Work Incentives

As the nation industrialized in the late 1800s, companies became bigger and more efficient but also more impersonal. As some workers organized to raise pay and improve working conditions, managers sought to motivate employees and shape their work ethic with an array of incentives and techniques. They pushed employees to work faster, longer, and more safely, and to not join labor unions. Managers also desired innovation, sharing of ideas, and increased employee contentment. 

In preindustrial America, farmers and artisans owned their own tools and managed their own production. They did not need incentives because they worked for themselves.

Farmer and sheaf of wheat, 1860s

Farmer and sheaf of wheat, 1860s

Silversmith Paul Revere, by John Copley, 1768

Silversmith Paul Revere, by John Copley, 1768

Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; gift of Joseph W. Revere, William B. Revere, and Edward H.R. Revere