I include myself in that. We’re all looking out for number one. Not all the time, of course. We can all be altruistic at times. Overall, though, we do things to get something out of it.
Incentives make the world go ’round. Just think of the huge bonuses those Wall Street guys collect. I don’t follow the news too carefully, but I’m assuming that the reason we keep hearing about them is that they are incredibly effective and lead to no problems.
I’m at work today to help people. (Also to get paid.) You don’t speed in order to keep your fellow motorists safe. (And to avoid a speeding ticket.) You use the potty to get a cookie. (This blog is huge with the under 3 set.)
It follows that we try this with our clients as well. Everyone does it. How do you fill a room for a new group? I hope we all know the four magic words: Refreshments. Will. Be. Provided.
Teens are coming to group late? “Those of us with perfect attendance/punctuality will get to go on a trip at the end of the year!” Difficulty getting people in for sessions? “Well, we just got a donation of new winter coats. I was hoping to give some to your kids, but…oh, you’ll be here in ten minutes? Great.” “I understand that you want your case closed, now in November. But whatever will I do with all these Christmas presents?”
We all do what we have to do. To get our numbers and contacts, to make sure that people have a reason to come see us, to get them to give us a chance to win them over and actually get some work done.
But where do we draw the line? I’m cool with giving out school supplies, but I’d like to avoid paying people to come see me.
I recently had to watch a scene from the movie “Precious” again. I say “had to” because, although it’s a good film, I don’t put it in the watch it again and again category. “Clue” or “Dirty Dancing,” sure, but I can’t watch “Precious” without wanting to hunt Mo’nique down…to counsel her.
Back to the point–Mariah Carey, as the uglied up social worker, tells Precious that she’ll have to talk about her home life if she wants her check.
Then she calls Precious “sweetie.” Just to be extra bitch-tacular.
But I’m not like that. Right? I’m sure you aren’t either. Of course. We’re some of the good ones.
Incentives are tricky. At what point are we being patronizing? Participate in counseling, and you’ll surely get something out of it. “Ooh, a better relationship with my father!” Uh, maybe. I was talking about this neat eraser! It’s shaped like a leaf. You know, for autumn.
I had one client who didn’t believe in giving her daughter anything, aside from the very basics. The girl was supposed to earn privileges, but when you aren’t allowed to do anything aside from sit in front of the television, earning can be a little difficult.
The mother and I discussed a system of rewards. But, her mother said, won’t she only be working for things like being allowed to go out with her friends, or minutes on her
devil machine Sidekick? She won’t behave because she knows it’s right!
1) So what? Take what you get and be happy for a while.
2) Let me go back to my potty reference. Two year olds start using the toilet in an effort to get cookies, stickers, whatever passes for a treat these days. Then they notice other things: their parents are proud of them. They’re treated like a “big kid.” And they’re no longer social outcasts because they’re covered in shit!
Rewards, done right, become internalized. Working for one thing leads to working for something else. If that daughter was allowed to go to the movies when she successfully backed down from a fight with mom, maybe she’d notice some other things: my mom and I can talk to one another. The house is calm. My mother is happy to see me.
Offering something concrete, like help with benefits, child care, food, or clothing, can get people in the door. Then they get to see other things: this social worker isn’t so bad. I like talking to her.
My, but she’s good looking.
Done improperly, incentives drive people to act all sorts of way. Reasonable people become greedy. They resent us for holding out on them, we resent them for only wanting to see us for those sweet treats. If the only reason to come to the office is to get something cool, what do we do when we don’t have anything, because budget cuts force us to choose between snacks and printer paper?
Oh delicate balances and fine lines, how I hate you!
But I need to get back to writing my notes. My supervisor promised she’d make me a cupcake if I get it done today.