Egyptians’ misuse of the carrot and stick mechanism

The “carrot & stick” approach aiming to induce people to exert maximum effort is extensively applied in Egypt – yet it is completely misused! Egyptians’ attitudes towards their jobs are deeply ingrained and resistant to all kinds of incentive or punishment mechanisms (that Egyptians have managed to manipulate for their benefit). In practice, this pattern often concludes in diluting the effectiveness of the ‘stick’ and establishing the ‘carrot’ as an obligatory reward, regardless of the outputs.

Meant, in theory, to intimidate employees into exerting utmost efforts, the ‘stick’ has in fact rarely proved harmful to Egyptian employees. Therefore, although it is extensively used, the ‘stick’ has had minimal effect in Egypt! Meanwhile, in the Egyptian work context, the ‘carrot’ has become established as a ‘mandatory incentive’ that serves to compensate employees for their low incomes. For instance, Egyptian workers expect to obtain the “percentage of profits” that some enterprises grant them – even when the latter are loss-making or closing-down enterprises.

The dilemma of the Egyptian ‘stick’ is that it often takes the form of financial penalties, which government employees know how to offset informally using illegal external rewards that can exceed the anticipated fines and, in worst-case scenarios, cause additional damage, further weakening the system. Diverse ‘stick methods’ have been thoroughly used in Egypt – without begetting the slightest of corrections to the system, serving only to expand the power and egoism of the executives who generate penalties.

Some argue that the small ‘carrot’ that Egyptian employees traditionally earn helps millions to survive while not constituting a financial burden on any given enterprise. This simplistic reasoning has increased work demotivation and discouraged many employees from enhancing their productivity, thereby completely diffusing the entire ‘carrot system’. Moreover, Egyptian employees have become skilled at manipulating bureaucracy to obtain “personal rewards”.

Culturally, Egyptians don’t value competition. They often want to work for non-competitive entities that pay their employees equally, advocating that if the State wants to use the “carrot & stick” mechanism, it should operate the system equally vis-à-vis all employees. Although a large segment of society works for the private sector, private enterprises apply the same social workplace policies to their employees – with the government’s blessing. Because all workers’ incomes are equally guaranteed (regardless of productivity), our society has become characterized by its low productivity.

Punishment is not always the best tool for managing employees; nevertheless, to advance our work mechanism, we should make better use of the ‘stick’ in Egypt. We need to think of the ‘stick’ as a tool for encouraging employees to be more productive, a means of cautioning workers without impairing the system. Meanwhile, if used effectively (by clearly associating it with extraordinary achievement), the ‘carrot’ could constitute an excellent motivational tool that may improve the entire mechanism and move our enterprises forward.

Egyptian business practices can easily be extended to the relationship between the Egyptian State and ordinary citizens; Egyptians’ casual attitude to the ‘sticks’ wielded by the State generates a tendency to treat our laws recklessly. Many Egyptians living in poverty under harsh conditions don’t have too much of a problem with committing a crime and spending a few years behind bars – as long as they can keep what they have obtained illegally, thus ensuring that they will enjoy a higher living standard for years after they have served the sentence imposed by the State.

Egyptians need to get used to performing their duties without the need for reward or punishment to modulate their behavior. Since it is not producing the anticipated outcome, the “carrot & stick” mechanism obviously needs to be adapted. Our nation must apply a clear system wherein earnings are set to fluctuate in direct correlation with optimizing productivity. This will require a different kind of human development and training, one that motivates citizens’ sense of responsibility and that will transform them from people who work to earn a living into people who work because they enjoy what they are doing.

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