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Tying pay to performance does not work!

As members may be aware, UCU has long stood against the introduction of performance-related pay in UK higher education.  We take this position due to the inherent nature of academic work, which requires long-term vision, patience, and the gradual development of expertise and knowledge — clearly not a match for performance-related pay policies, which encourage short-term gains above all else.

In the current climate, the University of Southampton is proposing the introduction of a new Academic Reward Strategy which threatens to bring related measures into our workplace.  We stand strongly against this move, and will continue to express to the University our opposition to performance-related pay — and the critical importance of non-monetary rewards in any proposed academic reward strategy.

Even in the business world, performance-related pay is a risky venture, and evidence continues to mount that such polices simply do not work.  Employees are encouraged by such policies to seek increased pay as the motivation for doing well in the workplace, rather than any intrinsic motivation.  In the pursuit of such monetary incentives, employees may begin to take risky paths to achieve the required short-term gains.

In fact, non-monetary rewards seem much more effective.  In the case of academia, we expect that many of our members might prefer additional research time, more administrative support, or other similar things much more than a simple bump in salary.  Over the long term, such rewards are much more likely to create better working environments and better research as a result — and in turn, make employees feel more valued for their intellectual prowess.

The link below presents an article* in the Harvard Business Review which summarises the problems with performance-related pay policies — problems which are overwhelming supported by the relevant research literature:


We encourage all our members to tell the University not to introduce performance-related pay measures into our workplace.  Performance-related pay is already known to be bad for business — and the short-termism encouraged by such measures would be even more disastrous in an academic environment.


Eric Silverman

Southampton UCU President

*Many thanks to Moray McAulay for the link.

One Comment

  1. Marius Kwint says:

    All strength in your struggle against the crass reductionism of PRP. You’re right to say money is a poor motivator–and look where rewarding capitalist risk by bonuses has got us. People go into academia for the research opportunities and relative freedom it offers, not the cash, and will dig deep to fulfil their aims, but not their pockets.

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