Rewards can either be classified as intrinsic – namely those that satisfy the employee through the job content, or extrinsic – which are rewards external to the job itself, such as the provision of bonuses and promotions. The magnitude of the motivating potential inherent in rewards varies among employees according to their different abilities and needs.

However, the reality is that choosing to pursue an extrinsic reward may cause the loss of certain resources but allow for the attainment of others. Thus, employees are required to assess the benefits and consequences of their reward choices prior to engaging in a certain level of reward-seeking behaviour.

It is important to specify that the process of reward-seeking and reward outcome are different concepts. The process of reward-seeking is deemed to be prompted by the expectations and motivation of engaging in such behaviour while reward outcome re­lates to the actual output resultant from that behaviour.

Despite the vast research on the productive aspect of rewards, little is known on how the changes in employees’ behaviour, made to enhance their chances of achieving a reward, influence their well-being. There is no consensus in the literature about whether the change in behaviour, influences positively or negatively employees’ well-being.

Employees may be classified into four main categories, namely highly motivated, apathetic, work-life balanced and work-life imbalanced

It is thus time to restore employees’ well-being to the centre of rewards since the cost of changing behaviour may have an impact on the well-being of that particular employee. A study has been conducted to address this core gap and overall the results strongly support the idea that whilst almost everyone values rewards, employees differ in their willingness to engage in reward-seeking behaviour and its influence on well-being.

Indeed, employees may be classified into four main categories, namely highly motivated, apathetic, work-life balanced and work-life imbalanced. A neutral position has also emerged which incorporates those employees who opt to do their work without giving any consideration to the bonus or promotion opportunities.

A highly motivated employee allocates considerable time and high levels of energy towards attaining a reward while an employee in the apathetic category engages in low levels of reward-seeking behaviour. These two extremes are dependent on the value given by the employee to a bonus or a promotion, that is, when the reward is meaningful, the reward-seeking behaviour increases and vice-versa.

Employees in the work-life balanced category consciously engage in low levels of reward-seeking behaviour to maintain an acceptable balance between work and their personal life for the sake of their positive well-being. In contrast, work-life imbalanced employees engage in high levels of reward-seeking behaviour as the reward takes priority over their personal life and in the long run it affects negatively their well-being.

The study confirmed that employees seek a balance bet­ween the time allocated to their work and their lifestyle or personal life. This is only achieved when employees properly prioritise between their work and career ambitions, and their well-being including health, leisure and family.

However, an employee may go through every category at certain points in their career depending on his/her expectations and satisfaction of basic psychological needs. This in view that employee engagement in reward-seeking behaviour is not constant throughout an em­ployee’s working life but varies in accordance to the timing of re­ward and personal circumstances.

Tania Camilleri has a doctorate in Social Sciences and is a freelance specialist on training and employee development. She currently works at Bank of Valletta’s Ethics and Employee Development Unit.

This article was adapted from the author’s doctorate in social science thesis entitled ‘Expectations, Self-Determination, Reward-seeking Behaviour and Well-Being in Malta’s Financial Services Sector’, which degree was partially funded through the Malta Government Scholarship Scheme.

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