This tends to encourage sycophancy, beggar thy colleague competition, and conformity expressed in the spouting of managerial jargon - rather than a focus on the more narrow specific skills one needs to be good at one's job but which will pass unnoticed by managers who often only understand what you are doing on the basis of memories. And increasingly, they don't even have these. Not an edifying spectacle.
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