Reward Power: The Art Of Using Rewards For Motivation

Last updated on September 15th, 2023 at 09:43 am

We employ reward power to have a child do something or get an employee motivated. It is a powerful tool to control human behaviour. But is that all there is?

As one of the seven types of powers, reward power has a significant impact on different aspects of our lives, including education, the workplace, and social interactions.

In education, teachers can use this power to encourage students to work hard, achieve their academic goals, and form positive behaviors.

Likewise, in the workplace, managers can use it to motivate their employees to reach their targets and improve their performance.

It is also essential in social interactions as people often use rewards to influence the behavior of others, such as giving compliments or gifts to get someone to do what they want.

In this article, we will explore everything about reward power, including types, pros and cons, implementation, and negative effects.

Definition of Reward Power

Reward power is one of the six types of power, as identified by French and Raven.

It refers to the ability to use rewards to influence others to act in a certain way, and its effectiveness depends on the degree to which the reward is perceived as valuable by the person receiving it.

It is a type of power that a person or group holds over others based on their ability to provide rewards or positive outcomes such as praise, recognition, incentives, bonuses, promotions, or other desirable outcomes.

The power of reward is based on the recipient’s perception that the individual who holds this power has the ability to satisfy their needs or desires.

It can be used to influence others’ behaviour, motivate them to perform specific actions, or create a positive work environment.

It is often used as a tool for leadership or management in organizations to achieve their goals by incentivizing or rewarding their employees for their performance, loyalty, or good behavior.

A Brief History of Reward Power

The concept of reward and its power has been a topic of interest for scholars, philosophers, and social psychologists for many years.

In the 1950s, social psychologists, John French and Bertram Raven introduced six types of power, including reward power, in their research on social influence.

They argued that the effectiveness of a reward depended on the degree of its value and the person’s perception of its worth.

Related: Different Types of Leadership Styles

Many researchers have since then studied the dynamics of this type of power and its impact in various fields, including education, family, and organizational behavior.

Today, it remains a crucial tool in social influence and plays a vital role in shaping human behavior.

Examples of Reward Power

  • For example, a manager may have the power of reward over their subordinates because they have the power to provide bonuses, promotions, or extra vacation time.
  • Also, a teacher can use rewards like grades, positive feedback, or extra credit to encourage their students to behave in a certain way.
  • A manager giving an employee a raise or a bonus for exceptional performance.
  • A coach giving a player the game ball for being the MVP of a game.
  • An employer offering a promotion or a higher salary to an employee for exceeding their targets.
  • A parent giving a child a treat or a toy for doing well in school or completing chores.

Types of Reward Power

There are five types:

1. Tangible Rewards: Tangible rewards are those that can be physically given to an individual, such as money, a prize, or a gift card. This type of reward power is often used in the workplace to motivate employees to achieve certain objectives or targets. The effectiveness of tangible rewards depends on their perceived value by the recipient.

2. Intangible Rewards: Intangible rewards are non-physical benefits that can be offered to an individual, such as recognition, praise, or appreciation. It is used in social settings to influence others to take certain actions. Intangible rewards can be an effective way of reinforcing positive behaviors and promoting a sense of belonging.

3. Social Rewards: Social rewards are rewards that come from being part of a social group. Membership in a particular group can provide social status, access to resources, and the opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals. This is often used in social settings to influence others to conform to group norms or expectations.

4. Personal Rewards: Personal rewards are those that are specific to an individual, such as a promotion or a raise. This is useful in positions of authority to influence others to follow their directives. Personal rewards can be a powerful motivator, especially if they are aligned with the individual’s personal goals and values.

5. Performance Rewards: Performance rewards are those that are based on an individual’s achievements, such as a bonus or a commission. This is effective in sales and performance-based cultures. Performance rewards can be an effective way of motivating individuals to perform at their highest level and achieve their goals.

Related: The Use And Abuse Of Coercive Power: A Close Look

Characteristics of Reward Power

Unlike coercive or legitimate power, which relies on the ability to punish or enforce rules, the power of reward operates through positive reinforcement.

Those who wield it have the ability to provide desirable outcomes that motivate or incentivize others to behave in a certain way.

Here are some characteristics:

  • Persuasive: It is skilled at persuading and motivating others to achieve a desired outcome. They may use positive language, praise, or tangible rewards to incentivize desirable behaviour.
  • Voluntary: Unlike coercive power, which relies on the threat of punishment, it operates on a voluntary basis. Individuals are free to choose whether or not to comply with the incentives offered by those with this power.
  • Dependent on Perceptions: The effectiveness of the power of reward is dependent on how the individual perceives the incentive offered. If the incentive is not seen as desirable or achievable, the effectiveness is compromised.
  • Potential for Abuse: While it is generally viewed as a positive means of influence, it has the potential to be abused. Those in positions of formal power or reward may use incentives to unfairly influence or manipulate subordinates, which can lead to resentment or a culture of favoritism.

Related: Personal Power: How To Unleash Your Inner Strength

The Connection Between Rewards and Motivation

Rewards and motivation are intertwined concepts with significant impacts on behavior and performance. Rewards serve as potent motivators that drive individuals to excel and achieve.

This dynamic is rooted in operant conditioning—where desirable actions lead to positive consequences, fostering behavior repetition.

For instance, earning a bonus for tackling a tough project boosts future effort, illustrating the influence of reward power on sustained performance.

Rewards Can Act as Intrinsic Motivators: Rewards can serve as intrinsic motivators, promoting internal drive for tasks. Intrinsic motivation is the innate push to engage in enjoyable, fulfilling activities, spurring continued effort and goal surpassing.

Rewards Can Act as Extrinsic Motivators: Extrinsic motivation stems from external factors like rewards or punishments. It’s crucial for less inherently valuable tasks. External rewards like bonuses uphold work standards, yet the rewards-motivation dynamic is intricate, surpassing mere financial incentives.

A Reward System

A well-structured reward system should take into account the interests, values, and needs of individuals, offering a wide range of incentives that appeal to different motivational drivers.

For example, some employees may be motivated by receiving public recognition for their work, while others may be motivated by increased autonomy over their projects.

Some individuals may be satisfied by more flexible work schedules, others by learning opportunities or collaborative projects that challenge their skills.

The Role of Positive Reinforcement in Reward Power

Positive reinforcement plays a crucial role in the power of reward. Positive reinforcement is a type of reward that involves providing something desirable after a behavior is exhibited to increase the likelihood of that behavior being repeated in the future.

Positive reinforcement can be used as a tool to enhance remuneration power effectively.

When an individual offers positive feedback or incentives, it creates a sense of motivation and satisfaction for the person receiving the rewards.

Related: Referent Power: Master the Invisible Power Of Personality

It is a way of showing appreciation and acknowledgment for the hard work and effort that an individual has put in to achieve a specific goal or task.

Using positive reinforcement to enhance the power of rewards requires understanding what people find most rewarding.

Some people may find monetary rewards motivating, while others may appreciate increased autonomy or recognition.

Knowing what motivates individuals can help those in positions of this type of power choose the most effective incentives to achieve the desired behavior.

Positive reinforcement also helps to build positive relationships between those in positions of reward and those being rewarded.

When individuals feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to develop a sense of trust and loyalty towards the person providing the reward.

This trust can be an essential driver of motivation and behaviour change.

The Relationship Between Reward Power and Punishment

Reward and punishment power are vital organizational and leadership concepts. Reward power entails reinforcing desired behavior, while punishment power discourages undesired actions.

These powers work in tandem, shaping behavior based on contingencies. Managers might withhold bonuses for underperformers while rewarding exceptional employees.

The organization’s culture influences power use; some emphasize positive reinforcement and rewards, while others favor strict discipline and punishments.

These powers are intricately linked, adapting to circumstances, organizational norms, and management styles to shape behavior effectively.

Related: Expert Power: Strategies For Building Credibility And Influence

Related: Power Dynamics: Understanding The Complexities Of Interpersonal Relationships

A man rewarded with a trophy to demonstrate reward power

Advantages and Disadvantages of Reward Power

When used in the right way, incentives can be beneficial for both parties involved. However, like most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to this power. Let’s take look …

Advantages of Reward Power

1. It Encourages Good Behavior: Reward power effectively encourages positive behavior by showing appreciation and value for actions. Acknowledging success reinforces desired behavior, especially in workplaces where guidelines drive goal achievement.

2. Boosts Motivation: It motivates individuals even when tasks lack inherent motivation. Offering rewards, like bonuses or days off, incentivizes continued effort, especially for mundane tasks.

3. Great for Employee Retention: Incentives promote employee satisfaction. Incentives and recognition for good work build a positive culture, enhancing retention by making employees feel valued and content in their roles.

Disadvantages of Reward Power

1. Dependency: Dependency on incentives can be a downside. Regular rewards might lead to entitlement, eroding intrinsic motivation as individuals focus more on incentives than the inherent value of their actions.

2. Temporary Behavior Modification: It can lead to short-term behavior change. People might adopt desired behavior solely for rewards, but revert when rewards cease. This challenges employers maintaining constant reward systems.

3. Expensive: It can incur high costs if overused or overly generous. Constant and substantial incentives can strain an employer’s finances, as employees may come to expect even greater rewards, potentially burdening the company further.

Pros of Using Reward Power in Leadership

  • Increased Motivation: By using this power, leaders can motivate their followers to perform better and achieve their goals more effectively. This can result in increased productivity and better outcomes for the organization.
  • Positive Reinforcement: It can be used to reinforce positive behaviors and actions, leading to a more positive work culture and improved relationships between leaders and followers.
  • Improved Morale: Employees who feel recognized and appreciated are more likely to have a positive attitude towards their work and their organization. This can lead to improved morale and better job satisfaction.
  • Increased Loyalty: Building loyalty and commitment among employees can be a difficult task. However, by using incentives, leaders can help foster a sense of loyalty among their followers, leading to greater commitment to the organization and its goals.
  • Better Retention Rates: Employees who feel valued and appreciated are less likely to leave their jobs. By using incentives, leaders can help improve retention rates and reduce turnover within the organization.

Cons of Relying Solely on Reward Power

  • Short-term Focus: Relying solely on the power of rewards can lead to a short-term focus on achieving immediate goals rather than long-term success. This can lead to neglecting important aspects of the work, such as quality, team dynamics, and growth opportunities.
  • Negative Effects on Motivation: Over-reliance on rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation, reducing the commitment and interest of employees in the work. When employees become dependent on external rewards, they may lose the sense of enjoyment and satisfaction from doing their job well.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: Offering excessive rewards can create unrealistic expectations and a sense of entitlement among employees. When rewards become the norm, and the employees expect more than they deserve, it can be challenging to maintain motivation and enthusiasm for work when the rewards are not forthcoming.
  • Can Lead to Unethical Behavior: Over-reliance on rewards can lead to unethical behavior as employees may be encouraged to take shortcuts or cheat to achieve the reward. This can harm the reputation of the company and cause long-term damage to its credibility.
  • Costly Approach: Relying solely on rewards can be a costly approach as it requires resources to provide rewards. It may not always be financially feasible, especially for small businesses or those with limited budgets. Additionally, if rewards become the only motivation for employees, it may encourage them to look for other opportunities that offer higher rewards.

Related: Developing Positional Power For Organizational Impact

Examples of Situations in Which Reward Power is Particularly Effective

  • In organizations where employees receive bonuses or promotions for achieving specific goals or performing well, the power of rewards is effective. When managers have the authority to grant rewards, employees are motivated to work harder.
  • In sales and marketing jobs, the power of reward is instrumental in encouraging salespeople to meet their targets. The promise of a commission or bonus is a powerful incentive to make more sales.
  • In classrooms, teachers can use rewards such as candies, stickers, or extra credit points to motivate students to work hard and achieve their academic goals. The promise of a reward can encourage children to participate and excel in class.
  • In teams and groups, leaders can use incentives to encourage members to work collaboratively and achieve collective goals. Rewards such as recognition or a company-wide celebration can encourage teamwork and collaboration.
  • In parenting, incentives can be effective in encouraging children to behave well or to complete chores. Offering a small reward, such as a trip to the park or a favorite food, can motivate children to do what is asked of them.

Case Studies of Leaders Who Effectively Utilize Reward Power

1. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.: Tim Cook uses reward power by offering his employees incentives to stay with the company and perform well. For example, he offers stock options and bonuses to employees who meet and exceed their performance goals. Cook has also implemented a program called Apple University, which offers free courses to employees to help them attain their desired personal and professional growth.

2. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft: Satya Nadella uses reward power by offering his employees benefits such as paid time off, health insurance, and internal training and development programs. Nadella also encourages his employees to pursue their passions and often rewards employees who take on projects that bring value to Microsoft.

3. Reed Hastings, Co-founder and CEO of Netflix: Reed Hastings uses reward power by offering his employees unlimited vacation time, flexible work hours, and generous salary packages. Hastings also rewards his employees for taking risks and pushing boundaries, which has resulted in Netflix becoming a leader in the entertainment industry.

4. Jeff Bezos, Founder, and CEO of Amazon: Jeff Bezos uses reward power by offering his employees competitive salaries, stock options, and bonuses based on performance. Bezos also places a strong emphasis on innovation and rewards employees who come up with new and creative ideas.

5. Indra Nooyi, Former CEO of PepsiCo: Indra Nooyi used reward power by instituting a program called “Performance with Purpose,” where employees were encouraged to think beyond profits and focus on social and environmental responsibility. Nooyi also implemented a system where employees could earn bonuses based on their contributions to the company’s sustainability goals.

Implementing Reward Power in the Workplace

The power of rewards is a vital managerial tool that aligns behaviors with organizational goals. It fosters positive environments, enhancing engagement, productivity, and loyalty.

Implementing it effectively requires meaningful and individualized rewards, tailored to employees’ motivations and values. Tying rewards to specific performance outcomes with measurable goals ensures accountability and fairness.

Fair distribution, avoiding bias, and implementing clear, objective criteria for recognition are crucial. Managers must be trained to apply these criteria consistently, fostering an equitable and motivated workplace.

Related: What Is Information Power? Benefits, Misuse And Challenges

Tips for Creating a Working Reward System

  • Define Your Goals: Clearly define your goals for implementing a reward system. What behaviors or actions do you want to reinforce?
  • Align Rewards with Goals: Ensure that the rewards you offer match the goals you want to achieve. For example, if you want to increase productivity, then offer rewards based on achieving specific goals related to productivity.
  • Be Specific: Specify the criteria that will be used to determine when a reward is earned. This helps employees know exactly what they need to do to earn the reward.
  • Keep it Simple: A reward system should be easy to understand and participate in. Avoid making the system overly complicated or burdensome.
  • Be Consistent: Use the reward system consistently to reinforce the desired behaviors. Consistency helps build trust and confidence in the system.
  • Make it Fair: Ensure that the reward system is fair and equitable for all participants. This will help prevent resentment and negativity among employees.
  • Offer a Variety of Rewards: Offer a variety of rewards to appeal to different employees. This could include things like time off, gift cards, or recognition.
  • Celebrate Successes: Celebrate the successes of employees who achieve the desired outcomes. This helps to further reinforce the behavior and encourages others to strive for the same successes.
  • Monitor and Adjust: Regularly monitor the reward system to ensure that it is working as intended. Make required adjustments to ensure continuous effectiveness.
  • Get Employee Feedback: Ask employees for feedback on the reward system. This can help identify areas for improvement and ensure that the system is meeting the needs of employees.

Strategies for Motivating Employees through the Use of Rewards

  • Offer Financial Incentives: Financial rewards such as bonuses, commissions, and stock options are effective in motivating employees to work harder and smarter.
  • Provide Career Development Opportunities: Offering employees opportunities for career growth and development, such as training programs, promotion opportunities, or mentoring, can provide an incentive for employees to do their best work.
  • Recognition Programs: Publicly recognizing employees who have put in exceptional work can be a powerful motivator. Verbal recognition, awards, and certificates of achievement can all help to make employees feel valued and appreciated.
  • Provide Non-monetary Incentives: Non-monetary incentives, like flexible work hours or telecommuting, can also be a great motivator. These can help employees feel valued while also providing them with a better work-life balance.
  • Quality of Life Rewards: Perks such as free gym memberships, free coffee, family activities, and onsite daycare can play an important role in making employees feel valued, improving morale, and increasing engagement.
  • Team and Group Rewards: Encouraging teamwork and collaboration by offering team-based rewards can be a powerful motivator. For instance, offering team lunches or group activities can help to create a sense of camaraderie among employees.

The Importance of Fairness and Consistency When Using Reward Power

Reward Power’s effectiveness relies on fairness and consistency. Fairness ensures equal opportunities for all employees to receive rewards based on performance, preventing demotivation.

Unfair distribution can harm morale and productivity. Objective criteria, like performance metrics, should guide rewards instead of personal biases. Consistency is vital too, as sporadic or unclear reward systems can lower motivation and performance.

Establishing clear guidelines and uniformly applying them across all employees fosters fairness and clarity, supporting a positive work environment.

How to Avoid Unintended Consequences When Implementing Reward Power

  • Clearly Define the Desired Behaviour: Clearly define the behaviour that you want from the individual or group. Be specific about what behaviours should be encouraged and what should be avoided.
  • Use the Right Reward: Choose the right type of reward that aligns with the behavior you are encouraging. It should be something that is valued by the recipient and closely connected to the desired behavior.
  • Ensure Consistency: Ensure that the reward system is consistent across all individuals and groups. This will prevent any internal conflicts and would make the system more effective.
  • Avoid Unintended Consequences: Anticipate any unintended consequences of the reward system. For example, if rewarding individual achievement could discourage teamwork or collaboration, it may not be the right approach.
  • Evaluate the System: Evaluate the reward system regularly to ensure it is effective and achieves the desired results. Make changes to the system as necessary.
  • Communicate Clearly: Communicate the reward system clearly to those involved. Explain how the system works and what is expected of them. This will prevent any misunderstandings.
  • Avoid Favoritism: Do not show favoritism when implementing the reward system. Ensure that everyone is treated fairly and the rewards are distributed equally.
  • Encourage Self-motivation: Encourage self-motivation by promoting intrinsic rewards and giving people autonomy. This will make the reward system more sustainable and effective in the long run.

Dangers of Overusing Reward Power

Excessive use of reward power risks undermining intrinsic motivation, eroding personal satisfaction in tasks and stifling creativity. Overreliance on rewards may erode trust, respect, and autonomy in relationships.

It can breed unhealthy competition and foster a toxic work environment, as individuals prioritize rewards over ethical behavior.

Additionally, it incurs costs, both financial and in terms of diminished results when rewards fail to sustain engagement.

Overusing this power can weaken intrinsic motivation, trust, ethical conduct, and overall productivity, emphasizing the need for balanced and thoughtful application within organizations.

How to Strike a Balance between Reward Power and Other Forms Of Leadership

  1. Understand the Different Forms of Leadership: Before you can start balancing your power of rewards with other forms of leadership, you must have a good understanding of the different forms of leadership. These may include transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, authentic leadership, servant leadership, and more.
  • Focus on Building Relationships: A crucial step to balancing the power of rewards with other forms of leadership is to concentrate on building relationships with your team. This means taking the time to listen to them, understand their concerns, and provide feedback that is helpful and constructive.
  • Make Sure Rewards are Fair and Consistent: The power of rewards can be excessive, and it may lead to a sense of entitlement and favoritism within your team. It is therefore essential to ensure that your rewards are fair, consistent, and based on merit rather than personal preferences.
  • Adopt a Collaborative Leadership Style: Adopting a collaborative leadership style can help balance reward power with other forms of leadership. When you work collaboratively with your team, you can share the rewards, set collective goals, and make decisions together.
  • Lead with Purpose: To balance incentives power with other forms of leadership, you must lead with purpose. This means setting clear goals, establishing a vision for your team, and ensuring that your actions align with your values and principles.
  • Encourage Open Communication: Finally, encourage open communication within your team. Encourage your team members to express their opinions, ask questions, and provide feedback. This will help you understand their needs and concerns and ensure that you lead with empathy and compassion.

Reward Power vs Coercive Power

Rewards encompass diverse forms, including monetary compensation and public recognition. In contrast, coercive power emerges from punishment capabilities.

This power is associated with abusive relationships or authoritarian regimes, manifesting through threats, violence, or fear tactics. While both powers achieve short-term goals, they yield different long-term effects.

The power of rewards promotes trust and respect, while coercive power evokes fear and resentment. Coercion may lead to compliance, but not loyalty.

These powers also differ in their assumptions about human nature: reward power trusts in people’s inclination for good, while coercive power relies on fear to motivate compliance.


Reward power is a potent tool for leaders to harness within organizations. It involves incentivizing and acknowledging positive behaviors, and promoting team morale, and job satisfaction.

By rewarding dedication and hard work, motivation increases, propelling performance and success. It’s crucial to use this power responsibly and equitably, as arbitrary rewards can lead to distrust and turnover.

Transparent and well-defined reward systems are essential, ensuring fair recognition based on merit. Though risks exist, successful implementation drives motivation, cultivating a positive workplace where individuals and teams are appreciated, motivated, and strive for higher success, ultimately enhancing business performance.


  1. The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement
  2. The power of rewards and why we seek them out
  3. Reward Power – The Fastest Way To Persuade
  4. Reward Power in Leadership: Definition and Example | Website | + posts

Pyo Merez (PsyD) is a distinguished adolescent and adult psychologist at the forefront of mental health advocacy.

With expertise in cognitive and developmental psychology, focusing on social relationships, cultural contexts, and individual differences, Pyo has dedicated his career to empowering adolescents and adults.

As a sought-after speaker and panelist, Pyo shares invaluable insights on issues affecting young people, contributing to a deeper understanding of mental health and well-being in today's society.

2 thoughts on “Reward Power: The Art Of Using Rewards For Motivation”

  1. This was a very interesting and thought provoking read. The Reward Power is a constant in all aspects of life and certainly essential in social interactions.

    • You are very correct Debbie. Reward Power is a good way to get people interested and motivated, but also should be used with caution to avoid dependency and its use to arm-twist leaders.
      Thanks fro stopping by.

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