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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
equity theory and keeping employees motivated, January 20, 2008, 2D.
As a kid, I was
taught that there were certain questions that you did not ask adultsdoing so was
considered inappropriate and rude. These
included questions about age, weight, and income.
organizations, questions and talk of pay and compensation among coworkers is also taboo. Workers intentionally avoid discussing the subject
with coworkers and managers often try to keep the pay and compensation of organizational
members known only by those involved in payroll-related functions. The reasons for keeping pay and compensation a
secret is probably less about being inappropriate and rude and more about keeping workers
motivated, productive, and feeling that they are being treated fairly and equitably.
Stacey Adams, in
his Equity Theory research from the early 1960s, gave explanation to how and why knowledge
of the outcomes that others receive from their work influences the performance and
motivation of workers. In his classic study,
he designed an experiment where the quality and rates of work on a task were recorded for
subjects in his study. After a baseline
performance was determined for each subject, the researchers planted a coworker, who was
part of the study, into the experiment. The
planted coworker worked along side the subject doing an identical task. After a certain amount of time, the planted
coworker told the subject how much he was being compensated for the task and revealed his
supposed background and qualifications for the job/
learned what the coworkers were being paid and their backgrounds and qualifications, the
researchers studied the effects of that knowledge on subsequent performance of the
subjects--on their quality and rates of production. In the experiments, the
researchers manipulated the information they revealed to the subjects. In some
cases, the planted coworkers reported that they were paid more than the subjects and in
other conditions that they were paid less. Adams also changed the supposed
qualification levels of the planted workers--sometimes subjects were more qualified than
the planted workers and sometimes they were less qualified.
that workers perceive themselves as being over-rewarded, under-rewarded, or
equitably-rewarded in relation to the outputs and inputs of their coworkers. When subjects felt that they were being
compensated fairly with respect to the rewards and qualifications of the coworkers, they
did not alter their performance after knowledge of their coworkers compensation was
revealed. In cases where subjects felt over-
or under-rewarded in relation to their coworkers, their performance changed after they
learned what the coworkers were being paid. Subjects
changed their rates and quality of work to restore perceptions of equity with their
coworkerssometimes the changes would be beneficial to an organization and sometimes
Theory has many implications for managers and organizational policy makers. As a motivation model, it has direct bearing on
policies such as wage and salary structures, compensation and benefits, training and
development, and employee attitudes and morale.
Managers should fully investigate and the concepts of Equity
Theoryasking questions about these concepts is expected and required.
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