Q. I'm thinking of giving my workers an incentive by paying them according to their output. Are there any Jewish lessons for this question?
A. Paying workers according to output can be an effective way of increasing effort and can also have positive ethical consequences, as those workers who are more productive are able to benefit personally from their contribution. But it also has many ethical pitfalls. Among them:
• Workers' output may suffer for reasons beyond their control;
• Workers may end up favoring their own output over the output of colleagues, thus creating destructive intra-organizational competition;
• Workers may end up favoring output over quality, leading to declines in product quality;
• Workers may end up favoring output today over output tomorrow, and scrimp on maintenance etc. in order to reap bonuses in the short run.
Porters hired by Rabba bar bar Chanan [accidentally] broke a barrel of wine. He took their coats [as security for the damages due him]. They went before [the magistrate] Rav. Rav said to him, give them back their coats. He said, is this the law? He said, Yes, as it is written (Proverbs 2), "In order that you should go in the way of the good." He gave them their coats. [Then] they said to him, we are poor, and we worked all day, and we are hungry, and we have nothing. [Rav] said to [Rabba], give them their wages. He said, is this the law?! He said, Yes, as it is written (Proverbs 2:?) "and keep the paths of the righteous."(1)
At first, any [Kohen] who wanted to perform the service of removing [the burnt remains from] the altar could do so. If there were many, they would run and ascend the ramp [to the altar]. Whoever preceded his fellow by four paces, won. . . Once it happened that two were even as they ran up the ramp and one pushed the other, and he fell and broke his leg. Once the tribunal saw that this led to danger, they ruled that the selection would only be done by lottery. (2)