Consequences in the workplace are critical for teams, but they aren’t all negative. Some consequences are good, such as reward for a job well done. Others are bad, like providing negative feedback for poor performance.
In one of my previous workplaces, there were some negative consequences for poor work. However, there were hardly any rewards to motivate team members.
Very little training offered, no bonuses and limited career opportunities. Pay rises were rare, because the organisation wasn’t performing very well.
This is fine if you just want people to be grateful just to have a job. But if you want your team performing at a higher level, we need to do better.
A workplace with no negative consequences is a place where dysfunctional behaviour becomes normal and results in a toxic workplace.
Related: Toxic Workplaces: How Leaders Can Stop Them.
A Lack of Consequences in the Workplace Leads to Poor Performance
When there are too many negative consequences in the workplace, generally there is less flexibility. Things must be done a certain way, processes must be followed exactly, or there will be trouble.
This is unpleasant and reduces the autonomy of the people who work there. They fear the consequences of making a mistake. This is an environment where there is no innovation and where failure is not an option.
When there are too many negative consequences in a workplace, fear of failure drives behaviour. Instead of striving because we want to do well, teams chase the target because they are scared of failing.
When people fear negative consequences more than they want to succeed, they will start to learn they need only do “just enough” to ensure they don’t get in trouble.
Once people have done just enough to avoid negative consequences, nothing drives them to do any better.
Why would they put in significant extra effort? They have already avoided punishment and are not rewarded for doing extra.
Examples of Consequences in the Workplace
Consequences don’t always need to be drastic. Sometimes, all it takes is people to see that you are paying attention to performance, to get a good result. Here are some examples of consequences you might use in your team:
- Direct conversations: A direct, private 1:1 conversation can be effective to show your team members that you are watching, and that you care about performance.
- Formal performance management: Sometimes if you aren’t getting traction, you need to resort to formal performance conversations. Make sure your HR department guides you through the process.
- Closely monitoring performance: Nobody likes to be micromanaged. But if you aren’t getting results, sometimes it can be good to check in more regularly with your team member to make sure they’re doing the right thing. You might see a shift in their behaviour.
- Work allocation: If a team member isn’t showing great performance, it may be worth allocating them the more mundane, repeatable and easy tasks in your team. Make it clear that once they can show they can perform at that level, the work allocated will become more interesting and varied.
Finding the Right Balance For Consequences in the Workplace
Having the perfect mix of consequences in your team will give you the potential to do great things.
Negative consequences for poor behaviour or lack of effort push people to produce outcomes to a minimum level of quality.
Even if your team are at this level, you should still achieve minimum standards because people don’t want to be punished.
You also want to pull people upwards to strive for a higher goal by using rewards for good work. People will put in extra effort when they value the rewards that can be achieved.
For more about using rewards in your team, read more here: Do your people care about your team rewards?
What Happens When There Are No Motivators In Your Team?
When there are no positive motivators or pull factors, the only thing keeping people motivated is the fear of failure from negative consequences.
When there are no negative motivators or push factors, you are likely to see low quality and effort from your team. This is because there are no consequences for doing a bad job.
Consider a situation where there are only positive motivators where good work is rewarded, but there are no negative consequences. You will find that your top performers will put in a great amount of effort.
However, only those people that care about the rewards will try hard. The rest of the team may perform poorly because nothing is in place to make them want to try harder.
What are your thoughts and stories on positive and negative consequences in the workplace? Leave a comment below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.
Hi Ben, can you explain what are the implications of not following set timelines
Hi Camille – do you mean when team members don’t meet their deadlines?
Hi Ben, how to handle a worker that comitted mistake?
Hi Ailyn, thanks for the question.
I actually used your question as the subject of a recent podcast episode – you can find the answer here: https://www.thoughtfulleader.com/180/
Hope that helps!