Effort Aversion Is the New Lazy
Last fall researchers David Comerford and Peter Ubel published an academic article describing the behavior of choosing less work when the pay is close to the same even if the job is boring. The research has been interpreted many ways over the last few months and I keep coming across it in the business press. It seems as if the idea that choosing a lower wage to do less work and be bored is crazy idea. Since reading the original article in the Washington Post last fall the idea has stuck with me and I realize that we see the behavior play out daily.
No one is going to raise their hand and say ‘yes, I’m the guy that chooses to do less work for the same or less pay’ but many among us are silently raising their hand with the choices they make. The ramifications are vast among us from the recent unemployment benefit debate to the expectation of instant gratification — assumed to be blamed on ’technology’.
Let’s get to brass tax here. Academia may say “Effort Aversion” but we are really talking about being lazy. It may not be proper to call someone lazy in our emotionally sensitive culture, but a spade is a spade. No matter how exciting or inspirational the job is, it is not possible to motivate laziness. This goes against the popular notion that providing purpose driven, exciting, and meaningful work will inspire greatness among your workers. The research by Commerford and Ubel give pause to this idea and places serious cracks in the foundation of a growing tower of business rhetoric.
Daniel Pink’s argument about inspiring workers starts with the caveat of paying someone enough that money is no longer the issue. This remains the bottom line. Pay good workers above market and you’ll start the ball rolling towards getting greatness out of them. Pay isn’t the end all, just the start. Don’t worry about overpaying since it is a safe bet the lazy workers won’t show up. Effort aversion proved that point.