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Pay People for Commitment, Not for Time or Results With flexible work schedules and performance metrics, a business network CEO suggests a different approach to gauging employees.

By Jurgen Appelo Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Sixty hours per week. That's how much I work, on average, which seems like a lot to some people. However, my job is my greatest hobby and my projects are like my children. Therefore, 60 hours per week is perfectly fine for me. Besides, my number of work hours doesn't matter because I am self-employed. It is mostly irrelevant when or where I work, as long as I get things done.

Because my work contributes to my self-actualization, I think work-life balance is an outdated paradigm. I prefer to live when I work, thank you very much!

Related: Setting Up the Perfect Compensation Plan for Your Sales Team

A similar attitude toward work and life is emerging among many other creative knowledge workers. Work-life integration is all the rage these days. Results-only work environments are steadily replacing old-fashioned flextime policies. Unlimited vacation days are granted to professionals who are treated more like entrepreneurs than employees. And remote work is so fast becoming the norm that we should consider using the term office work as its antonym, for any type of job that still chains a person to a desk in an office building.

These trends have led me to believe that we should bury the concept of the 40-hour work week.

Don't pay for results.

The question is, does time really matter? When Jack can do in 24 hours what Jill does in 40 hours, should Jack still be considered "part time" and Jill "full time"? Is it fair to pay Jack less than Jill, only because his contract refers to 24 imaginary hours instead of 40? When people can work anytime and anywhere, shouldn't we be paying them for results instead of time? Shouldn't we be treating them like entrepreneurs or freelancers, who only get paid for actual value delivered?

I think not.

Indeed, some organizations pay employees for "performance," which seems to make sense in a results-only work environment. However, history shows that pay for performance opens up a whole new dimension of dysfunctional behaviors. When pay depends on measured outcomes, it is virtually guaranteed that people will game the system, aiming for the shortest path to the optimal results.

As social researcher Alfie Kohn once said, "Of course rewards motivate people. They motivate people to get the rewards!"

The fact that pay-for-performance schemes have led to company-destroying bonuses among CEOs, and service-destroying competition among sales people, isn't the only problem. Even worse, when people only get paid for outcomes, they usually avoid experimental learning because experiments can lead to failure, and failure means no income. Such behaviors are the opposite of what businesses need in the 21st century. After all, learning and innovation can only happen through experiments.

Related: 7 Payroll Items to Check Off Your List Before the Year Ends

Pay for commitment.

I believe there is a better way. Instead of using meaningless 40-hour or 36-hour time constraints, and instead of using dangerous performance metrics, in the 21st century we should simply agree on commitment levels. This is how I have defined it for my virtual team:

  • Commitment level 5 (or 100 percent): The money we pay you is your only source of income. You're not financially supported by anyone else (for example, your spouse or another employer) and you're not trying to develop any other business on the side. What we expect from you is total commitment to our organization.
  • Commitment level 4 (or 80 percent): The money we pay you is most of your income. You either have some minor support from someone else (but not more than 20 percent of your income), or you intentionally reserve some time and effort to develop your own business on the side. What we expect from you is high commitment to our organization.
  • Commitment level 3 (or 60 percent): What we pay you is more than half of your income. You either have support from someone else (but less than 40 percent of your income), or you run your own business on the side which generates some minor income. What we expect from you is that you usually give priority to our organization in your commitment.
  • Commitment level 2 (or 40 percent): What we pay you is less than half of your income. You either have significant support from someone else (60 percent or more), or you run your own business on the side that generates a good income. What we expect from you is that you usually give priority to your other employer or your other commitments.
  • Commitment level 1 (or 20 percent): What we pay you is a minor part of your income. You either have almost full support from someone else (80 percent or more), or you run your own successful business that generates a significant income. What we expect from you is that you always give priority to your other employer or your other commitments.

So, how does this work? Easy! Instead of defining hours per week in contracts with employees, freelancers or virtual workers, you define a commitment level. You don't care how many hours they work, when and where, or how they mix their private and professional lives. The only thing you care about is how much you can count on the contributions, effort and collaboration of your workers, in the projects to which they have been assigned.

This is easier to observe than you might think. How fast do they reply to their emails? How often do they show up in Hangouts? How active are they on the organization's social channels? How often are they credited or complimented by their peers? How often are they asked for help? How fast do they offer it? How many ideas for improvement have they generated? And how committed are they to attend company events and gatherings?

There's no need to actually measure any of this. Among co-workers it should be easy enough to identify what commitment level someone behaves at.

Commitment levels can be part of a salary formula, or they can be considered during traditional negotiations over monthly fees or wages. Either way, what you agree on with your professional workers is a level of dependency and collaboration. You should get what you pay for. In the 21st century, with people working anytime and anywhere, continuously mixing professional and private activities, what you should pay for is neither time (which means nothing anymore) nor results (which can be dangerous). What you should pay for is people's commitment to your business.

So yes, I work 60 hours per week, and I feel proud of my results. But in our business I can only commit to level 4, because in between my Skype calls and cappuccinos I'm writing a new book.

Related: Why We Replaced (In)Human Resources with 'Employee Experience'

Jurgen Appelo

Writer, Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO of Happy Melly

Jurgen Appelo is CEO of the business network Happy Melly. He is an entrepreneur, speaker, illustrator and blogger and the author of Managing for Happiness.

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