Most working adults report spending very little time with friends and family. The current research explores the aspects of work that encourage employees to spend less time with personal ties. We show that incentive systems play a critical role in shaping how people allocate their time to different relationship partners. Across three experiments, one survey, and one large-scale archival data set (N = 77,302), exposure to performance incentives encouraged employees to spend more time with their work colleagues, even when it prevented them from spending time with their friends and family. This is because performance incentives led employees to perceive their work relationships as more instrumental. These findings suggest that incentive systems shape employees’ perceptions of and their interactions with critical relationship partners.
Socializing with friends and family is one of our happiest activities (Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2004; Mogilner et al., 2018). However, many working adults spend very little time with loved ones. In an average week, employees in the United States spend less than an hour of quality time per day with their family (Paul, 2018) and less than an hour per day with their friends (U.S. Department of Labor Sta- tistics. (2015), 2015). Why is this the case? One potential answer could lie in a ubiquitous circumstance that the majority of workers cannot avoid—incentive systems. We argue that the way people are paid for their work can shape how they think about and interact with various relationship partners, such as colleagues, friends, and family. We inspect the role of one of the most common incentive systems, performance incentives, in shaping everyday social interactions.
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