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Do Business Abuse Bounties Work?

Posted on 11/19/13 1:00 PM

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Business Man with moneySince the dawn of business abuse lines, there has surfaced the question of whether or not to offer a cash reward for employees who contact the business abuse line (insert language as to payment for information leading to the apprehension of blah, blah, blah). Many companies wonder if it is worth the cost and more importantly, would such reward offerings improve the number or calls.

It is hard to know if adding a cash reward, a.k.a business abuse "Bounty", will improve calls, until you actually do it. But, if you’ve always offered one, you won’t know the impact unless you stop offering it. It can be a difficult question to answer so let me help - “No, they don’t help and are actually counterproductive.” So now that you know you can either carry on with your life or consider why I feel so strongly against “bounties.”

Social contract vs Financial Contract: In a civilized society, we enage in many behaviors because they are simply the “right” thing to do. There exists social etiquette contracts that speak to the appropriateness of certain behaviors. For example, you wouldn't let a pregnant woman stand just because “you got the seat first”, keep a lost wallet you found (most of us would return it to its owner), or ignore a person screaming for help (you would either assist or call 9-1-1). The Busniess Abuse Line relies on the social contract that states “stealing from your employer is wrong.” We appeal to an employee’s sense of right and wrong when asking that they notify us of bad behavior. When we add a financial compensation component, we shift the social contract to a financial contract. It is no longer the “right” thing to do, but rather it becomes payment for service. People seldom weigh the costs of social contracts, but more frequently tend to weigh the exchange in financial transactions. How much is it “worth” for me to make that call? If they’re paying for information then “someone” else probably called right? What if they think I’m calling just to make a few bucks? We have enough issues already getting employees to use the line and adding more questions with the inclusion of a bounty is not helpful to the program’s success... at all.

Personal Gain from Others Pain: Most, if not all, of us grew up understanding that being a “tattle-tale” is not a good thing. Later in life, we learn that sometimes it is, in fact, the responsible thing to do. Still, most people, especially younger people, do not like the idea of personal gain at the expense of another. While it may be acceptable in certain areas, like competing for a promotion, winning is not the same as gaining from another’s loss. By adding a financial reward, the caller is reminded that they received something for another person’s termination. While such motivation works well when “turning in” violent criminals or child abductors, theft is not viewed with such passion and many people consider such payments as “blood money.”

Nice or Narc: Paying for information raises the question of “why” a person made a call. When there is no bounty, the caller is clearly making the call because they are a nice person who wants to do the right thing. When we add financial compensation they become a paid informant. We can dance around the language we use. We can explain that we “pay” because it’s like profit sharing for the future money saved. That’s still a lot of explaining to do and we are better served to spend time explaining “why” calling is the “right thing to do” rather than explaining why receiving money for calling is the right thing to do.

If you have a bounty or reward on your line, I’m not suggesting that you need to necessarily change that system. If you aren’t paying out a lot of rewards though, you may want to consider re-branding the line sans bounty. If you are considering a reward to increase calls, I would conduct an employee survey and check the sentiment for bounties. I conducted my last survey on the topic in 2005 and not a single employee believed that a monetary reward was necessary or that it would motivate them to call. I think that it is still likely true even eight years later! I believe there are more effective ways to promote getting help than paying for it. If you absolutely want to offer money in exchange for actions that reduce loss, then put that bounty money into a bonus for every employee when a shrink or margin goal is achieved.


 Authored by:

Ray Esposito   Ray Esposito

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Topics: Business Abuse Line/Tip Line