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Offering silly rewards only encourages slackers

The idea for this column came from a letter I recently received from a school district in our three-state service area. They wanted the BBB to make a cash donation to help pay for prizes. The program runs from January through the end of the school year and offers prizes to students who are not tardy or absent in 10 segments of 10 days each.

Yes, if you show up and on time for TEN FULL DAYS you get rewarded! The letter tells me that poor attendance is the number one factor why students do not graduate from high school.

OK, I get rewarding good behavior, but is this a longterm solution? Where are the parents in this equation? When did it become the school’s job to focus this kind of attention and resources just to get kids to show up?

I recently became aware of the following story. It was “Jeff’s” first serious job, and we all know that it’s seldom viewed as a career, just as a first step. When the boss called Jeff into his office, Jeff was nervous, to say the least. But the boss had a big smile on his face, which helped Jeff to relax a bit. He took the chair he was invited to sit in and wondered what the boss would say. After all, he’d only been on the job for six weeks.

His boss began to rave about what a great addition to the team Jeff is. He talked about his work ethic, getting there well before it was time to clock in, seeing what needs to be done, asking good questions and really taking care of the customers. Jeff was a bit shocked and later that night called his sister to debrief. They both agreed that this is just normally what you do in life and could not understand why this boss was so appreciative. Sadly, it’s probably because the common sense and personal responsibility Jeff and his sister possess are rare anymore. .

Yes, as employers we are excited to have someone join the team who understands expectations, gets to work on time every day and really sees the big picture. Critical thinking and systematic problem solving are skills that fewer and fewer people seem to have. Many entry-level staffers expect big paychecks and ultimate flexibility in their responsibilities from day one. Everyone is a winner! Rewards are expected for the simplest tasks, and some expect a parade if they hit one goal or complete a project.

Learning that for every action there are ramifications, and then taking responsibility for your actions, should start at home and be continued at school. Something is very broken. Are we so focused on reducing dropout rates that we are creating longterm problems?

Take a kid who gets rewarded for perfect attendance in 10-day batches. Fast forward to college and you have created a monster. My husband teaches at a private college. His class is built around participation and he made it clear to the students that they could miss two classes without penalty. But after that, unless there was a special circumstance, each absence would reduce their final grade by half a grade. One student missed seven classes, sinking his grade to a D. He challenged the grade and thought it punitive to reduce the grade because he failed to live up to his responsibility to attend class! How dare he ask so much from a student?

Later on, imagine hiring a student like this to work for you. You might be baffled as to why she can’t seem to make it to work on time, or five days in a row. He might be shocked to receive a poor performance review due to spotty attendance and continue to be surprised when he is terminated because the behavior did not change. After all, they got prizes when they made it to school 10 days in a row.

Sometimes you need to make sure you are not so focused on one statistic that you lose perspective as to the big picture. Let’s reward true excellence and not mediocrity. Let’s quit lowering the bar.