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Jewish World Review
July 22, 2010
/ 11 Menachem-Av, 5770
Paying for good behavior is worth every penny
Employers are offering financial incentives so workers will do the right things, and veteran mothers, who have been paying for everything from good grades to made beds for years, are, like, "Duh!"
One program pays employees $10 to $100 a day to take their blood pressure medicine because the health care costs of not doing so can be so high.
Another gives workers time to go to exercise classes and then cuts their share of health care premiums if they show up regularly. Another pays people to stop smoking.
And a church in Jacksonville, Fla., offered to pay the light bills of people who attend services.
There is all sorts of chatter about whether companies actually benefit — in terms of productivity and less time off for sickness — from these financial incentives to stay healthy. It isn't clear whether this changes behavior or whether people revert to their old ways if the incentive is removed.
If there are any employers out there — or churches — who want my advice, I say, pay. And keep paying.
I am a big believer in rewarding good behavior with cold, hard cash, especially when that behavior does not appear to have any immediate benefits.
And I never worried that paying $1 for every book read might not produce a lifetime love of reading. The dollar got the book read, OK?
I paid quarters for math and reading workbook pages that were completed, and for computer games that taught typing.
I paid for A's and B's on report cards. And I once paid my son, Joe, $100 to attend a week of summer school at the University of Maryland in something called "life sciences," and I paid him again to attend a summer school class at the Naval Academy in physics. And I got my daughter, Jessie, and her gal pals into museums with the promise of a "fancy" lunch after.
The money got the job done. I got the educational exposures I wanted for my children and Jessie had money to spend on Barbies and Joe bought those little wizards and warriors that he liked to paint. I think I also "paid" for a paintball gun somewhere along the line.
Let the recriminations begin.
There is no hard evidence that my kids got better grades as a result of any of this financial motivation. And there is absolutely no evidence that I created intellectual gourmands by sprinkling cash around the landscape.
But when you are 7 or 9 or 13, it is hard to see what homework has got to do with the future or why museums are better for you than a water park. And when you are 17 and you want money in your pocket, it is hard to see why you should go to summer school classes instead of busing tables like your friends.
Take it from a veteran mother. If you want your kids or your employees to do the right thing, there has to be something in it for them besides the greater good. If you want your daughter to take over the family grocery shopping, it might mean she gets to buy the fancy shampoo she wants.
One more story.
When Joe was in middle school, he balked at getting up an hour early to practice with the orchestra three times a week.
"This is work," he said. "And I ought to at least get paid what they get paid to work at McDonald's."
"How much do you think they make?" I asked.
"Five dollars," he said, pulling a number out of the air.
"Deal," I said.
He never knew how high I would have gone to keep him practicing with the orchestra.
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Susan Reimer is a columnist for The Baltimore Sun. Comment by clicking here.
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