How Employees Change Their Behavior When Money Is on the Line

Different people view money in different ways, either as the root of all evil or the source of all things good. While you may fall squarely into either of these categories, few can deny that money has a psychological influence beyond its mere usefulness. But how does it affect your behavior? Can pursuit of money make you more selfish? Can it make you less cooperative? New research (Beus & Whitman, 2016) uses professional hockey and basketball athletes from the NHL and NBA to explore how behavior is affected when money is on the line.


At certain times money is foremost on our minds. For example, during annual performance reviews or when one nears a contract reappraisal. It is during times like these, when money is most important to us or when we are “money-primed,” that we are more likely to look out for ourselves at the expense of others. In this vein, the researchers investigated athletes in their final year of a contract, where money is an important consideration. This is because performance during that final year will likely influence the size of the next contract. Would these people engage in more self-serving behavior that is less supportive of the group?

The results confirmed that these athletes engaged in more self-serving behavior during these “money-primed” contract years. Interestingly though, no support was found to show that cooperative behavior decreased or that it led to negative effects on team performance.


The findings suggest that managers should not discard the notion of money as a powerful performance motivator in certain contexts, despite the perceived negative impact. Results confirm that when money is a prominent concern, individualistic behavior increases. Although this sounds nefarious, this also means individual performance may improve when bonuses or a contract renewal are tied to efforts. Because performance is likely to return to normal levels after such money-charged times have passed, managers should also take long-term indications of performance into account when using money as a motivator.

It is also important to note that although behavior may be more individualistic when money is on the line, there was no evidence to suggest that cooperation deteriorated or team performance suffered. In any case, organizations can also develop and harness strong organizational norms to help offset the effects of more individualistic behavior that they feel may not be conducive to the best team outcomes.


Beus, J. M. & Whitman, D. S. (2015). Almighty Dollar or Root of All Evil? Testing the Effects of Money on Workplace Behavior, Journal of Management, 43(7), 2147-2167.