Unfair pay demotivates all employees – even the high earners

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Anyone who realizes that they are being paid unfairly is usually less motivated to work. However, unequal pay in a company also reduces the willingness of people who earn well to work. This is shown by a new study by University College London, which was published in the online journal “PLOS One”.

Large differences in pay for the same task make all employees more unhappy and reduce productivity. According to the study’s lead author, Filip Gesiarz, these are the psychological effects of inequality of opportunity.

810 study participants were asked to do a simple task for the study for money. They were told transparently that they would receive either more or less money than other study participants for the same task. The extent of inequality was different in three different variants of the study.

Those who see the system as unfair are not very motivated to work

The results were clear: the motivation of all participants decreased when they knew that they earn significantly more or less than others. This suggests that, in addition to structural disadvantages, psychological mechanisms are also the reason why people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more often unemployed and less often at universities. When you know that others are paid better for the same work, it is much more difficult to motivate yourself to work hard.

Anyone who perceives the system as unfair is not very motivated to work – regardless of whether the person earns less or more and, in the latter case, could theoretically even benefit from it.

According to co-author Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of Oxford University, the experiment from the laboratory is an example of how a so-called “poverty trap” arises: “A situation in which disadvantage from random circumstances reduces a person’s motivation to work and worsens their situation . ”

According to the researchers, more research is needed to determine whether inequality of opportunity also has a negative impact on privileged people: They often believe that their happiness is solely down to their talent and commitment.


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