When I stop at my regular shopping centre, the car guards know me. One of them, Eric, will always come to the car and assemble my chair for me, bring it to my car door, help me into my chair and push me into the shopping centre up to where the floor is level and I can carry on by myself. On my return, he helps me back into my car and stows my chair. For this little service I give Eric five Rand. On the odd occasion that I do not have a five Rand coin available, I  apologise and the next time I give him ten Rand. In the process we have built up a good relationship. Eric takes pleasure (and pride) in assisting me – I can see it in his face. He appreciates the tip and in a way it motivates him, but it seems to me that the act of service brings him a joy that is a bigger motivator.

In a self-help centre that I am involved with, a few residents got into the habit of tipping their caregivers - not just for little add-on services, but also for routine aspects of the caregivers’ work and also for preferential treatment over the other residents. After a short while the attitude of the caregivers started to change. They became surly, they often were rude and it happened that some of them even refused to attend the residents in certain routine tasks that formed part of their service level agreements.

What went wrong?

To find an answer, we need to briefly touch on research in human behaviour that goes back as far as 1940 and that recently came to the fore again very strongly. This research shows that there is a large divide between how businesses motivate staff and what research shows actually works. In a nutshell, business believes that motivation comes from outside a person (external) and widely uses a “carrot and stick” method where good performance is rewarded but poor performance is punished. With performance appraisals, that could lead to bonuses being awarded or withheld as well as awarding of differential salary increases that can start with no increase at all and end with large percentage increases.

However, research has found that this method only works well for tasks with fixed protocols and specified steps on what to do and how to do it. When it comes to heuristic work – creating something new; creating something out of nothing; looking for new ways in which to do things better – challenges that required innovation and out of the box thinking, motivation comes largely from within the person; the so-called “fire in the belly”. In these persons financial rewards had exactly the opposite effect. It actually diminished performance. Research found that by making innovation a transaction, it removed the joy of the challenge. Innovators are driven from within themselves (intrinsic); they are more interested in being given the freedom to create, to chase after something larger than themselves, than in monetary rewards. As long as their salaries are in line with the nature of their work, bonuses are of little consequence to them.

How does all of this apply to the changing attitude of caregivers that received tips? Surely the processes of care giving are routine tasks with protocols that define what to do? So surely “bonuses” in the form of tips should have the desired effect?

My contention is that tipping changed a labour of love into a financial transaction.

Just as innovation is driven by an inner passion, the work of a caregiver requires an inner devotion. Caregiving is not something that one can do for a long time just because “the money is good”. Caregiving requires compassion, a caring attitude, and anguish… David Wilkerson said: “All true passion is born out of anguish”: A person sees something that is not right (anguish) and develops a passion for making it right. A truly passionate caregiver carries anguish in her heart. A truly dedicated caregiver carries respect in his heart. Great caregivers realise that in caring, they serve a purpose that is greater than themselves.

I contend that caregiver tipping destroys all of this.

I believe that tipping converts devotion into a financial transaction. The inner passion is replaced by an external motivator – money. Tipping becomes a supplement to salary; it becomes a means to extort more out of the person on whom the tasks are performed. (Note; not the person that is cared for, but the person on whom the tasks are performed…)

I believe that tipping pushes love, compassion and caring into the background and brings scheming and greed to the fore. The passion born from anguish is replaced by calculated manipulation…

So, if you as resident/employer want to show your appreciation, how can you go about it?

The point of departure is that your caregiver’s salary should be market-related and the conditions of service must be fair and fully agreed upon with your caregiver. This puts your caregiver’s mind at ease and allows her to focus on her compassion and the inner anguish that begets her passion for caring. With this in place, create a kitty of contributions by the residents and others. With funds from the kitty, organise periodic events such as an appreciation party or gifts to the caregivers. Such public recognition does far more for morale and job satisfaction than tipping ever will.

If you want to know more about the human behaviour research, Google “Daniel Pink, Drive”. There are two great YouTube videos (the RSA Animate is my favourite) as well as an ebook on Drive (for the truly interested).