Study Shows that Self-Reward is an Untapped Resource for Boosting Job Performance

Washington,, DC (PressExposure) January 30, 2007 -- A recent survey of 429 certified public managers showed that when doing their jobs, self-punishment techniques are used more often than self-set rewards. Examples of self-punishment techniques include things such as feeling guilty when performing a task poorly. Self-reward techniques include things such as rewarding yourself for doing an assignment well.

The survey was conducted by Dr. Karen Hardy as part of her dissertation entitled "Development of a Model Self-Leadership Training Program for Nonmanagerial Employees" (Nova Southeastern University, 2006).

According to Dr. Hardy, self-reward and self-punishment are two techniques that make up a potpourri of strategies formulated into a concept known as 'self-leadership.' Theorized and defined by Dr. Charles Manz, self-leadership is described as "the process by which an individual uses specific mental and behavioral strategies to influence and lead themselves." These strategies are designed to shape individual performance outcomes.

"Dr. Manz identified three categories of self-leadership strategies: behavioral, mental, and natural rewards," says Dr. Hardy. Behavioral strategies include self-reward, self-observation, self-set goals, and self-punishment. Mental strategies include mental imagery and internal self-talk, which are popular with athletes or with those who compete. Natural reward strategies include building pleasant features into a given activity that may not be pleasant at all.

As a result of the survey, Dr. Hardy found that 49% of public managers establish specific goals for their own performance; 43% use their imagination to picture themselves performing well on important tasks; and 48% focus their thinking on the pleasant rather than unpleasant aspects of their job activities. Over 50% think about and evaluate the beliefs and assumptions they hold.

However, there was a stark contrast between the practice of self-reward and self-punishment techniques. When asked questions pertaining to self-punishment, managers thought the strategies were mostly or completely accurate. Yet, management responses to self-reward questions were just the opposite.

For instance, the survey found that

• Nearly 65% of the public managers that responded tend to be tough on themselves in their thinking when they have not done well on a task

• More than half feel guilt when they perform a task poorly

Yet, to offset the self-punishment activity, a lower percentage of managers were applying self-reward strategies. For example,

• Less than 30% often reward themselves with something they like when they have successfully completed a task • Less than 25% reward themselves with a special event such as a good dinner, movie, shopping trip, etc. when they do something well

The 'So-What' Factor Many may ask why any of this is important. Surprisingly, the findings are more relevant than you may think.

To begin, public sector managers are responsible for maximizing government efficiency and effectiveness through the use of management tools and resources. To ensure that this expectation is met, public managers must tap into every resource available to them. This includes tapping into themselves as a resource. "Something as simple as rewarding yourself with a special event (dinner, movie) or just with something you like is an overlooked, but effective performance tool," says Dr. Hardy.

Secondly, the fact that self-punishment is considered a self-leadership technique implies that it can't be all bad. An article by Christopher Neck and Jeff Houghton in the Journal of Managerial Psychology provides another strategic perspective. Essentially, individuals can use self-punishment to provide feedback for correcting failures and undesirable behaviors. When viewed positively, self-punishment can lead to the reshaping of ineffective behaviors into more productive ones.

However, the inappropriate use of self-punishment strategies coupled with an inefficient dosage of self-set reward could have an adverse affect on a manager's ability to perform. Researchers have pointed out that too much self-criticism and guilt can be a detriment to performance.

"Previous studies have suggested that the practice of self-punishment can deplete an individual from the energy they need to accomplish goals," says Dr. Hardy.

"In this time of performance based-budgets, performance-based contracts, and pay-for-performance in the public sector, managers need all the resources they can get to reach goals and to perform ---even energy!" says Dr. Hardy.

Indeed, as federal government agencies face performance driven environments and begin to transition to new Performance Management and Appraisal systems. As part of this new system, employee performance plans now consists of performance elements geared towards achieving measurable results. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), raises within the new federal pay system will be based on job performance rather than years of service.

"This ties right into the importance of self-reward systems," says Dr. Hardy. "Essentially, by not practicing self-reward, public managers may be putting their individual performance at risk."

Finally, self-reward is important because it recognizes a certain behavior that provided acceptable results. Rewarding yourself is an incentive for repeating the behavior that provided the desired results. In this time of organizational performance and competition, self-reward is one of the most cost-effective ways to boost individual performance.

"A performance tool doesn't have to be expensive to be effective," says Dr. Hardy.

How To Maximize Untapped Resources Here are 10 things a manager or any up and coming superstar can do to boost their job performance:


Dr. Karen Hardy is a senior analyst at the National Institutes of Health. She holds a doctorate in Organizational Leadership and Human Resource Development from Nova Southeastern University and is considered an expert on the subject of self-leadership in the public sector. To get a free copy of the survey report, send an email to
To have this research presented at a conference, contact Dr. Karen Hardy at 240-462-3383 or visit her website at

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Press Release Submitted On: January 29, 2007 at 3:22 pm
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